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Venezuela and the rule of law

By Aleksander Boyd

London (17.11.03) – The concept of ruling by law is not one very well understood by Hugo Chavez, his ministers, members of his government and fans from the left. According to most jurists the rule of law is a concept which has been used as a mechanism to control government power; it is a tool used exclusively by the courts.

One of the most respected UK’s constitutional experts Albert Venn Dicey stated “... every official, from the Prime Minister down to a constable or a collector of taxes, is under the same responsibility for every act done without legal justification as any other citizen. The Reports abound with cases in which officials have been brought before the courts, and made, in their personal capacity, liable to punishment, or to the payment of damages, for acts done in their official character but in excess of their lawful authority. [Appointed government officials and politicians, alike] ... and all subordinates, though carrying out the commands of their official superiors, are as responsible for any act which the law does not authorise as is any private and unofficial person." Another interesting aspect of the premise of ruling by law is “no one is above the law and everyone should be subject to the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts.”

However based on the recent decision of the Venezuelan Electoral Council to prohibit the political participation of a considerable amount of Venezuelan citizens living overseas and without incurring in misinterpretation it can be said that there is no such thing as the rule of law in Venezuela. Repressive regimes have been known to govern by rule of law, prime example being Hitler’s Reich in the modern Federal Republic of Germany and more recently in Apartheid South Africa. These regimes were not violating their constitutional rules, the problem stem from the nature of said rules. The Venezuelan case differs, the nature of the rules are clear, progressive and just. It is the systematic violation of the rules which makes the government of Hugo Chavez illegitimate.

The Venezuelan constitution contains not provisions which allow for the prohibition of political participation of the citizenry, except to those whom are subject to political disablement or civil interdiction. If our constitution expressly states that everyone has the right to participate in political matters (Art 62), why has this decision being taken? Venezuela’s government is not an example of a tyrannical one in the strict literary sense, but how can such gross violation to our constitution be explained?

Going back to Dicey’s concept, how can we expect the enforcement of the rule of law by the ordinary courts when these are also instruments of the whimsical desires of Hugo Chavez? A violation to the constitution is something that it allows not to personal interpretations. We have been denied –by the absurd resolution of Francisco Carrasquero, Jorge Rodriguez and Oscar Battaglini- the possibility to express ourselves in matters of great transcendence to our nation. That is a fact and as such it has to be used against the aforementioned members of the board of the Electoral Council in legal proceedings before the courts for there is also an article in the Organic Law of the Public Administration which states that every civil servant is liable for his/her decisions.

However I can categorically say that as long as Hugo Chavez is in power no court in the land will prosecute Carrasquero, Rodriguez and Battaglini. Therefore can any right-thinking person affirm that Hugo Chavez’ project is one of “participatory democracy and social justice”?

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