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First Chavez, then First Justice

By Alexandra Beech,

One of the greatest threats that the populist Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela may face in the future may not be the traditional parties vying for power, but a young political party called First Justice, comprised of professionals who grew tired of traditional old-party machine politics and coalesced.

If Chavez is emotion and excess, First Justice is efficiency and education.

During the past few years, their membership has sky-rocketed. Only three years ago, when they challenged Chavez to a debate, he said, “First What?”

Its president and founder, Julio Borges, once a judge on a television show modeled after the People’s Court which helped barrios to arbiter disputes, is today a frontrunner in the presidential election. Like Borges, many other First Justice members are young, popular, and educated professionals.

Currently, Henrique Capriles Radonski, a popular First Justice mayor of the Baruta district, is sitting in a Venezuelan prison. With two law degrees, Radonski, who was once a Speaker of the House, was twenty six years old when he was elected to Congress – the youngest person ever.

Radonski, who tried to calm the violent crowd which surrounded the Cuban Embassy following Chavez’s ouster on April 11, 2002, now stands accused of six crimes related to that incident, despite video footage which shows him attempting to calm the disturbance.

Perhaps the greatest irony in Radonski’s life was the hearing which took place at the National Assembly after the incident. When ruling party lawmakers called him a “Nazi” and “fascist”, Radonski revealed that most of his Polish Jewish family was killed at concentration camps during the Holocaust. His maternal grandfather rescued his grandmother from the Varsovia ghetto.

Visiting Radonski at the Helicoide jail in Caracas has become so popular that lines of supporters often form outside the doors.

On Sunday, July 11, Radonski turned thirty two years old. Family, friends, and well-wishers came to celebrate. As they approached the Helicoide, they were pelted by rocks, bottles, and fireworks hurled by government supporters. The police didn’t take action, according to witnesses.

Thus far, all hearings on his case have been cancelled, sometimes at the last minute.

The government may have a hard time proving its case. As Father Robert Sirico recently noted in the Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Capriles is being jailed for political reasons. He is a well-known opponent of President Hugo Chavez and his regime, which is notorious throughout the region for its dangerous blend of political populism, domestic socialism, and protectionist and nationalist foreign relations.”

Detaining Radonski has been a strategic mistake for the government. Rather than showing its might, it has only brought more visibility to the First Justice party and made Radonski a hero. Moreover, it must now assume the political cost of holding a prisoner for questionable charges.

Even if no one in the relatively new party aspires to win the presidency soon, expect to see its members such as Julio Borges, Chacao Mayor Leopoldo Lopez, lawmakers Gerardo Blyde and Liliana Hernandez, or Radonski himself at the country’s helm during the next few decades.

Venezuelans will continue to demand justice, and these professionals may have the mettle to deliver.

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