What the Venezuelan Constitution Does, and Does Not, Say about Chávez's Innauguration
Written by Dan Beeton, CEPR
Thursday, 10 January 2013 15:41
Source: The Americas Blog
The Venezuelan government announced Tuesday that President Hugo Chávez
will miss his swearing in on Thursday, January 10, when his new term is set to begin. The Supreme Court ruled today that his swearing in tomorrow would not be necessary for “continuity”
of his administration, and that he could be sworn in before the Court at a later date.
Returning from a meeting with Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolás Maduro,
Brazilian Foreign Minister Marco Aurelio Garcia said Tuesday that
Brazil regards as constitutional the extension of time needed to swear
in Chávez as president for his new term, saying the current debate can
be solved through "constitutional means,” as Venezuela’s El Universal newspaper reported. Several heads of state or other high level officials from Latin American governments will be present at events at the presidential palace in Caracas tomorrow.
Despite some confusion and deliberate distortions in the media and among
Venezuela observers, the Venezuelan constitution (English PDF version here; Spanish version here) is clear on procedure regarding what is allowed if the president-elect is unable to be sworn in in Caracas.
For example, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R – FL), who has infamously called
for Fidel Castro’s assassination in the past, issued a hyperbolic statement accusing Chávez of attempting to subvert the constitution:
The delay of his swearing-in is yet another example of the trampling of
the constitution by this despot. The Venezuelan constitution states
that the leader of Venezuela needs to take the oath of office on
January 10 in front of the National Assembly or the Venezuelan Supreme
Tribunal of Justice.
But Article 231 states, in part, “If for any supervening reason, the
person elected President of the Republic cannot be sworn in before the
National Assembly, he shall take the oath of office before the Supreme
Tribunal of Justice.” No deadline is mentioned, contrary to what
Ros-Lehtinen claims. Ros-Lehtinen also stated:
I call on the Department of State and the Organization of American
States to ensure that democratic principles and the respect for the
Venezuelan constitution are upheld. All responsible nations should
ensure that Venezuela follows its own constitution which states that in the 'absolute absence' of the President, new elections must be held.
Article 233 defines the conditions under which the president-elect can be
declared permanently absent, and new elections called, as “death;
resignation; removal from office by decision of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice; permanent physical or mental disability certified by a medical board designated by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice with the approval of the National Assembly; abandonment of his position, duly declared by the National Assembly; and recall by popular vote.” Since none of
these criteria have been met, Chávez could legally be sworn in before
the Supreme Court at a later date, as affirmed by the Supreme Court
today. New elections need not be held, again contrary to the
While Ros-Lehtinen represents a far-right position on Latin America policy
in the U.S. Congress, the Obama administration for its part seems to be signaling that opposition interpretations of the constitution that
call, for example, for new elections if Chávez is not sworn in tomorrow, are valid. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland was asked about the situation in a press briefing yesterday, and responded:
We have over the course of the last week or so talked in general about
the succession situation in Venezuela. Let me reiterate our
foundational point, which is that this is an issue for Venezuelans to
decide, and it – they need to do it in a manner that includes all the voices in the discussion. So it needs to be a broad-based discussion and it needs to be decided
in a manner that is free, fair, transparent, is seen as ensuring a level political playing field in Venezuela. [Emphasis added.]
But the issue is not one to be decided "in a manner that includes all the
voices,” it's an issue that needs to be decided in the framework of the constitution. There are key institutions involved – the National
Assembly, the Supreme Court -- that are empowered under the constitution to make decisions that will determine what happens. But they ahttp://upsidedownworld.org/main/news-briefs-archives-68/4067-what-the-venezuelan-constitution-does-and-does-not-say-about-chavezs-innaugurationre
not, and cannot be, “all of the voices.”
During the Obama administration, we have seen some on the U.S. right-wing
also offer their own interpretations of the constitution – and of
reality – regarding President Obama’s constitutional legitimacy to be
president of the United States. This played out most notably when
Donald Trump and others challenged President Obama’s U.S. citizenship.
Had President Chávez or a spokesperson been asked about that debate, it would of course have been absurd for the Chávez administration to
respond that it needed to be resolved “in a manner that includes all of the voices.” In the U.S., and in Venezuela, the constitution and rule
of law simply need to be upheld. Opposition voices are not entitled to their own set of facts and laws, no matter how strongly they may feel.
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