Just a nice break from Chavez, dissident military officers and the like. This is a Cirrhopetalum Elizabeth Ann, a hybrid orchid which just flowered for the first time in my house. Weird isn’t it?
Archive for November 1st, 2002
This is an exclusive picture of the counter revolutionaries that were planning to send a couple of balloons to the presidential palace. Clearly the intention was to kill the president by scaring him. After all, balloon in spanish is also the word for bomb…
Venezuelan intelligence, security and millitary agencies foiled the third attempt on the President’s life in two weeks on Thursday. According to a report on the Tyromaniac, agents from DIM, DISIP, DUMB and DUMBER, foiled the attempt when they apprehended the three mercenaries shown in the picture above. Note the dangerous weapons, while they may seem like balloons, in Spanish these devices are called “bombas” which speaks for itself. These mercenaries are clearly of foreign origin, note that the paper bags over their faces are Colombian made, the sweater is from GAP and note how the colors of the Venezuelan flag are inverted, a mistake a Venezuelan would never make. Note also the chinese characters on the boxes on the right. Unfortunately, the mercenaries escaped as the pictures were being taken by intelligence agents, as they clinged to the balloons and just floated away over the mountains that surround Caracas.
The Secretary Genral of the OAS left Venezuela leaving behind a Mexican standoff between teh Government and the opposition. He will be back on Monday when he will mediate in talks between the two sides. Gaviria said before leaving that the two sides are not that far apart as they both agree a referendum is the solution and they just differ about when it will take place. Thus, it is likely he will concentrate on this point next week.Given that he arrives on the same day that the opposition will present the required signatures for a consulting referendum to take place, it will be interesting to hear what arguments are used.
Meanwhile the protest continued in Plaza Altamira, while Hugo Chavez held nationwide televised speech calling for a deepening of his revolution. Chavez sprinkled his speech generously with the words “coupster” and “facists” referring to his opponents and denied that his Government was powerless like the opposition says.
Thus, the two sides appear far appart and during the weekend they will each try to make it look like they have strong support. Given the festive atmosphere in Plaza Altamira, the country is likely to take a break from strong confrontation until Monday, but in Venezuela, you just never know what new surprise may just be around the corner….
It is important to understand what may or not happen for a consultative referendum to take place and what are the pitfalls on the way to a possible referendum.
As described in an earlier post the new Venezuelan Constitution, approved and promoted by Chavez, in Article 71 says that “matters of special national transcendence may subject to a consultative referendum by the initiative of the President in a Cabinet meeting, by the agreement of the National Assembly by the vote of a majority of its members, or at the request of 10%of the voters registered in the civil and electoral registry”
Thus, between now and Monday, either the President or the National Assembly could attempt to jump ahead of the opposition by proposing a consultative referendum with a softer question than that being proposed by the opposition which essentially asks whether people think Chavez should resign or not. Usually, the National Assembly requires two discussions to approve a law, but here the Constitution only talks about an “agreement” by a simple majority. Thus, it could be done at a time. It appears unlikely at this time that the Government will attempt to do something like that, because it would go against their public argument that such a referendum is unconstitutional.
The opposition has plans to submit the signatures on Monday Nov. 4th to the National Electoral Council. The council has already said that it is technically feasible to hold such a referendum within 45 days. According to Venezuelan procedural law, the Council has thirty days to either approve or reject the referendum. It can either reject it because insufficient and valid signatures are presented or because the matter may not be considered transcendental or may be incompatible with the Constitution. The opposition claims to have already a number larger than the 1.2 million required and hopes to submit 2 million signatures previously verified by them. The Government is arguing the latter as Article 72 says that all publicly elected positions may be revoked by referendum after half of the period for which the person has been elected has gone by. Thus, they argue, you would be violating Article 72 by approving such a referendum. The opposition says that this would not be a revoking referendum as it would be non-binding. Obviously were Chavez to lose by a large margin he would become essentially a lame duck and be forced to resign even if the result is non-binding.
The most likely strategy by the Government after Monday is to submit a request for an injunction in front of the Constitutional Hall of the Venezuelan Supreme Court. The Hall can approve such an injunction and the full Court would have to consider such a decision. There would be two basic problems with this Constitutional interpretation. First of all, the Court has already backed two consultative referenda, one of which was held even before the new Constitution had been approved. At that time, the Highest Court argued that a referendum to call for a Constituent Assembly could be held because sovereignty resided on the people, even if the Constitution did not say it explicitly. Well, the new Constitution says that explicitly in Article 5 when it says “Sovereignty resides intransferably on the people who will exercise it directly in the ways contemplated in this Constitution and in the Law…..”.
In any case, it may just be that for the Court this question may become more of a political than a legal question, since it is clear that the country has come to a practical standstill due to the current political crisis.
If the Chavez administration won on the issue of the constitutionality of the referendum, the opposition’s only electoral option would be to wait until half the term of President Chavez has gone by to hold a revoking referendum. For that, the Constitution contemplates obtaining the signatures of 25% of registered voters (some 3 million signatures which sounds feasible). However, for the referendum to be approved, the number of voters approving the referendum has to be equal or larger than the number that voted for the person according to Article 72 of the Constitution. This might not be as difficult as abstention was high (only 56.7% of the population voted) with Chavez receiving 3.75 million votes or 56.93% of the vote. However, abstention will be the critical factor. In fact, were Chavez to discourage his supporters from voting might be sufficient to have the referendum go in his favor. There can only be one revocatory referendum for an office holder. The Constitution in Article 233 says that if the President is replaced within the first four years of his term, he would be replaced by the Vice-President and election would have to be held within thirty days. In Venezuela the Vice-President is appointed by the President, so he could essentially handpick who will oversee the thirty day transition as he could appoint anybody up to the last minute of his Presidency.