On May 22, 2004, Mr. Francisco Usón was arrested by the Venezuelan National Guard on orders from military intelligence. Usón, a retired general in the Venezuelan army, was held without bail pending trial and formally charged by a military tribunal with slandering the armed forces of Venezuela. On October 8, 2004, he was sentenced to serve five and a half years in a military prison. The Human Rights Foundation has researched legal documents, court reports, and public records about the Usón case. HRF has conducted extensive interviews with Usón, his attorneys, family members, medical doctors, and witnesses. The human rights violations in the case of Usón are numerous and unmistakable. Additionally, two attempts were made on Usóns life while he was in military custody.
The charges against Usón are the result of a television show appearance that aired live on the morning of April 16, 2004. The program was hosted by journalist Marta Colomina. Patricia Poleo, an investigative journalist and guest on the show, was also accused by the Venezuelan Government. On April 15, 2004, Poleo published a story about the events that took place on the Fort Mara military base, where a fire in a punishment cell burned eight soldiers on March 30, 2004. Two of those soldiers subsequently died as a result of their wounds (see HRFs Fort Mara case).
Poleos column about Fort Mara stated that the fire was caused by a flamethrower. During his interview, when Usón was asked if he had any comment, he explained that he was a military engineer and responded to technical questions about how a flamethrower operates. He indicated that the weapon was created during World War II and that it uses a mixture of napalm and gasoline for its operation. Usón stated that the mixture of gasoline and napalm has to be prepared before a flame-thrower is operated and that this preparation would indicate premeditation in the Fort Mara case. He commented: This is very, very serious if it ends up being true.
On May 10, 2004, the Venezuelan defense minister, General José García-Carneiro, instructed the military attorney general to prepare charges for a military prosecution of Usón. A capture order for Usón was issued, leading to his detainment two days later. The prosecution of a civilian by military authorities is in violation of Venezuelan law and international treaties to which Venezuela is party. Furthermore, when the executive branch intrudes upon a judicial matter, it both contravenes Venezuelan law and violates due process. Charging Usón with a crime for stating an opinion violates his freedom of speech and expression.
The trial process was carried out in a highly irregular fashion. After being captured by military intelligence, Usón was taken before a military tribunal to be formally charged. Alfredo Hernández, the presiding military judge who had initially approved the charges, reviewed the evidence and did not believe Usón should be detained. Judge Hernández told the military attorney general that he would not preside over the case. Hence, the case was assigned to a different military tribunal and Judge Hernández was dismissed.
During Usóns trial, the prosecution focused on linking Usóns case to the events in Fort Mara by showing that Usón had said that a flamethrower had been used. The defense focused on demonstrating that Usón had never stated that a flamethrower had been used and instead had said that if a flamethrower had been used, it would be a serious matter.
HRF believes that Usóns background is relevant to why he is currently in prison. Francisco Usón has held numerous posts in the Venezuelan government; among them, he headed the office of management and budget and served as a member of the presidential cabinet. Usóns tenure as Minister of Finance lasted until April 17, 2002. On April 11 he tendered his resignation after disagreeing with President Hugo Chávezs decision to activate Plan Avila, a military contingency operation that intended to restore order by using armed force to confront the civilian population protesting in the vicinity of the presidential palace. Upon his resignation, he returned to his duties as brigadier general in the armed forces. Months later he wrote a letter to the defense minister criticizing excessive use of military force against civilians who were protesting government activities in the state of Carabobo. On May 30, 2003, Usón was forcibly retired by order of a military council, who violated their own procedures by ordering Usóns retirement. Usón then became involved in public life.
Francisco Usón is currently serving his sentence in the military prison Ramo Verde. His lawyers have exhausted all appeals and are now pursuing international resources for this case.
