William Camacaro, Venezuelan-American, National Co-Coordinator

It is now a year since the culmination of a 16 month-long pseudo-legal process which shredded the façade of the legal system in the micro-archipelago ten island state which makes up the Republic of Cape Verde.

October 16, 2021, saw the Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab forcibly removed from Cape Verde to the United States by US Marshalls and DEA agents. The months leading up to Alex Saab’s extradition (although the manner in which it was carried out is more akin to rendition) saw Cape Verde citizens deeply concerned about the treatment that their country was doling out to a lawfully appointed diplomat of a friendly country. The fact that Alex Saab was finally removed without the legal process having been completed has significantly harmed Cape Verde’s standing in West Africa as well as amongst the global diplomatic community.

The number of legal irregularities in the so-called due process which resulted in Alex Saab being taken illegally by US agents are so numerous as to leave only plausible conclusion.

The final result was predetermined.

The United States wanted Alex Saab and, neither his entitlement to diplomatic immunity and inviolability nor the 1961 Vienna Convention, nor the US’s own Diplomatic Relations Act nor the niceties of Cape Verdean law were going to prevent it from getting him. From the earliest days of the Trump presidency one of the top three political foreign policy objectives was regime change in Venezuela and to target anyone close to President Maduro.

We know now that several US agencies including the DOJ, the Office of International Affairs of the DOJ, the DEA, Departments of State and Defense all were fixated on seizing the man that they believed had single-handedly kept President Nicolas Maduro in power. Alex Saab developed new commercial and financial networks to bring much-needed gasoline, basic foodstuffs and medicines to Venezuela.

The Cape Verdean judicial and executive authorities will no doubt howl in protest at this characterization of the domestic legal process as being “predetermined” to help their new-found BFF’s from the United States. If not “predetermined,” how then to explain the fact that every single independent court, commission, international body which ruled on or reviewed Alex Saab’s detention has ruled in favor of Alex Saab? Why have they all concluded that his arrest was unlawful, that the extradition process be halted or time be given for a thorough examination of the allegations of torture carried out against him? Not one single independent body has ruled that the process conducted in Cape Verde was just.

Throughout the shameful process which culminated in Special Envoy Saab’s forcible and unlawful removal from Cape Verde to Miami then-candidate, now President, Jose Maria Neves, refused to comment on the matter. What has infuriated both domestic and international observers more than anything else have been his refusal to clarify questions about the 2005 Supplementary Protocol of the ECOWAS Court of Justice.

Under the Protocol “the Court has jurisdiction to determine cases of violations of human rights that occur in any Member State.” Also, the Protocol declares that there is no requirement to exhaust domestic remedies, meaning individuals do not need to pursue national judicial remedies before bringing a claim to the ECOWAS Court of Justice.

Article 11.2 of the Protocol state unequivocally states:

Article 11:

Entry into force

  1. This Supplementary Protocol shall definitively enter into force upon the ratification by at least nine (9) signatory States, in accordance with the constitutional procedure of each Member State.

In the end, 14 of the 15 member states signed the Protocol at the ceremony in Abuja in January 2005. The only state not to sign was Cape Verde and that only because its then-Prime Minister, now President, Jose Maria Neves left the evening before to attend to an urgent domestic matter. To be sure, Cape Verde fully participated in the negotiations that led to the final Protocol.

At no time before and during those negotiations did Jose Maria Neves nor any Cape Verdean official raise any doubts about the wording and applicability of the Protocol on Cape Verde. At no time since the January 2005 Abuja ECOWAS Summit did Cape Verde ever state that it was not bound by the Protocol.

It was only when Cape Verde was blind-sided by Alex Saab’s lead ECOWAS counsel, the world-renowned human rights advocate Femi Falana, who brought the matter of Alex Saab’s unlawful arrest before the ECOWAS Court, did Cape Verde suggest that the Protocol was not binding upon it. Ultimately the Court ruled not once but twice in March and June 2021 that Alex Saab must be immediately released, the extradition process against him be terminated and he be paid compensation.

As we know Cape Verde refused to comply with Court’s ruling.

The Cape Verdean executive branch feigned ignorance and passed the buck to the domestic courts who in turn threw the ball back to the government of Ulisses Correia who just refused to address the issue. As written earlier, at no time did Cape Verde ever raise any concern about the binding nature of the Protocol until it was forced to take a nonsensical position by pressure from the United States.

The one person who could have shed light on the matter and saved his country’s degenerating international image, his own standing and permitted Alex Saab to be released and avail of his entitlement to immunity and inviolability was Jose Maria Neves. But he elected to say nothing but did, laughably, initially claim that he “could not remember.”

He was more interested in his own self-interests of becoming president and milking the relationship with the United States than the rule of law in Cape Verde and Alex Saab’s freedom.

So, a year later, what has happened?

Cape Verde remains a micro-state gaining notoriety for being the major transshipment point for narco-trafficking between South America and Europe than a bastion of the rule of law on the African continent. The much-promised US$400 million injection into the Cape Verdean economy from construction of a new US mega-embassy complex, remains illusory but is rumored to start soon. How long the love-in with between Servant and the Master lasts is open to debate, but history is not on the side of Cape Verde.

Special Envoy Alex Saab remains in custody in Miami with his claim of immunity and inviolability set to be heard on December 12, 2022. The immunity defense is legally sound and compelling with all signs pointing towards a precedent-setting defeat for the DoJ. Recently, Venezuela and the United States engaged in a swap of nationals held in detention by each side respectively. There is a great deal of speculation in both Miami and Caracas that a further swap will take place soon and the first name on the list of Venezuelans to be returned home will be Alex Saab. In the meantime, millions of Dollars have been spent by the DoJ in a pursuit which, based on domestic law and international treaty obligations of the United States, should never have been permitted to start in the first place.