A special inmate
"I kept the information (about molestation) for one year"
The sexual abuse claimed by Afiuni is not the only news in the book. As a matter of fact, The Prey of the Commander is stuffed with information. Names, explanations, events in depth, analysis of the reasons, interviews and testimonies abound. The author delves into the people involved in the unprecedented arrest of a judge immediately after having made a decision. The book reveals astounding meetings; takes off quite a few masks. The book is a summary of news. However, the author would rather highlight its testimonial nature instead of the investigative work.
- I have been called from several countries, including Spain, Argentina and Colombia, among others. In the case of Colombian journalists, it is surprising to see they are very interested and fully knowledgeable of the subject matter. In Venezuela, all the media, both from the capital city and the province, have interviewed me.
- The public interest seems to focus on the charges of molestation. Do you think that some other newsworthy and testimonial issues are being skipped?
Yes, as far as I am concerned. While sexual abuse is very shocking from the viewpoint of news, the testimonial portion of the book is pivotal.
- Until you disclosed it in The Prey of the Commander, Afiuni had kept the alleged sexual assault suffered at INOF virtually in secret. Even her relatives did not know about the event. Did she authorize you to release it?
- The complaint for sexual assault is contained in a paper of NGO Centro de Derechos Humanos led by Ligia Bolívar at Andrés Bello Catholic University. María de Lourdes Afiuni resolved to submit that document because she purported to lay down the issue of onslaught. I learned from the event through the NGO. Afiuni wanted to keep it private.
- And she eventually agreed to make it known to the public?
- She had plenty of doubts. I kept the information for one year. Even the steps to release the book started without such information. Almost at the end of the edition process, the information was included upon Afiuni's approval. The intention was not causing uproar because of that, yet some people received the books in advance, as part of promotion, and those people, in learning about the assault, resolved to disseminate it.
- What would you highlight from the book?
- The Prey of the Commander gets to the bottom of the occurrence and unravels the mystery of why keeping Eligio Cedeño behind bars was so important, and later, arresting María Afiuni. (Cedeño is a Venezuelan banker detained and charged of illegal transactions with US dollars. He was released on bail following a decision of Judge Afiuni). Rather than political, the reason is of an authoritarian nature; to uphold somebody's authority. There is an original inmate, that is, Gustavo Arráiz, who unleashes the whole plot.
The story begins in 2003, when Gustavo Arráiz, a booming businessman in his twenties, applies for –and gets- US dollars to import computers through his company Microstar. The operation is made through a bank that belonged to Eligio Cedeño. In 2005, José Vielma Mora, then the tax superintendent, denounced irregularities related to imports. Dollars were provided but no computers were brought. Two years later, the capture of both of them was requested. However, Cedeño was neither a stockholder nor a partner with Arráiz; he just acted as a middleman.
Cedeño, already in exile in Miami, as a contribution to the book that tells the story of the judge who granted his release on bail, gave Francisco Olivares an interview. At that meeting, Cedeño told the author that he was not friend with Arráiz, only an acquaintance. Nevertheless, while imprisoned, they did have a chat.
- In the Prey of the Commander, you elaborate on Gustavo Arráiz. Did you get to speak with him, as you did with Afiuni and Cedeño?
- He would never grant an interview because of his personal battle. When he managed to be released, in the middle of this year, he would not speak either. However, I did get the testimony off the record from one of his attorneys, in addition to papers that enabled me to unveil the reasons for the determination to imprison him through a commando-style operation in Panama.
- You hinted that it was for a personal reason of President Hugo Chávez.
- There is a situation there involving the president's relatives very close to Arráiz.
- You particularly mentioned María Gabriela, the president's daughter.
- Yes Gustavo Arráiz's link is with her. Even though he denies it, it is said that he presumably used her to bolster his business. In fact, Arráiz amassed a fortune in short time. He even looked like the front man of some government officer.
- However, in a meeting between Cedeño and (Congress Speaker) Diosdado Cabello , also revealed by you in your book, Cabello seems to criticize Arráiz's outspoken capitalist greed.
- That is correct. That is why I say that the book contains lot of stories. There might be another explanation for the determination to capture Arráiz; sort of retaliation.
- Which were your sources in the investigation?
- The fundamental ones were the three case files. In principle, the cases of Cedeño and Arráiz were kept together; but later on they were separated.
- Did you approach government sources to get their version?
- No, I show the government side according to their actions included in the investigated documents.
- Did they refuse to hold interviews?
- No. The point of the matter is that my work was rather oriented to the human dimension of María Afiuni.
- You reveal nepotism in the judiciary, incumbencies granted because of political militancy and, furthermore, you seem particularly touched by the void solidarity of judges regarding their colleague, imprisoned in a particular way. How could you describe the current status of the judiciary?
- The very president of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, Luisa Morales, has declared that the current one is a new judiciary. This means that it is not autonomous. Afiuni, though, affirms that not all of them are like that. Every politically important case goes through four or five judges, most of them identified with the government. This is the case of Alí Paredes (the hearing judge in Afiuni's case), who has aired his political leanings.
Translated by Conchita Delgado
As late as Tuesday, February 25, there was some visible response from Gabriela Ramírez's office. Representatives of the Office of the Ombudswoman would visit independent human rights watch groups to find what happened in connection with repression of protests. That day, they visited NGO Provea. The next day, they met with the attorneys of NGO Venezuelan Criminal Forum. They pursued specific data because -they argued- no claims of human rights violations of demonstrators had been filed with the Office of the Ombudswoman.