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Institutional chaos in Venezuela

By Veneconomy

29.11.04 | On August 14, 2002, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice handed down a decision to the effect that there was no coup d’état on April 11, 2002. According to the facts as they are known, this decision by the Plenary Chamber of the highest court in the land session complies with the law.

One of those facts is that the High Military Command refused to follow the presidential order to implement the Plan Ávila against the thousands of people demonstrating against the government. Another is that the Minister of Defense at that time -the three-star general, Lucas Rincón-, informed the country, in a nationwide, networked broadcast, that the President of the Republic, Hugo Chávez, had been asked to tender his resignation, “which he accepted.” From that moment, a vacuum of power existed in Venezuela.

Incredible though it may seem, last week, the Prosecutor General announced that he was going to request the Constitutional Chamber of the TSJ to review this decision. What is more, the president of that Chamber, Iván Rincón, hinted that this request would be allowed and that there was a possibility of the decision being reconsidered. It is difficult to imagine a violation of the Constitution with worse implications than this.

For the Constitutional Chamber to override a firm sentence by the Plenary Chamber two years after the fact would be unconstitutional. Article 336 of the Constitution establishes that this Chamber has the power to revise only “sentences relating to the protection of constitutional rights.” The Constitutional Chamber may not take it upon itself supra constitutional powers or set itself up as a court of appeals with regard to the other Chambers of the TSJ.

Because this proposed revision of the decision violates the rule of law, it has extremely serious implications for the country on the institutional level. In baseball, the referee’s decisions cannot be appealed. By the same token, there is no appeal against the decisions of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice. If the revision goes ahead, it would create a climate of legal insecurity and give rise to legal chaos, the extent of which it is difficult to imagine. This state of juridical vulnerability would increase people’s lack of confidence in the country’s institutions and scare off foreign investment.

Besides it would have repercussions of a practical nature, as it would do away with the defense of the 400 people who are being investigated or charged with having signed or been present at the swearing in of Pedro Carmona. The defense of these people is based on the fact that a vacuum of power existed in Venezuela following the resignation of the acting president and the absence of the vice-president. The general view is that, by taking this action, the government could also open the gates to retaliatory measures against selected members of the opposition who are proving to be a stumbling block to the consolidation of its revolutionary process.

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