Is Venezuela's government legitimate?
e-debate between Aleksander Boyd and Gregory Wilpert
London (23.12.03) - Some days ago I took the liberty to invite Venezuelanalysis' editor in chief Mr Greg Wilpert to debate about the legitimacy and effectiveness of the government led by Hugo Chavez. He kindly took up the challenge, which I consider sheds some light about the two radically opposing views in regards to Venezuela and its present administration. Firstly my letter, Mr Wilpert's response can be read here.
Open letter to Gregory Wilpert
By Aleksander Boyd, December 19, 2003
London – Article 3 of the Venezuelan constitution reads “the essential purposes of the State are the protection and development of the individual and respect for the dignity of the individual, the democratic exercise of the will of the people, the building of a just and peace-loving society, the furtherance of the prosperity and welfare of the people and the guaranteeing of the fulfilment of the principles, rights and duties established in this Constitution”. Furthermore article 5 states “sovereignty resides untransferable in the people, who exercise it directly in the manner provided for in this Constitution and in the law, and indirectly, by suffrage, through the organs exercising Public Power. The organs of the State emanate from and are subject to the sovereignty of the people”.
One of the favourite arguments for the defence of Hugo Chavez and his revolution is the one of his social vocation; “todo el poder para el pueblo” or all power to the people constitutes the founding base of the political movement proposed by the Venezuelan president. There are however some serious shortcomings in the understanding that he might have of the meaning of “…through the organs exercising public power. The organs of the State emanate from and are subject to the sovereignty of the people”. The organs exercising public power in Venezuela are the Executive, Legislative, Judiciary and Electoral as in many other states. Surprisingly there is a new resident in the house of the powers that be namely the Citizen Power.
The functions of the Executive, Legislative, Judiciary and Electoral are beyond the scope of this letter, the main purpose being to unravel the unconstitutional origin of the components of the Citizen Power, namely the Attorney General, the Comptroller General and Ombudsman. The president, in his character as head of the Executive, has the duty to “…designate, subject to prior authorization from the National Assembly or the Delegated Committee, the Attorney-General of the Republic” according to article 236 s.15 of the constitution. Notwithstanding in December 22 1999 the Constituent Assembly a week before the new Constitution was enacted decreed a "transition regime' which ceased the functioning of Congress, legislative assemblies and all other public powers. Then, arguing that the new Constitution had yet to take effect (it had been approved already five days earlier in a referendum on 12/18/99) it created a National Legislative Committee, named the new members of the Supreme Court, the people's Defender, the Attorney General, the National Electoral Commission and the Comptroller. In none of these cases were the procedures established by the new Constitution followed.
That single act did away with the legitimacy of the Venezuelan State as it stands today for in inconsiderate and unconstitutional fashion, the independence and democratic origin of powers were impinged. There was no public consultation on the subject whatsoever, the customary parliamentary debate and consensus needed to reach such transcendental decisions were totally obviated, in sum it could be argued that it surpasses in constitutional violation’s extent to the disgraced resolutions passed by Pedro Carmona’s brief presidency.
There is another worrying element about the head of the Citizen power for said gentleman was the first Vice President of the Constituent Assembly aforementioned, to be appointed subsequently to the Vice Presidency of Venezuela by Hugo Chavez and then to holder of the office of Attorney General [these appointments figure as recognition and prizes in the Attorney General’s site CV section]. Hence in light of the dismal performance of the Citizen Power officials so far there is no doubt that these gentlemen are unfit to exercise their duties, for their manifest amity with the president of the country, vitiates the concepts of independence and autonomy that constitute sine qua non requisites for the transparent functioning of the Citizen Power. Moreover there is no such thing as Citizen Power, when the head of the Executive appoints those who by definition are meant to be checking upon him and his actions. It is rather difficult also to comprehend the premise of separation of powers and respect for the rule of law in such a case. You could argue perhaps that since the president was elected by the people, he is indeed the absolute holder of the sovereignty which was transferred temporarily to him via suffrage, however I could argue also that the present administration is as much culpable of utter disrespect for the rule of law and constitutional principles as the previous ones were, which in turn eliminates the argument of having established successfully a true participatory democracy in the country or that the people have been empowered.
Montesquieu (one of Hugo Chavez’ favourites by the way) said “when the legislative and executive power are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty…Again, there is no liberty, if the judicial power be not separated from the legislative and the executive. Were it joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control; for the judge would then be legislator. Were it joined to the executive, however, the judge might behave with violence and oppression. There would be an end to everything, were the same man, or the same body, whether of the nobles or of the people, to exercise those three powers, that of enacting the law, that of executing public resolutions and of trying causes of individuals”.
Thus, in light of the very irregular nature of the appointment of legislative, judiciary, electoral and people’s officials I should be most grateful if you could reply to the following questions:
1. From an objective participatory pespective, do you think Hugo Chavez’ government is more inclusive than the previous of AD and COPEI?
2. Has corruption levels during his tenure decreased?
3. Taking into account the aforesaid and the coup in 1992 led by him, can you honestly say that Venezuela’s president has high regards and respect for the rule of law?
4. Do you think that the following “the essential purposes of the State are the protection and development of the individual and respect for the dignity of the individual, the democratic exercise of the will of the people, the building of a just and peace-loving society, the furtherance of the prosperity and welfare of the people and the guaranteeing of the fulfilment of the principles, rights and duties established in this constitution” has been in any way accomplished?
5. Could you say that this government has reached a sound and just equilibrium in its relations with those who disagree politically?
6. Have the campaign promises met the expectations of the electorate?
7. Lastly, could you elaborate on the differences in political tactics between Carlos Andres Perez, Rafael Caldera and Hugo Chavez vis-à-vis power hoarding?
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