Penal Forum, the Notary of the Repression in Venezuela


Anyone who wants to know about the magnitude of the political persecution of recent years in Venezuela should go to the archives of the Penal Forum (PF), authentic notary of the repression in the Caribbean country whose work is recognized today in the United States with the prestigious Robert F Prize. Kennedy of human rights.

“Since 2014, there have been more than 11,900 arbitrary arrests for political reasons in Venezuela. The PF has assisted 80 percent of these detainees,” explains its founder and executive director, Alfredo Romero, who received the award in Washington.

With more than 200 lawyers – “the best penal lawyers in each state” – who offer their time and work free of charge outside of their professional activity and 3,753 volunteers across the national geography, PF begin to take care of each case with a thorough record of incidents.

“The heart of the PF is our database,” says Romero, who explains the reasons for the reliability of the information they store.

The mission of the Forum begins the moment you receive a complaint or find an arrest, death or any abuse. “Our volunteers are like hound dogs looking for where the detainees are, knocking on the doors of every police department, military or detention center to determine where the detainee is and to be able to inform the family members,” says Romero.

The information collected is then entered into the file, and from that moment PF does not lose track of everything that happens with the victim.

“Until we do not have ID cards and full names, they do not register,” says the 58-year-old lawyer, showing the level of detail offered by the system.

The database allows knowing the circumstances of the arrest, the profession, the age, the sex of the arrested person, the crimes that are imputed and the judicial measures against the detainee, as well as the number of apprehensions and releases that took place on a certain day, or the percentage of women, students or soldiers among the prisoners.

In addition, to allowing this impeccable monitoring of arrests – “since 2014 we have practically none escaped” -, the information of the PF also serves to prepare lists of political prisoners that the NGO updates and sends to international organizations every week.

“If the PF did would not have the registration of all the prisoners, the political cost of having them imprisoned would be minimal for the Government. Today people would be imprisoned in the dungeons of the regime without anyone knowing about them and therefore did not open any interest of the Government to liberate us. ”

Given the arbitrariness of the justice system in Venezuela -Romero counts cases of judges who have recognized him pending a call to make a decision about a detainee-, the formula for achieving releases is to increase as much as possible the political cost to the Government of having people behind bars.

The objective, he explains, is that the cost outweigh the benefits that the regime obtains from depriving its critics of freedom, among which it cites to exclude an adversary from the political game, send a warning to those who are tempted to raise their voices or create scapegoats who are responsible for the failure of their management.

To increase the cost, PF exposes the abuses that it knows firsthand and has solidly registered before the public opinion, the democracies of America and Europe and international institutions, which increases the social, political and economic pressure on the regime and erodes its already precarious credentials.

The Robert F. Kennedy intensifies the power of the focus of the world attention on the injustices suffered by the Venezuelans and supposes for Romero and the other volunteers -some of whom have passed through jail- an immense recognition of the hard work that they lead.

“When we are at the doors of a detention center there is no public supporting us, and that is a work of darkness, felt by the ones that are in more darkness than the prisoner,” says the director of PF.

“Being in the dark we are the light of that prisoner, but our work is somehow alone, and that we receive a thank you, that recognize us, as human beings, is a great light that enlightens us and gives us much more strength to continue”.

Marcel Gascón Barberá/EFE