The Fugitive

Patricia Poleo, a Venezuelan journalist and political activist, is accused of murder. She's in exile in Miami.

Chávez declared three days of "national pain" in the wake of the bombing. Flags were flown at half-mast. Anderson was posthumously awarded medals of honor from the state, and a foundation was formed in his name. A mural was painted on a wall adjoining a sanctuary for contemplating the martyr's ideals; it featured a portrait of Anderson with a dove.

The state-run television channel, VTV, broadcast Anderson's flag-bedecked funeral, a somber narrator intoning a soundtrack whose grace notes were bravery, liberty, justice, and commitment to the fatherland. In the footage, a barrage of roses rains over the flag-draped coffin as it is carried through Cemeterio del Este. Crowds of mourners sing and weep. As the sun sets, military cadets fire a salute over the open grave, and an eruption of nearby car alarms wails as the smoke dissipates.

The romance was short-lived. "The first thesis was that it was a political assassination," says media watchdog Ewald Scharfenberg. "But then journalistic investigations started to find very curious things." Anderson might have been on the take, extorting bribes, Scharfenberg says, "in exchange for certain people not to be prosecuted."

A spook in every attic: The government's sole witness against Poleo was a convicted con artist with a fake 
degree in psychiatry from Johns Hopkins University. He 
claimed she cooperated with the usual suspects of Latin 
American political conspiracies — the CIA, the FBI, and 
Cuban exiles in Miami
A spook in every attic: The government's sole witness against Poleo was a convicted con artist with a fake degree in psychiatry from Johns Hopkins University. He claimed she cooperated with the usual suspects of Latin American political conspiracies — the CIA, the FBI, and Cuban exiles in Miami
Patricia Poleo
Jacqueline Carini
Patricia Poleo

It turned out that Anderson, with his Rhett Butler mustache and populist flair, had a fondness for Tommy Hilfiger apparel and Jet Skis. Six months before his death, the prosecutor — who came from humble roots — confessed to loving the good life. "I wear Tommy, my suits are by Fabiano," the stalwart comrade of the Bolivarian Revolution said in a magazine interview headlined "I Don't Want to Return to Being Poor." "Everything I have on, from my shoes to my toothbrush, is brand-name. I like to dress in brands and live well."

When interviewer Elizabeth Araujo asked Anderson how he afforded such luxuries, he pointed out that his mother was dead, he did not have children, and he was single. But after his murder, journalists began probing, and his good life seemed too good to be true: On a modest government salary, Anderson possessed $8000 in Tommy Hilfiger clothing, two Jet Skis, an upscale condominium, the yellow Toyota Land Cruiser Autana, and an even larger SUV, a Toyota Machito.

At the time of his death, Anderson was heading to the mall to buy an overcoat at Zara for an upcoming trip to Spain. The friend who was to meet him there, lawyer Sócrates Tiniacos, later told investigators about a large stash of cash in Anderson's apartment. Anderson's roommate, Julio Farias, told criminal investigators that he and Tiniacos acted on long-standing instructions to remove the cash from a safe in the apartment. "I opened it, took out all the money that was in there, put it in a suitcase, and left the house," Farias told investigators. About 120 million bolivares — $56,000 — was packed inside shoeboxes.

Both men said they saw Anderson being handed cash by lawyers of bankers implicated in the 2002 coup, presumably in exchange for immunity from prosecution. In early January 2005, Interior Minister Chacón admitted that the government was investigating an extortion ring within the attorney general's office. One prominent banker had even complained to the government about the blackmail prior to Anderson's murder, Chacón confirmed.

Patricia Poleo immersed herself in the journalistic fray and broke several major stories about the murder. Her theory is that the government knew about the bombing. "In the area where the accident happened, there are businesses all around, including a restaurant that sells parillas [Venezuelan barbecue]. I went and spoke with a man who worked there and he said that [the Venezuelan political police] had ordered them to close. This seemed odd to me. An explosion as large as this one, and nobody had been affected? It's a zone of heavy transit."

Poleo also implicated a number of prominent lawyers in the corruption. One of them, Yoraco Bauza, was assigned to prosecute Anderson's killers once they were found. Bauza claimed innocence and promised criminal reprisals against Poleo in a press conference. On January 28, 2005, police raided Poleo's apartment with a search warrant and turned it upside down, digging through files and poring through her computer's hard drive. "They said my information was ötoo exact,'" Poleo remembers primly. Prosecutors demanded she reveal her sources. She refused.

Over the next six months, Attorney General Isaías Rodríguez continued to promise a vigorous inquiry into the extortion ring, but in reality the investigation slowed to a halt. Three former policemen with connections to Anderson were arrested as the crime's "material authors," tried in court, and sentenced to 30 years in prison. All three, members of the same family, claimed they were innocent. Two other suspected material authors were killed in what the government claimed were "shootouts" with the country's political police. The opposition media suggested they were murdered.

Rodríguez promised that the investigation into the "intellectual authors" would be relentless and thorough.

On November 4, 2005, around 7:00 p.m., Patricia Poleo was teaching a journalism class at the University of Santa María in Caracas. "The lecture I was giving was about how to distinguish truth from falsity," she says. Suddenly students began appearing at the door of her classroom. "They told me that the attorney general had just announced that I would be charged as one of the intellectual authors" of the bombing, she remembers. "They said, öWe have to get you out of here because they have just announced a measure to detain you.' They got me out of the university. I had left my apartment at 6:00 a.m. that morning and I never went back."

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