A conversation with Luisa Ortega
23. august 2017 Av: Liv Tørres
She was going to defend the constitution with her life, she told the Financial Times. It was there, through that interview, I first got to know her. Got to know her, got impressed by her – and curious about her. A fearless woman, I thought! Luisa Ortega, the Prosecutor General of Venezuela, a year long supporter of Hugo Chavez and supportive of President Maduro after he took over power in 2013. Those days are over now. She is paying a high prize for her protests against the regime and its undermining of the constitution and the democracy in Venezuela. Her life is threatened. A few days ago, I spoke with her on a secret phone line. The night before, her house had been raided. Here is an abstract of our talk:
“Both my family and I have been threatened and persecuted, and today they entered my house and the house of my husband’s children. My friends and close family have also been threatened. We have a very serious situation here in Venezuela. we are living in a dictatorship. We have lost our democracy, the laws do not exist anymore, we have no liberty and there is a systematic violation of human rights. They torture people. They put people in jail without trials. They are treating people inhumanely. There is a political persecution. They would like to annihilate their political opponents. We do not anymore have free and fair elections. As you may understand, all our liberties are annihilated.
What can the international community do to support the democratic forces in your country?
“One of the most important things that may be done is to denounce to the world what is happening in Venezuela. Because the government wants to make people believe that they respect human rights. This is why it is important to report everything that is happening. Second, we need to help Venezuela thorough the humanitarian channels. We have a problem with supplies of food and medicines. The government denies to open a humanitarian channel in order to get help from the international organizations and governments to help this penury. I have also evaluated the possibility to go to international legal bodies to put specific people in the government, guilty of human rights violations, to trial. Nationally, it is not possible to sanction or punish those who are violating human rights.
When it comes to humanitarian aid, do you know if there is any specific organization that may be considered positively from the Maduro side?
“ I do not know if Maduro would accept humanitarian help from any organization or group. I do not know. In fact, I don’t think he would.”
Could humanitarian aid be part of negotiations? Are there any possibilities of negotiations at all?
“The hope of all Venezuelans is to create understanding, respect, tolerance, and dialogue. But I believe that the government has no interest in these things, because the language they use – and especially Maduro – is a language of threats. The new Constituent National Assembly was put together on the basis of threats.
Maduro threatened to fire the public workers if they didn’t vote. He also threatened those who receive pensions and those who got food or scholarships to either vote or lose their benefits. The same occurs with the political dissidents. You do what I say or I will put you in prison, inhabilitate you from seeking election, remove you from your position, or judge you without a trial. Look at the 37 opposition mayors he has removed in the last two years as an example. It is impossible to negotiate with someone who will not compromise and who wants his opponents to kneel and do what he says. On such terms, we believe we cannot get to a compromise. My hope is to obtain peace, decency, respect and tolerance and a good life for Venezuelans. But I think the regime has no interest in this.
What is the way forward and how may we achieve a peaceful solution?
“Insisting on dialogue, trying to understand, insisting on negotiations and asking all parties, especially the president, to put the country and its people first. The calamities and shortages suffered by the people must be addressed. Maduro must understand that with dialogue and understanding we can get past this and advance and conquer not just peace but all the rights that we all have.
In this the international community has an essential role. Inside the country we have activity and behavior that has gone against democracy. It is essential that the international community push the government and the opposition to respect the rule of laws and rights.
The tension and attention on Venezuela is high in many countries. For example, US President Trump has been arguing for military intervention. Many argue for negotiations. I hear that you are in support of negotiations and dialogue as an answer to the situation.
“You understand me perfectly. I am against military intervention or aggression. That is only going to add more misery to the Venezuelan people.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your personal story, as a strong woman with competence in law?
“About my personal story and the strength with which I have been behaving: We Venezuelan women are women who face challenges and we have a special strength to defend our rights. This is very Venezuelan, and I am determined to continue defending it no matter what happens to me. They have taken everything away from me. Apart from raiding my home they have taken all of my assets. All the property I have accumulated during thirty years of work. An irrational and non-democratic government, a government that violates human rights and is dictatorial, has taken away all my rights. I don’t even have the right to defend myself. They have gone after my physical integrity and I am afraid for my life. I fear for my life.
What is your situation right now?
“Look; all you have to do is hear how president Maduro expresses against me so you can have a sense of the threats on my life. “If she doesn’t do this or that we will put her in prison… we will persecute her… we will ransack the prosecutor’s office, we will go against them” they are going after all the people in my institution. The government is going after the public ministry and two weeks ago, they had a military intervention. 300 national guardsmen and the secret police entered and broke doors in our department and took our materials and files and we don’t know where they took them. This goes against our work and our integrity. The ministry was attacked by bayonets. Men with weapons entered to get us out. I must mention that in the places I go they follow me, they engage in surveillance of me, the intelligence service follows me and listen to my calls. My communications are violated.
And it is important that the world knows what’s happening. This must be denounced. More than 2 million Venezuelans have left the countr because their rights are being violated. They are being killed. So it is important that our entire planet is engaging in what is happening in Venezuela. The country has no rule of law. Political prisoners are on the rise, the repression grows. The deaths are staggering. Last year, there were 70,1 deaths for every 1000 people. This is the highest number in the whole region. This is what I want you to tell the world. Illegitimately they have gove after the public ministry and this is the part I am representing.”
Can you tell me more about what happened in March, when the Supreme Court took over the legislative powers of the National Assembly? What was it that made you speak out louder than before?
“I haven’t changed. I am the same person I have always been. I am an institutional woman with respect for rights. I am representing a different part of the power than that of the government. I am a part of the judicial institution. When the Supreme Court attempted to take over the powers from the Parliament I had to manifest this publicly. And I say that I had to, because I called several justices and several members of government and told them how inconvenient the ruling from the court were. When I did not get a response, I had to denounce it and state that the constitutional order was violated. Nobody can destroy a power established by the constitution, such as the Parliament. And I want to underline that the constituent assembly set up by the president is a socialist party meeting. It is an assembly of the internal political party of the government. I also wish to underline that the media in Venezuela are hijacked – they are censored. This fraudulent assembly operating outside of the constitution is now destroying the public powers. We are in front of a supra power, and we don’t know how long it will last or how far it is willing to go.
Is there an internal opposition – forces inside the socialist party or someone with whom you may collaborate?
“I am not part of the political party, I am not in any party. I am the representative of an institution which makes it impossible to be part of a political party. I cannot speak for the PSUV (i.e. Socialist Party)”.
There is a high mobilization against Maduro and his regime at this moment. Your most important weapon is the law. How can you use it?
“The way I am right now. By investigating corruption. It is corruption that has led to this degeneration of things. I am investigating violations of rule of law and human rights and asking for sanctions against those who violate the law and commit crimes. That is my constitutional duty.”
We have taken much of your time. Thank you so much for talking to us during such challenging times. Hopefully, we can stay in touch.
“We will continue this conversation at a later stage. Thank you.”
A few hours after this interview, Ortega fled Venezuela and is now in Colombia with her husband.
A shorter version of this conversation has been published in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.