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domingo, noviembre 20, 2005

Ortega trial begins, at last

Carlos Ortega The trial of Carlos Ortega finally got underway last week, after multiple delays and postponements. But now - guess what? -- it's been delayed again.

Ortega is being tried for his role in leading the oil industry stoppage of winter 2002, which left many Venezuelans lacking fuel, food and other necessities for months and caused billions of dollars in losses to the nation's economy. The stoppage failed to achieve Chavez's resignation, and it gradually petered out, while Ortega fled the country.

He was captured in a gambling house after returning to Caracas earlier this year. Now he stands accused of civil rebellion (the most serious charge), instigation to lawbreaking, and use of a false document (the fake ID he was carrying when captured). An earlier charge of treason was thrown out by a previous judge. (More background here.)

In his initial statement last Wednesday before the court, though, Ortega responded to none of these charges. Instead, he took the opportunity to criticize the judge, the court, and the nation's judicial system, saying, "I do not believe in this Judicial Power, because it is not autonomous, but responds to the dictates of this Administration."

At the time of the oil stoppage, Ortega was the president of the CTV, Venezuela's old-guard union confederation. When he was first captured last spring, they vigorously defended him, saying the charges were politically motivated. Haven't heard much from the CTV recently about Ortega's case, though.

So why the new delay? Ortega fired his public defender (at least that's the gist of it -- I don't know what the legal procedure and terminology is in Venezuela) and is starting again with a new lawyer, Carlos Roa Roa. The trial is supposed to start again on Tuesday, though, so maybe this time the delay will be brief.

For minute-to-minute coverage of the trial, tune in here! (Just kidding. But I will post an update if I hear of any major new developments.)

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