The looming Constitutional battle over Chavez poposal to allow his indefinite reelection

March 28, 2007

I can’t help to show below a video of the autocrat/dictator Hugo Chavez, which I shamelessly stole from Daniel’s blog, to lead this article about the connection between the recent conflict between the National Assembly and the Venezuelan Supreme Court.

As you see, the almighty leader speaks about the way people conspire against the process and himself, curiously referring to himself in the third person, a trait that I will leave to medical doctors to tell us what it implies. But the totalitarian tone is there and very clear, there is no tolerance for dissent and even the Supreme Court is being pressured and manipulated to go against the revolution.

Chavez says:

“And many times they manage to neutralize decisions of the revolution, through a judge, or a court, or even in the very Supreme Court, behind the back of the leader of the revolution, acting from the inside against the revolution. That is, I repeat, treason against the people…”�

What is he referring to in this clear statement of the little regard he has for the separation of powers and the rule of law, given that there has been no recent fight between himself and the Courts?

What most people may not know is the fight that has been brewing between that Court and the Government as discussions in academic and legal circles on all sides of the political fence all point out to the fact that Hugo Chavez’ proposed change in the Constitution to allow him to perpetuate himself in the Presidency can not be done as a simple partial reform of the Constitution, but requires a Constituent Assembly and can not simply be part of a Constitutional reform. Thus, it would not be a matter of a simple reform and then referendum, as the Supreme Court could rule against Chavez’ desire.

You see, Art. 342 to 344 of the 1999 Constitution clearly say that you can modify the Constitution via reform, as long as you don’t “modify the structure and fundamental principles of the Constitutional text“. While Hugo Chavez wants to modify Art. 230 which establishes both the Presidential term and one reelection, which would appear not to be fundamental or part of the structure, in Title I, which contains the fundamental principles of the Bolivarian Constitution, there is an article, Art. 6, which states:

Ariculo 6. El gobierno de la Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela y de las entidades politicas que la componen es y seran siempre democratico, participativo, electivo, descentralizado, alternativo, responsable, pluralista y de mandatos revocables.

Which translated says:

Article 6. The Government of the Bolivarian Republiuc if Venezuela and its political entities that are part of it, is and will be democratic,..alternative

Now, in Spanish, “alternativo” means “which happens with alternation” and alternation comes from “alternar” which actually has a definition relating to holdng political positions: ” To take turns in holding a position”.

And therein lies the main problem, as the proposal of indefinite reelection is one of the few which has been explicitly proposed by the Government for the upcoming Constitutional reform, and thus has been the subject of much discussion among lawyers and very few of them believe that article 230 can be interpreted in any other possible way: Allowing for Chavez reelection would be a fundamental change as the Constitution clearly says here has to be alternation and a time limit to the President’s reelection was clearly established by the Constituent assembly and only another one can change it. In fact, it has been suggested in the press that Justice Cabrera of the Supreme Court, coincidentally the only one mentioned by name by the National Assembly “mafia” investigation, has told the Government this would not fly by the Constitutional Hall.

So the dots can be easily connected between the autocrat’s favorite proposal for reform, that of his own and everlasting reelection, the interpretation that it can’t be done by a simple reform and the sudden attack on the Court and the threat to remove all members of the Constitutional Hall by the National Assembly. By the way, the last one is moving right along in the committee investigating the Court.

Skeptics and the naive have suggested that what is going on between the
National Assembly and the Supreme Court is simply a normal fight
between two powers. They fail to explain why the Assembly gets so mad
about a simple interpretation by the Court of the word “income” while
delegating on Chavez their Constitutional mandate to legislate for a year and a half.

And the video just proves how all of this is clearly in Hugo Chave’ autocratic and totalitarian mind, blaming it all on his enemies manipulating the Courts and the judicial system to stop “the leader” as he refers to himself, in this apparently out of context and bizarre statement. But the context is quite clear…

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