Archive for September 1st, 2003

Supreme Confusion

September 1, 2003

The Venezuelan Supreme Court created total confusion today in issuing a clarification on a decision last Friday that supposedly said that Hugo Chavez could not run for President if a recall referendum against him was successful. Essentially last Friday, in denying an injunction, the Constitutional Hall of the Venezuelan Supreme Court unanimously and explicitly decided(I include both the Spanish and my translation just in case):

“habrá que proceder a la elección de un nuevo Presidente mediante un proceso comicial, en el que evidentemente no podría participar dicho funcionario, pues cualquier falta absoluta del Presidente implica la separación categórica del cargo y la consecuente sustitución del mismo, lo contrario (es decir, el lanzamiento del funcionario revocado) supondría una amenaza de fraude a la soberana voluntad popular que se habría expresado mediante el proceso comicial refrendario, cuando este se inclina por la pérdida de legitimación sobrevenida del funcionario”.

Translation: “we would have to proceed to the election of a new President through an electoral process, in which such an official would evidently not be able to participate, because the absolute absence of the President implies the categorical separation from the position and his consequent substitution, the opposite (that is the candidacy of the revoked candidate) would suppose a threat of fraud against the sovereign popular will that would have expressed via the referendum process, when it inclines itself for the loss of legitimacy over the candidate”

Now, this afternoon, without anyone requesting or asking for any explanation or interpretation the President of the Court issued a letter signed by its President that says:

“Como se observa que en el texto de dicha decisión aparecen expresiones que erróneamente pudieran entenderse como una definitiva interpretación de la norma constitucional que se mencionó…los alcances de dicho fallo nº 2404 quedan estrictamente limitados y sujetos al pronunciamiento de inadmisibilidad, sin que, en consecuencia, puedan extenderse a otros aspectos “

Translation: ” As can be observed in the text of that decision there are expressions which could be understood as a definitive interpretation of the constitutional norm mentioned…the reach of that decision #2404 are strictly limited and subject of the decision to deny the injunction, without it being extended to other aspects”

This is absolutely absurd and simply creates confusion. Supreme Court decisions and precedents extend to whatever the Court decides and says. The text is very clear they say nobody whose mandate was revoked can run again. In fact, there was a recent decision on freedom of speech that was expressed by the Court in denying an injunction, so saying now that the content is not applied to other cases simply creates confusion and takes away some of the credibility of the Court> In fact, I can’t help but wonder: Why did the Court issue the clarification? Why did the Court backtrack on a decision signed by all five Justices of the Constitutional Hall? Was the Court threatened? Was the Court pressured?

I have written about this issue before, much like the Court’s decision on Friday, an official whose mandate has been revoked can not expect to run. In the case of the President I believe this is even stronger as the Constitution talks about “absolute” absence of the President when a recall referendum against him is successful. Moreover, it says that in the case of absolute absence of the President, elections will take place within thirty days to elect a “new” President to complete the term of the President whose mandate has been revoked. This can not be interpreted in any other way and the Court’s unsolicited clarification can only make me wonder what sinister machinations are going on behind the scenes to preserve Chavez’ Presidency against the people’s and the Constitution’s will.  

Note added: The Court now has ordered an investigation because it claims the content approved does not correspond to that pun;ished by the press. Just in case, Globovision has a copy of the text itslef as issued by the Court here.