In early December, 2006, Usón sent a letter to President Hugo Chavez, in which he rejected the pardon being offered him and restated his position as being innocent of all charges: A pardon is for people who, feeling guilty, look to be forgiven of some crime they have committed, and I am innocent, and as an innocent man, I need no such pardon. With moderation, I exercised a right that is universal, and therefore, constitutional: the free expression of thoughts and ideas, a right to which I will not resign even if it were to cost me my life, because Ive already lost my freedom . In addition, I urge you to materialize this benevolent offer by proposing to the National Assembly that it draft a law of general amnesty for all political prisoners and all those being persecuted for political reasons. (The entire letter may be found in our Documents section).
When RCTVthe most popular TV station in Venezuela, with over 50 years on the airwas shut down by the Government on May 28 of this year 2007 (See: http://freerctv.com), Francisco Usón sent a letter of support to this network. Subsequently, Usón was sanctioned with a suspension of visits in Ramo Verde from April 5 to April 12, 2007. Such a sanction was based on the alleged violation of regulations concerning the emission and reception of correspondence. This compelled the HRF to immediately send a petition to the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez Frias, calling for the termination of this unfounded punishment that again constitutes a violation of Usóns human rights (See: http://www.lahrf.com/UsonCartaAbril07.pdf).
This November, the HRF along with Francisco Usons family and lawyers, will be waiting for the commuting of his sentence since this is a benefit he has available to him under Venezuelan legislation.
The Human Rights Foundation has established that Usón's arrest, trial, and imprisonment represent violations of human rights. Specifically, they violate his right to be free of arbitrary detainment, the right to speak freely, and the right to equal treatment and due process under the law. HRF is also concerned for Usóns life. While in a military hospital, there were two incidents in which he was injected with lethal doses of medication that nearly killed him.
Beyond manifest violations of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the Usón case presents serious violations of sixteen separate articles from international conventions and treaties to which Venezuela is a signatory. These treaties and conventions include: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the American Convention on Human Rights (Pact of San Jose, Costa Rica).
|Last and First Names:||Usón Ramírez, Francisco Vicente|
|Identification Number:||434 9409|
|Place and Date of Birth:||Caracas, May 4, 1955|
|Rank:||Army Brigade General, retired as of June of 2003|
|Spouse:||María Eugenia Borges de Usón|
|Daughter:||María José Usón Borge|
|Languages:||Spanish and English|
|Current State:||Political Prisoner|
|Detention Center:||National Center for Military Prosecutions, Ramo Verde, Municipality of Guaicaipuro, Miranda State, Venezuela|
|Date of Detention:||May 22, 2004|
|Sentence:||Five years and six months according to or as established in article 505 of the Military Justice Code|
- Official of the Venezuelan Army and Bachelor of Military Arts and Sciences, honorable mention in Science. Military Academy of Venezuela, 1977.
- Master's in Defense Studies and Logistical Planning. George Washington University, USA 1988.
- Command and Joint Staff Officer with specialization in Logistics. Superior School, 1995.
- Masters in Natural Resource Strategy. National Defense University, USA 1999.
- Planning Director for the Defense Ministry, 1996-1998.
- Joint Staff Officer for the Ministry of Defense Office, 1999-2000.
- Director of the Central Budget Office, 2000-2002.
- Finance Minister, 2002.
- Sector Director of Planning and Budget for the Defense Ministry, 2002.
- Transcript by Venezuelan technical police of TV show containing interview with Uson (Oct. 4, 2004)
- Expertise made by Venezuelan technical police of the tape containing Poleo's interview with Uson (Sept. 30, 2004)
- Trial Court decision sentencing Usón (Nov. 08, 2004)
- Plea before the Military Trial Court (Jul. 29, 2004)
- Plea before the Court of Military Appeals
- Plea for the reversal of the Court of Military Appeals decision
- Plea for the extraordinary review of the Supreme Tribunal decision
- Declaration of admissibility of Usons petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Mar. 15, 2006)
- Plea for legal protection against order of Usons forcible retirement (Oct. 15, 2003)