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Rape Acquittal Criticized in Venezuela

By Christopher Toothaker - Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela 10/23/2004 -- Prosecutors, lawmakers and rights activists criticized Venezuela's judicial system for the acquittal of a man who had been accused of torturing and repeatedly raping a woman.

Citing a lack of evidence and alleged lies by defendant Linda Loaiza, a judge dropped charges of kidnapping, rape and attempted murder against Luis Carrera late Thursday.

Loaiza, 21, had staged a 13-day hunger strike on the steps of Venezuela's Supreme Court to protest delays in court proceedings that left the case in limbo for three years. She said she would appeal the ruling.

"I will take action so justice prevails," said Loaiza, whose injuries included facial scars and burns.

Outraged state prosecutors said they would seek the removal of judge Rosa Cadiz, who ordered an investigation into allegations that Loaiza and her father were running a prostitution ring, while human rights activists and legislators vowed to help challenge the ruling.

"This has no justification ... we must all fight against impunity in this country," said lawmaker Julio Borges, founder of the Justice First opposition party.

Justice First, joined by other political parties, convoked a street march to protest Thursday's ruling.

Carrera, the son of a wealthy former university president, had claimed that Loaiza had been injured when she was a prostitute prior to their first meeting over four years ago.

Venezuelans closely followed the case, which highlighted this South American country's chronically corrupt and inefficient justice system.

Loaiza's case was deferred 29 times and passed through the hands of 59 judges since it was filed in 2001, a clear example of the systems' failure to administer justice.

Government critics argue sluggishness within the court system demonstrates the failure of a far-reaching judicial reform pushed through by President Hugo Chavez in 1999, when hundreds of judges were fired by an assembly stacked with the president's allies. Many were replaced by "provisional" judges eager to keep their jobs.

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