Why we don’t want to wait for the recall referendum

December 26, 2002

The most frequent comment I receive about the Venezuelan situation, both by e-mail and comments within the weblog, is why can’t we just follow the Constitution and wait until August recall referendum. If the answer came from the heart, I would say I just don’t believe the Government will ever allow that referendum to take place, but I just can’t prove that. What I can do is describe the many reasons why I believe this is an illegitimate Government and we need to have Hugo Chavez either resign or hold early elections, by describing the options that exist, the ones that have been tried and why we stand today where we are (Most of this material is in the blog):


Referendum: The Venezuelan Constitution allows for a referendum whenever 10% of the electorate petitions to have a question posed. On Nov. 4th. the electoral commission was presented with signatures from 16.5 of the electorate asking for a non-binding referendum on the question “Do you agree that President Hugo Chavez should resign from his position?”. While some people don’t seem to understand why we would want to ask him that, if it is non-binding, the reason is simple, Hugo Chavez claims to be the leader of a “revolution” by popular mandate. First of all, he never had a mandate for such a revolution, people wanted change, justice, an end to corruption, prosperity, less crime and democracy. They got none of these. Thus, establishing that Hugo Chavez no longer has popular support is very important. Second he no longer has the popularity to execute such a revolution.


Without going into how Chavez’ supporters attempted on Nov. 4th. to block the petition from being handed in by violent means, the Chavez administration has tried since that day, to stop the referendum from taking place. It has used legal maneuvering to have the electoral commission declared illegal, the Supreme Court ruled it is legal. It asked the Supreme Court to rule the question invalid, the Court said the question was valid. It asked the Court to rule the referendum illegal because it collides with the Constitution, the Constitutional Hall of the Court said it could not rule on that issue. Since all these legal attempts failed, the solution was simple: The Chavez-controlled National Assembly and the Chavez administration have refused to this day to provide the funding for the referendum. By law, it has to provide them, period. There is no grounds for them even considering whether to provide them or not.


-Impeachment: Hugo Chavez can be impeached, there are roughly fourteen requests for his impeachment that go from charges of corruption to crimes against humanity. The problem is that the Attorney General has to initiate any proceeding against Hugo Chavez. The current Attorney General is Chavez’ first Vice-President who has shown his partiality to levels that I consider disgusting. Thus, he will not bring any charges against the President.


Above, I mention the many cases that have been used to ask for Chavez’ impeachment. There are crimes agaisnt humanity because there is sworn testimony that he participated in meeting on how to stop the April 11th. march from reaching the residential palace. Nineteen people were killed and hundreds injured. There is also charges for corruption, among them US$ 2.3 billion that to this day is unclear whether the funds are missing or were spent for something different that what they were budgeted for. The latter is cause for removal from a Government post in Venezuela. In fact, Carlos Andres Peres was impeached in 1993 for that reason, the only difference is that in his case the amount was half a million US$.


But there is another very interesting case to justify his impeachment. Judge Baltasar Garzon, the same one that had General Augusto Pinochet detained in England, has found that Spain’s Banco Bilabo y Vizcaya (BBVA) misused US$1.5 million in two illegal campaign contributions to Hugo Chavez’s campaign. What is interesting is that there were two of them. One, while Chavez was campaigning and he was the President of his organization called Movimiento Quinta Republica (MVR). This one was illegal because it was never reported to the Electoral Commission. A second is even strange, because it was made, while Hugo Chavez was President, and thus it can not possibly be legal. This case alone should have brought Hugo Chavez down as President, but it hasn’t, simply because nothing has been done about it.


-Elections: According to the country’s Constitution a recall referendum maybe held after the midpoint of the Presidential term. The term is six years and Chavez has been in power for over four years. The problem is that Chavez decided after the new Constitution was approved that he had to be reelected under the new Constitution, which he needn’t be. Thus, the Supreme Court has interpreted that the midpoint is next August when half of the new term ends.


The opposition wants elections to be held as soon as possible because of the political crisis. It is true that such an instrument was not in the Constitution, but neither was the referendum that Chavez invented to change the Constitution. It was then argued that power ultimately resides in the people and thus a referendum with 62% of the vote justified changing the Constitution. Now that the opposition wants to use Chavez’ arguments they are not valid. Even worse, as recently as April 2001, Hugo Chavez signed the Declaration Of Quebec under protest because he did not believe in a representative democracy, but only in a participatory one, in which the people decide everything. How easy it was for him to say that at the crest of his popularity, when he believed it would never end!


In the end, we need elections because the Hugo Chavez Government has become illegitimate through incompetence and irresponsibility. Because there are daily violations of human rights. Because corruption is rampant. Because the judicial system is manipulated daily by the Government, as proven by the fact that eight of the twenty Supreme Court Justices essentially said they will not work as long as the Government persecutes them and pressures them. Because there is impunity not only with the massacre in April, but what happened on Dec. 6th. in Plaza Altamira or the precautionary measures of the OAS that have never been enforced by the Government. I could go on and on, but only one of this should be enough. It is Government’s who are in charge with protecting the law and its citizens, when they don’t do it, they are no longer legitimate, when they become the violators, they are simply criminals.

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