The art of lobbying -- and disappearing -- from a jail cell

By Andrea Daza Tapia
El Mundo Economía y Negocios, Caracas
Friday, December 18, 2009; 2:04 PM

Introduction: Attack of the Clones

The space opera, "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones," was the fifth movie of the "Star Wars" saga and the second in terms of the story's internal chronology. A renegade Jedi threatens the Galactic Republic, a cinematic metaphor that lends itself to the case of Eligio Cedeño, a Venezuelan banker who had been held at the detention facilities of the National Directorate of Intelligence and Prevention Services, the principal Venezuelan intelligence agency, since Feb. 8, 2008, awaiting trial.

On Oct. 14, 2009, an appeals court ordered his release. A judge did so on Dec. 10, only to be locked up herself the same day and accused of acting improperly to free the banker. Cedeño, meanwhile, vanished. President Hugo Chávez criticized the release and said the judge should receive the longest possible jail sentence: "Thirty years, nothing less."

The drama continued to unfold into the holiday season. During his incarceration and during the time this article was being reported, Cedeño maintained that he was determined to take his case beyond the country's borders, and hired defense lawyers and others to represent him internationally.

Cedeño answered our editorial team's questions from his cell. He said he had "a whole pile of lawyers, about 12 of them." They included a total of seven working in Venezuela, and beyond, in France, Spain and in Washington, Los Angeles and Miami. "I decided that I'm not just going to publicize my case, I am also going to begin to give publicity to all of the cases of political prisoners. That's my biggest effort right now," he said.

So, it seems the government of Venezuela has not been the only entity trying to clean up its image in The Empire. People who consider themselves victims of that government have been doing so as well.

WASHINGTON -- In late September, Venezuela made headlines in the United States for two reasons. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was in New York for the General Assembly of the United Nations and was interviewed by Larry King on CNN's "Larry King Live." And, Venezuela barred the broadcast there of a cartoon series called "Family Guy," the first animated series to win an Emmy nomination since "The Flintstones" in 1961.

In Venezuela, the top local story focused on a hunger strike led by the student movement opposed to Chávez's policies. On Oct. 5, Juan Forero, a reporter for The Washington Post, brought the United States up to date. "Politics and Prison in Venezuela" was the headline on an extensive report about the release of a 22-year-old student, Julio César Rivas, who had been in the El Rodeo jail for three weeks and who, as soon as he was out, and still facing charges, joined the hunger strike begun by his fellow students.

On Oct. 8, after a year in jail, Admiral Carlos Millán and Wilfredo Barroso, who were arrested for their alleged participation in an assassination plot against Chávez, also got out on pretrial release.

On Oct. 10, José Dacre, the driver of a bus carrying the sound system that accompanied the student protests, had his detention order removed. He had been arrested on Jan. 23 after being accused of "public intimidation."

On Oct. 14, the Eighth Chamber of Appeals of the Caracas Circuit Court also granted pretrial release to banker Eligio Cedeño, who had been imprisoned since Feb. 8, 2007 on charges of "diversion of financial resources."

Much of Cedeño's rags-to-riches rise from a Caracas slum to affluence occurred during Chávez's presidency, and the banker's critics are trying to prove that illegal acts were involved.

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