(In Spanish here)
A month ago, when Chávez designated Nicolás Maduro as his successor, I was thinking that Chavismo would seek a quick election, catch the opposition off guard and easily win, holding power for six or seven more years.
Now I am not so sure.
If we are to believe what Maduro said yesterday, Chavismo plans to take the most unconstitutional road possible: They have no plan to ask the Supreme Court to rule on anything and will delay the swearing in ceremony for the President elect until it is possible or his demise occurs. They say the swearing in of the President is a “formality” in a country where you need to apply with your ticket to get foreign currency to travel abroad and provide receipts and invoices when you come back. A country where my severance payment after I quit working for the Government after 24 years, was delayed six months because a staple perforated the copy of my ID card and only six of the seven digits could be identified as matching my number. Are these guys out of touch with Venezuela’s “formalities” or is it just a lack of scruples?
And while you could argue legally that Chávez can delay being sworn in, can be sworn by the Supreme Court, can be sworn in in Cuba, can be declared temporary unable to assume the Presidency, all of which are questionable from a legal point of view: About the only thing you can not possibly argue legally or in any other way, is that Nicolás Maduro can continue to be Vice-President on January 10th, but that seems to be what he is saying and how they plan to play it.
But this would be unconstitutional, because Maduro is named and removed by the President. There is no way to interpret or suggest that his nomination, or that of the Cabinet for that matter, can be extended beyond Jan. 10th. On Jan. 10th. a new Constitutional period begins, there is a reset. Reelection is not the continuation of a mandate, it is a new mandate and in Venezuela’s Constitution it has a new date for its beginning. Thus, for Nicolás Maduro to continue being Vice-President after Jan. 10th. unless Hugo Chávez is sworn in, would be absolutely illegal and a break in Venezuela’s Constitutional order. A coup, no matter how yo try to spin it. A very clear one at that.
And Chavismo will hear about it, both in Venezuela and abroad. And even Chávez’ friends around Latin America will be particularly appalled by this unconstitutional strategy.
Thus, in contrast with Chávez, who always managed to walk the grey line of the Constitution, by having the Supreme Court spin things his way or making decisions dense to understand, these guys, led by Maduro, are not starting very well. If they do break the Constitutional order, it will one day come back to haunt them.
Since Diosdado was reelected to be the President of the National Assembly today and seems to agree with Maduro that the swearing in can be delayed, he is in the end the person most affected by this strategy. He should have been President on Jan. 10th. until the issue of Chávez’ swearing in could be resolved legally or de facto. But now, Diosdado is following the party line, but he could easily one day come back and say he should be President, or even candidate, because Maduro broke the Constitution denying him the right to be President as stated by law.
I have never expected Diosdado to go on his own or try anything as long as Chávez is alive, but he has now been given a huge opening, should he desire at some point to grab power away from Maduro, whenever Chávez is no longer around: If the Constitutional order was already broken, why can’t I do it now, when asking for the right I had under the law and the Constitution?
But Maduro seems to be giving Diosdado a second huge opening with his bland interviews, in which he tries to imitate Chávez but comes across as very boring, very forced and showing the charisma of a rock. Even his diction is bad. Furthermore, things like boasting that he has no Twitter or Facebook account makes him the anti-Hugo, in a country that is in the top ten in the world in participation in social networks. Everything about Maduro’s message seemed wrong and for the first time, I am thinking that having Maduro around a few months blabbing around, could be the burial ground for his candidacy very early in the game, no matter how much money the Government throws at his campaign.
In fact, Diosdado has been much better than Maduro in all this. He is showing his experience as a candidate and Governor, an experience Maduro lacks. Disodado comes across much better as a radical Chavista, than Maduro does. He delivers the tough lines well, speaks better, delivers better. He just needs to lose a few pounds or wear looser clothes to mount a good race against anyone in the opposition. Much better than Maduro, who should disappear from view, but seems to be planning to go on nationwide TV regularly, as part of his “be-like-Hugo” campaign.
But this whole scenario is also giving the opposition a huge opening that I never believed would be there: The opposition can now have time to organize, even take its time selecting a candidate and hope for Chavismo to keep fumbling the way they seem to be doing so far.
In fact, if I were the Governor of Lara, Henri Falcón, I would be organizing my campaign committee tonight and calling Capriles to tell him he will have competition if he wants to run. With Maduro as a candidate, Falcón could roll along over him, appealing to the opposition and Chavismo at the same time. Falcón is articulate and much more charismatic than Maduro and can use his Chavista origins to talk to Chávez’ supporters. In fact, he could even tell them he never left Chavismo, but the “cogollos” (without mentioning Chávez) pushed him aside. But he can claim to be a true heir of Chávez’ ideals, he cares for the people and is a unity candidate. It could work, something I could not think would ever work a month ago. Things seem to be moving very rapidly in Venezuela, proving that it is impossible to predict what will happen six months out.
For now, the opposition should have and concentrate on a single message: The Constitution has to be followed and without a Supreme Court opinion, that implies Diosdado Cabello should become President of Venezuela on Jan. 10th. if Hugo Chávez can not be sworn in.
Anything else would be a coup and unconstitutional. And anyone backing this should be jailed. The MUD should send a teams to Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Colombia the UN and the OAS, with experts explaining to them why this is so and it should be unacceptable to anyone who claims to believe in democracy and the rule of law.
It may make little difference for now, but Maduro’s Government would be illegitimate and dealing with this alone would eventually undermine its ability to stay in power for very long.