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Red Cross: another inadmissible ruling

Federico Parra / Headquarters of the Red Cross in Venezuela. Photo: AFP/Federico Parra

We share this special analysis carried out by the writer Naky Soto, about a new threat that looms over civil society, in this case, in the humanitarian field and with the endorsement of Ricardo Cusanno, former president of Fedecámaras and member of the Civic Forum, an alliance that It intends to present itself as a reference for civil society, but it has been validating unacceptable and unconstitutional actions by the government.

On the night of this Friday, August 4, 2023, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice ruled the intervention of the Venezuelan Red Cross (CRV), a civil association that dates back to 1895, independent of the International Red Cross (CRI), which It has been operating since 1864 and sought to strengthen international humanitarian law, so that each country had its own local association.

The plaintiff is Tarek William Saab, general prosecutor imposed by the National Constituent Assembly in 2017. The lawsuit is against Mario Villarroel Lander, president of the Red Cross for decades, and the National Steering Committee. This occurs just two weeks after Diosdado Cabello claimed on his program on Venezolana de Televisión the nepotism of the Villaroel family in the Venezuelan Red Cross (VRC).

Prosecutor Saab describes at least six cases that emerge from only eight testimonies from Red Cross workers:

– Rigged elections for the selection of the National Steering Committee and the president who has remained in office for decades.

– Acts of intimidation, coercion, and harassment, allegedly established by Villarroel and executed by the general manager of the VRC, Esther Pernía.

– The low organizational interest in resolving the complaints of these acts.

– The alleged personal and non-institutional use of VRC vehicles; the alleged use of financial resources without respecting budgets, and alleged irregularities in the selection of food providers for workers and volunteers. Despite these three reasons, they are not accused of corruption.

Saab says that on June 31 the Prosecutor’s Office began a criminal investigation against the National Steering Committee (case MP-155884-2023), an investigation that has not concluded, but whoever wrote the Prosecutor’s text does not argue why eight testimonies, whose veracity can be verified or not in the rest of the process, are enough to request the TSJ three things:

– A precautionary measure, regularly used to avoid damages that could occur during the trial and that could not be solved later.

– The administrative intervention of the Red Cross, a request that ridicules the precautionary measure, since regardless of the result it will be irresolvable.

– The formation of an ad hoc auditing board with full powers; something strange, because these boards usually only have administrative powers, on the other hand, this will operate outside the civil association, because it will not have its regular members to make important decisions for the organization.

Tania D’Amelio is the rapporteur magistrate of this sentence against the Red Cross. Most people will remember her as one of the everlasting rectors of the National Electoral Council. D’Amelio ordered an invasive appeal against a civil association, but another detail that makes the case unique, instead of naming the supervisory board, she only names a hotel businessman, former president of Fedecámaras and member of the Civic Forum (Foro Cívico), Ricardo Cusanno, as the decision maker of the members of that potential board. Nothing in the text explains what distinguishes Cusanno to empower him to intervene in a civil association for humanitarian purposes or what his powers are to fulfill this inadmissible task, because he violates the right of association.

The text also does not explain why a lawsuit against the President and the Steering Committee translates into the intervention of the entire civil association. According to the ruling, Saab argued that “dignity is a fundamental human right,” something that is violated every day in Venezuela by the Chavista regime. That is to say, although he can exercise his position unscathed in the face of the indignity suffered by any person living in Venezuela, he is mobilized by the circumstances of the Red Cross workers.

There are pieces of testimonies included in the sentence that serve to fully describe the relationship of the Chavista regime with Venezuelan society, barely changing words, such as: the minimized life of citizens, maintaining power for years even without achievements that support such condition or elections as a statutory requirement “without allowing others the opportunity to run.”

There are many lines of this sentence for which Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s vile Minister of Propaganda, would scold the person who wrote it, because the transposition is not only about charging one’s own mistakes against the adversary, but also about ensuring that this projection do not include verifiable pejorative elements, such as that people do not dare to report the harassment they suffer for fear of reprisals; that the State does not process the complaints but archives them; that uses its power and budget without transparency, and a long quite obscene etcetera.

“Everything comes down to authoritarian management and the great fear that many of us feel to raise our voices and request a change”, says one of the testimonies collected by the Prosecutor’s Office. It serves to describe the defendant, Nicolas [Maduro] and even who anointed him.

No one can restore the institutionality from a judicial imposition, not even the most honest of the Red Cross volunteers. A prosecution is exactly the denial of transparency, because if the intentions of the State were favorable, they have plenty of communication and factual power, to urge the Red Cross to hold new elections, respecting its condition as a private civil association in which a State does not has to intervene, but by appointing Ricardo Cusanno (without reasonable explanation), and with him, the Civic Forum, they are intervening in the internal management of civil society, they are assaulting the institutionality of the Red Cross and using political allies to pretending that an imposition is potable and hopeful just because it removes those responsible for a questionable management that is supposed to be already being investigated.

Any speculation that occurs to us to explain the sentence, from the broad ones: “Surely he stepped on the corns of someone with too much power”, to the most elaborate such as: “Surely it is to keep the billions of dollars in humanitarian aid” or “They are building a civil society to suit them”, are just that, speculation.

What is demonstrable is the abuse of power, the violations of due process and how unacceptable it is for the State to limit freedom and the right of association, because now the Red Cross depends on the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, ignoring protocols of the International Committee of the Red Cross, because even though they are different legal entities, they share purposes and forms. The most important is international humanitarian law, which if it is violated in Venezuela, will need an independent Red Cross to claim it, and not one controlled by power and its allies. This constitutes a very serious precedent against the right of association.