May 21, 2013
Ex-Supreme Court justice says Venezuela manipulates courts
A Venezuelan Supreme Court judge who was removed from his post last month for assisting a drug trafficker has accused President Hugo Chávez's leftist government of systematically manipulating the courts, including meddling in drug cases.
Eladio Aponte fled two weeks ago to Costa Rica, where he contacted officials of the US Drug Enforcement Administration and was flown to the United States, a Costa Rican official said.
"It's very corrupt at every single level. There's a lot of manipulation," Aponte said in an interview taped in Costa Rica by Miami-based online TV channel Soi TV and broadcast on Wednesday in Venezuela by an opposition television station.
The Chávez government accused the DEA of picking up a fugitive from Venezuelan justice to use him as a political tool to attack it. DEA representatives in Miami and Washington declined to comment.
Washington would likely use any evidence of corruption to discredit Chávez, and if Aponte's allegations are true, they will also raise the prospect of the United States bringing more drug charges against senior officials in his government.
Should Aponte agree to cooperate with the DEA, he would be the highest-ranking former Venezuelan official to testify about corruption in Chavez's socialist government.
The United States accuses the Venezuelan government of turning a blind eye to drug trafficking and appointing corrupt military officers to top positions.
Chávez, who is battling cancer, says Venezuela has made great progress in fighting drug traffickers operating along its border with Colombia and accuses the United States of seeking to undermine his self-styled "re v olution."
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicholas Maduro said Chávez's opponents had seized on the fugitive judge as their new hero and turned him into an "honorable gentleman" overnight in their newspaper headlines.
"He sold his soul to the DEA, which has reappeared as a political actor instead of an agency for combating drugs," Maduro told reporters in Caracas.
The minister rejected Aponte's allegations, saying his dismissal from the Supreme Court proved Venezuela's judiciary was working properly.
Chávez ended cooperation with the DEA in 2005 amid accusations that its agents were spying and violating the sovereignty of Venezuela, a major oil-producing nation that provides close to 10 percent of US crude and fuel imports.
Henrique Capriles, the opposition presidential candidate who will run against Chávez on Oct. 7, said the former judge's allegations showed that the government ran the judiciary.
"There is no justice in Venezuela. There is only justice for the powerful who manipulate the courts at whim," he said.