On December 3rd, here in the U.S. a public servant was not indicted with proof of guilt. Also on December 3rd, in Venezuela, a public servant was indicted with proof of innocence.
Oh the irony.
In our common law system, an indictment is a formal accusation that a person has committed a crime. This is the first step towards a fair trial where the defendant is innocent until they are proven guilty. Yet, arbitrarily, the system decided there was no culprit and there was no victim. The system decided there was no crime.
This is why a non-indictment of the cop in the chokehold of Eric Garner is an atrocity to our democracy. The lack of indictment means the system is denying the victim and his family due process.
In contrast, in Venezuela, an indictment is not the first step to ensure due process. Rather, an indictment of a leader of the opposition is the first step towards incarceration. The question is not whether or not Maria Corina Machado will be incarcerated. The imminent question is, for how long?
Maria Corina Machado, former member of the Venezuelan National Assembly -she was deposed of her seat in March of this year- and one of the most vocal critics of the current government, was indicted last week on grounds of conspiracy involving an alleged assassination plot against President Nicolas Maduro. Venezuelan officials released emails where she, along with several other prominent Venezuelan figures of public and private life, purportedly mapped out the details of the plot to kill Maduro.
Maria Corina asserts her innocence and cites that even Google has shown that her alleged involvement in the plot is false. They certify that the emails are fabricated.
Even with certifiable proof of innocence, and no further evidence from the Venezuelan government of her offense, most in Venezuela expect her fate to resemble that of Leopoldo Lopez, the opposition leader who sparked the #lasalida (the exit) protests this past February. Lopez has been in Venezuela’s military prison, Ramo Verde, for 10 months awaiting a trial that has been perpetually delayed. And there are no signs that he will be released anytime soon.
The charges against Machado could mean a maximum of 16 years in prison. And while many think she’s foolish to have “turned herself in” to a government that has a history of persecuting those who oppose it, she assures that she is not, in fact, giving in. Maria Corina explains that she is facing the calumny head on, with her truth.
While Machado awaits a “trial,” she can be seen on one international Spanish news channel after the other, the few outlets of expression she has left. According to Freedom House, Venezuela is one of the least free countries in the world with a Press Freedom Score of 78 out of 100, 100 being the worst.
There is no timeline for Maria Corina’s trial, there is no certainty about her future. Maduro references her case saying that she will pay and justice will be served. But just as we asked ourselves in the case of Eric Garner, Maria Corina’s looming fate begs the question, #justiceforwho?
Liz Rebecca Alarcon is a Master’s candidate in Democracy & Governance in Latin America at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. She blogs about politics, human rights and millennial issues and produces Univision’s weekend newscast in Washington D.C. Before beginning her career in journalism she was a Fulbright scholar in Costa Rica. She holds a B.A. in International Studies & Sociology from the University of Miami.