Developments In The Fight To Protect Venezuela’s Justice System

Tensions in Venezuela are high as money and essential supplies are becoming scarce and citizens are ever-more frustrated with the actions of President Maduro’s administration. An area fighting to keep some function despite fears of encroaching authoritarianism is the Venezuelan justice system, specifically small groups of police, lawyers, and press.

There was outrage on July 16, 2018, when Maduro announced a 10 million-bolivar bonus (approx. U.S. $3) for each member of the national police force, a meager amount considering the astronomical inflation the country is currently experiencing. In the surge of recent protests, including around 5,000 in just the first half of 2018, the government is seeking to counter with a more loyal and motivated police force.

According to a recent Gallup poll, only around one in four Venezuelan citizens has confidence in their police force. National security forces have experienced some growing inner discord as well, notably following the actions of the now-deceased pilot and police officer Oscar Perez who launched grenades at government ministries from a helicopter last year. It’s still unclear whether Maduro’s attempts to incentivize officers will help curb the high desertion rate law enforcement has been seeing.

Another mass exodus Venezuela is experiencing is that of law firms. The exact number of currently practicing lawyers in Venezuela is difficult to pinpoint, but it definitely is dwarfed by, say, the 1.3 million lawyers in the U.S. Large international law firms such as Hogan Lovells quickly exited the country after the May 2018 election but some, such as Baker McKenzie, are standing their ground — at least for the time being. Lawyers are especially leaving the country in high numbers for fear of prosecution, so the support of international firms may be comforting for local law practitioners who wish to stay.

Receiving truthful, independent reporting on current goings-on in Venezuela has been difficult for its citizens lately, as newspapers have been under fire by Maduro. The latest target is “El Nacional,” one of the last independent papers in the country. Infamous for its reporting on government corruption and brutality, the 75-year-old publication is being taken to court by top presidential lieutenant Diosdado Cabello. El Nacional‘s website has also been blocked by the Venezuelan government, crippling its web traffic.

Since the government started managing the distribution of printing paper in 2013, 26 newspapers have stopped circulating. Six of those papers stopped circulation this year, joining five news websites have been blocked and effectively removed from the internet. With law enforcement splintering and citizens scrambling for basic survival, all eyes will be the case of Cabello v. El Nacional as a deciding factor in the future of Venezuelan speech and freedom.