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Gustavo Azócar is a university professor and a journalist in the western state of Táchira in Venezuela. He was arrested by the Venezuelan government in 2009. Prior to his arrest, he was the host of Café con Azócar, a show on Televisora Regional del Táchira. The show has a large audience and is widely influential in Táchira. After an investigation and review of the circumstances in his case, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) considers Azócar a prisoner of conscience and a political prisoner of the Venezuelan government.
His criticisms of the government at the local, regional and national levels and his high profile as an opposition leader in Táchira have made him the target of political persecution by members of the Venezuelan government. His work, which is often controversial, has also made him a nuisance to many influential players in the Venezuelan political arena, including former Táchira Governor Ronald Blanco La Cruz, President Hugo Chávez, and many of the presidents supporters in the government.
During Blanco La Cruzs gubernatorial campaign, Azócar penned scathing pieces about the candidate, exposing his exaggerations to public scorn. Azócar continued to criticize Blanco La Cruz once he became governor, as his government consistently ignored the presence of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Táchira. The FARC is a terrorist group that has kidnapped hundreds of people and is responsible for the death of tens of thousands of Colombian civilians, among countless other crimes. Táchira borders Colombia and the FARC present a real danger to Táchiras citizenry. Azócar has also accused President Chávez of diverting funds away from social services and into the hands of the FARC.
Azócar has been a victim of verbal and physical harassment. He has received numerous death threats via email, phone, and mail. In 2003, after a series of attacks that included an incident outside his residence where shots were fired at his vehicle, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued precautionary measures on Azócars behalf, urging the Venezuelan government to protect the journalists rights to free expression, personal integrity, and life. Neither the local nor the national authorities heeded these measures.
On November 20th, 2007, Iris Varela, a congresswoman from President Chávez party, physically assaulted Azócar during Café con Azócar, hitting him in the face, insulting him, and breaking his glasses. President Chávez later praised Varela for her actions during a political rally that was broadcast on national television.
Azócars articles and television appearances from 2008 and 2009 have prominently featured harsh condemnation of the erosion of human rights in Venezuela specifically regarding the political disqualifications that prevented many politicians from running for office in 2008.
Azócar is currently on trial for corruption, fraud, and forgery in connection with advertising bought by Lotería del Táchira, a state lottery company, in 2000. In December 2000, Táchira State Prosecutor General Ana Casanova opened a criminal investigation to determine whether advertising contracts between Lotería and the company Nuevo Perfil had been fulfilled. Azócar was the manager of the radio station where the advertising was to be broadcast, in charge of certifying that the commercials had aired. Though he never collected any payment for the commercials, he was the focus of many of the Public Prosecutors Offices inquiries.
Five years later, in 2005, when it was determined that the contracts between Nuevo Perfil and Lotería had, in fact, been fulfilled, the Public Prosecutors Office dropped the initial investigation only to begin a new one into contracts between GEA Comunicaciones (GEA) a company Azócar owns and Lotería. Azócar was not informed that his company was under scrutiny.
By July 2005, it was evident that Azócars company was being investigated as the Public Prosecutors Office continued to request information from Radio San Cristóbal about the journalist in charge of the advertising contract between GEA and Lotería. Azócar did not receive any official notice that he was under investigation until November 2006, when a formal accusation was presented against him. Prior to that, on March 6th, 2006, he was arrested for allegedly failing to show up for court summonses and was imprisoned for 16 days before being conditionally released.
After several stops and starts, the Public Prosecutors Office finally brought Azócar to trial in May 2009 for alleged irregularities in contracts with Lotería and GEA. He has been in prison since July 29th, 2009, and is waiting for a resolution to his case, which was to be announced on September 11th, but has been postponed after the presiding judge was suspended from her post ten days prior to the trials scheduled conclusion.
More than a month after the suspension, on October 5th, the new judge assigned to the case annulled the first trial and called for an entirely new one to begin in November. Under these circumstances, Azócar should have been released when the trial was declared null, but the new judge ordered that he remain in prison, contrary to Venezuelan law and his right to be tried in freedom.
The new trial against Azócar began on November 20th but was postponed in mid-December until January 12th, 2010, after six hearings.
Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and, most recently, the International Federation of Journalists, have expressed their concern over Gustavo Azócars case and imprisonment, and have unanimously asked for his release.
HRF has found gross violations of due process guarantees in Azócars case, including undue delays and disproportionate measures, that strongly suggest that Gustavo Azócar has been imprisoned for political reasons. His case is riddled with violations of the fundamental human rights to freedom of expression, due process, and personal integrity contained in several international conventions to which Venezuela is a party, including 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. Caracas Nine case # 4 features another journalist, Marta Colomina, who has suffered similar attacks. These are not isolated incidents, and represent just two examples of a larger trend in which many journalists are being persecuted for speaking out against the Venezuelan government.
Although HRF cannot rule on the merits of Azócars case, there is enough evidence to support the assertion that the investigation and trial against him seek to silence his independent voice.
NOTE: Most videos are in Spanish.
|Last and First Names:||Azócar Alcalá, Gustavo|
|Place and Date of Birth:||Anzoátegui, Venezuela, August 29th, 1966|
|Occupation:||University professor, journalist, television show host|
|Spouse:||María Rico de Azócar|
|Date of (most recent) Detention:||July 29th, 2009 |
|Charges:||Corruption, set forth in Article 64 of the anti-corruption law, forgery of private documents, as established in Article 322 of the Penal Code, and fraud, as defined in Article 464 of the Penal Code. |
Honors and Awards
This CV was originally found in Gustavo Azócars website in Spanish. It was translated to English by the Human Rights Foundation.