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Opinions of Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Columnist: Baltasar Garzón

Justice versus arbitrariness: The case of Alex Saab

Alex Saab Alex Saab

The 12th of June marks one year since the arbitrary and illegal arrest and detention of Alex Saab, special envoy and diplomatic agent of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, on an official trip to Iran to manage the acquisition of essential goods for the country amidst the framework of a brutal crisis, the exclusive consequence of the illegal economic blockade imposed by the United States.

At a critical moment for Venezuela, suffocated by that unilateral sanctioning blockade imposed by the U.S., whose sole purpose is to overthrow the Government of Nicolás Maduro, the figure of Alex Saab appeared.

Invested and cloaked as a Special Envoy of the country to manage contingents of goods and products needed for the Venezuelan economy, he had successfully managed to put together and co-ordinate a commercial chain of different countries not subject to the designs of the North American empire.

His international mission was a success and Venezuela achieved alternative channels of trade with various countries of the international community, which resulted in failure for the aforementioned sanctioning blockade by the United States. Alex Saab played a decisive role in the diplomatic sphere, preventing the economic collapse of the country, as predicted by the U.S. and the response was not long in coming.

On 12th June 2020, the U.S. took full advantage of Alex Saab's trip to Iran, precisely to manage essential goods for the Venezuelan economy, to arrest and detain him through an unprecedented attack on the most elementary rules of international law. States relate to one another in the international community under a basic set of rules, and among those rules, we find the core of peaceful diplomatic relations, where immunities and inviolability of countries' diplomatic envoys are established.

Alex Saab is a diplomatic agent of Venezuela and continues to be so today, recognized not only by his country, but by the rest of the countries of the international community that received him in this capacity. However, on his trip to Iran, his plane was forced to land in Cape Verde to make a stopover, after several countries denied him that possibility, evidently responding to a millimetrically-designed plan for Alex Saab to end up on the small African island.

Immediately upon landing in Cape Verde, he was arrested at the request of the United States, beginning an extradition process that is still continuing today. There is no doubt that this kidnapping, ordered by the United States, is 100% political.

Cape Verde did not recognize the immunities and inviolability of Alex Saab as Special Envoy, a diplomatic agent, in transit to Iran, within the framework of a strategic trade mission to avoid the suffering of the Venezuelan people. The United States gave instructions to trample on international law and disregard elementary rules intended to create a civilized space for interaction between countries, norms that, strikingly, the United States imperatively demands for its own diplomatic agents and soldiers abroad.

It is enough to see the vehemence with which it claims these privileges in the face of the investigations of the International Criminal Court.

Alex Saab's arrest did not even have international enabling means. At the time of his arrest, there was no Red Alert processed by INTERPOL, as was stated, however. In fact, the Red Alert was introduced later, in an attempt to legally justify the outrage that was being committed against the diplomatic agent.

After the arrest of Alex Saab, his extradition process began. A process without any legal basis, since there is no bilateral agreement for extradition between Cape Verde and the United States. Furthermore, without such an agreement, in the notes verbal exchanged between the United States and Cape Verde, the former has recognized that it cannot guarantee future reciprocity with this handing-over.

Ultimately, the United States unilaterally has demanded and imposed on Cape Verde the surrender of a person who is under its jurisdiction. Again, the strength of the powerful annihilates the weak.

Alex Saab was indicted on 8 charges in the extradition request sent by the United States, although throughout the process it has waived 7 of those 8 charges, after the defence of the diplomat was dismantled. Something logical, since the purpose of the extradition is purely political and does not correspond to any criminal reality.

The United States only seeks to dismantle the alternative supply strategy that Alex Saab managed to develop against its economic blockade, and on the other hand, to have a senior official from the Maduro government inside the United States to coerce him, pressure him and seek to get him to give evidence against the main representative of Venezuela.

While the extradition was being elucidated, he was locked up in a Cape Verdean prison in the harshest of conditions, losing almost 30 kilos in weight, without access to the anticancer medication which he was under, and without medication against removal of half of his stomach. In a 2 by 2 metre cell where he only had a hole to relieve himself and to wash with a bucket.

In a cell riddled with bugs and with widespread bites all over his body. furthermore, as Alex Saab himself reported and spoke out against, receiving the visit of U.S. agents who, between beatings and abuse, asked him to agree to surrender voluntarily to the United States. His right to his defence was systematically impaired and eroded, even preventing his international legal defence team from entering the country.

But Alex Saab remained strong and decided to fight to the end against the empire. His legal defence team filed international legal actions, specifically, precautionary measures and lawsuits before the Court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). And there was no hesitation on the part of the African court.

In an absolutely forceful way, it indicated to Cape Verde that Alex Saab should be released from prison and be placed under house arrest in order to guarantee his most basic human rights. Shortly after tackling and understanding the merits of the case, the Court ruled that Alex Saab could not be extradited to the United States, that his arrest had been arbitrary and illegal, and that Cape Verde should release Alex Saab.

The decision of the ECOWAS Court demonstrated that Africa was standing up against the North American outrage to declare with a firm voice that the colonial era was over. Africa is self-determined and forms a group of independent states of the international community that does not accept overseering instructions. And the ECOWAS Court in this case has been a glorious example of this.

However, the decision was not respected by the internal bodies of Cape Verde. Much less was it respected by the United States, which, in respect to international organizations, should have withdrawn its extradition request.

Currently Alex Saab is under an extreme form of house arrest, heavily guarded and under practically solitary confinement that makes it difficult even to defend him. The last instance of Cape Verde, the Constitutional Court, must rule. It will be the last opportunity for the Cape Verdean jurisdiction to demonstrate to the rest of the international community that the country is respectful of international law and international human rights protection organizations.

But above all, it will be an unbeatable opportunity for Cape Verde to show the world that submission and colonial subjugation ended in Africa, and that no superpower like the United States can stomp and trample underfoot on the rule of law on the African continent for its own political interests.

It is an unequal fight, but justice is on the side of Alex Saab and arbitrariness on the side of those who persecute him. We hope and expect that the former prevails over the latter.