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Venezuela: On the verge of a Constitutional crisis?

By Miguel Octavio

Venezuela got closer today to a huge Constitutional crisis as most institutions aligned with the Government refused today to even consider accepting the validity of yesterday’s decision by the Electoral Hall of the Supreme Court.

The division reflected the deep polarization of Venezuelan society, except that this time, it is institutions and high ranking Government officials refusing to recognize a decision by the highest court of the land.

It all began today with the statements by CNE Director Jorge Rodriguez saying that there was a Constitutional conflict between the Constitutional Hall and the Electoral Hall and that the Electoral Board would recognize the Constitutional Hall because that was the body that had named them.

The argument was absolutely convoluted. First of all, there is no conflict……yet. While the Electoral Hall made a decision and sentenced on its case, the Constitutional Hall not only met illegally, without a quorum, but it never issued a decision, nor has a sentence been published on the case. Rodriguez, sounding more like a lawyer (like most Venezuelans these days) than a medical doctor began making legal arguments that are definitely beyond the scope of his job as CNE Director.

The National Assembly leadership published a full page ad in today’s local papers criticizing the decision by the Electoral Hall, which at the time had not been approved by the National Assembly. Some even suggested the Assembly leadership had committed an act of corruption, using Assembly funds to publish an ad that reflected their personal views rather. This afternoon, the Assembly backed the ad, with the votes of the pro-Chavez members of the Assembly.

Then there was that amoral man himself, the Vice-President Jose Vicente Rangel calling the decision by the Electoral Hall “a coup, unconstitutional and subversive”. Obviously, he said nothing about the fact that the Constitutional Hall claimed to have a decision that has yet to bee seen by anyone, was reached without a quorum and in a meeting that never took place.

Meanwhile, the third Justice from the Electoral Hall who was not part of the quorum said today that the decision was illegal because he claims he was at the Supreme Court building when it was made. He did not explain why he did not protest at the time of the press conference by the head of the Electoral Hall and in any case his protest can not be taken seriously because the vote was 3-0 and even if he had been present it would still have been approved by 2-1.

Even the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington got into the game issuing a press release saying the Electoral Hall had no competence on the issue because it was a Constitutional rather than an Electoral matter. Clearly, the Embassy was attempting to mitigate the fallout from the decision by the Electoral hall that has been published by most media outlets in the US.

At the end of the day, the President of the CNE gave a confusing statement in which he said that the Electoral Board would fight for its “autonomy” (What's the Electoral Hall for, I ask?). Initially, it appeared as if he was suggesting that the decision by the Electoral hall would not be recognized, but CNE Director Ezequiel Zamora said later that the CNE would abide by the decision but will introduce recourse in front of the Constitutional Hall.

Thus, the stage is set for a Constitutional conflict. If the Constitutional Hall were to rule or revise on the decision by the Electoral Hall, it will create a precedent never before followed in Venezuela’s legal history. If it does, the full Court will have to decide on the conflict. In either case, it does not sound like the Government is ready to accept the possibility of a recall referendum against President Chávez taking place in the near future without a fight.

As if this were not enough a lawyer introduced a request to rule on whether the three Justices of the Constitutional had or not committed fraud by simulating that a valid meeting of the Hall had taken place and a decision had been made by the three. According to the judge this is a felony and the three Justices should be tried for it.

Thus, the Chavez administration continues to pull all the possible dirty tricks to avoid the recall referendum, clearly signaling that it knows it would suffer a resounding defeat. Anybody that thinks differently has only to look at the irrationality and indefensible positions assumed today by the pro-Chavez forces.

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