VSC SPECIAL UPDATE, JANUARY 11, 2012: Venezuelan Supreme Court Rules Chavez Can Be Sworn in Later, Packed Solidarity Event & Messages of Support for Hugo Chavez

11 January 2013 — VSC

  2. Packed Emergency Meeting Stands in Solidarity with Venezuela
  3. Statements of support from Britain for Hugo Chavez on the day his new term of office begins



On Wednesday 9 January, Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) ruled that President Hugo Chávez’s new term in office starts today and that the postponement of the swearing-in ceremony, that was due today, is permitted under the constitution. Nor, the Supreme Court added is there any vacuum of power or a constitutional requirement for someone to temporarily replace Hugo Chávez as President, as has been falsely claimed by the right-wing opposition.


President Chávez, re-elected in October 2012 with 55 percent of the vote, is being treated for cancer in Cuba, and informed lawmakers that he would not be able to be sworn in as scheduled on January 10.


The Supreme Court’s President, Luisa Morales, held a press conference to inform the public of the decision and responded to questions from the media. In this, paraphrasing the written Supreme Court decision, she highlighted the following points:


1) The Swearing In Can Be Postponed

The Court declared: “The swearing in of the re-elected president may be done before the Supreme Tribunal on a date later than January 10 2013… in accordance with what is established in article 231 of the Constitution and that “the swearing in will be scheduled by the Tribunal once the president declares an end to the supervening reason that prevented it.”


Article 231 states: The candidate elected shall take office as President of the Republic on January 10 of the first year of his constitutional term, by taking an oath before the National Assembly. If for any supervening reason, the person elected President of the Republic cannot be sworn in before the National Assembly, he shall take the oath of office before the Supreme Tribunal of Justice.


2) An Inauguration Is Not Required For President Chávez To Begin His Term

The Court also stated that an inaugural ceremony need not be held for a re-elected president for his term of office to start. Morales said: “Despite the fact that a new constitutional period begins [on] 10 January, it is not necessary that there be a new inauguration for President Hugo Rafael Chávez given his condition of being a re-elected President with no interruption in his term of office.”


3) The Chávez Administration Continues To Function

The Court also shut down rumours of a power vacuum. Morales said: “In accordance with the principle of continuity of public administration and the preservation of popular will, the government cannot be said to cease to exist due to a gap between the beginning of a constitutional period (10 January) and the swearing in of a re-elected president … As a result, the executive branch… will continue to exercise its full functions.”


4) The President Has Congressional Permission To Be Abroad

Morales explained that the president currently being away from the country for health reasons was permitted by unanimous decision among lawmakers in the country’s Parliament (National Assembly). She said: “President Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías has been absent from the national territory for health reasons ..with the authorization of the National Assembly, in accordance with Article 235 of the Constitution. The latest authorization is in full effect and was ratified by the National Assembly onJanuary 8, 2013.”


5) The President Is Not “Temporarily Absent” From Office Which Is A Venezuelan Legal/Constitutional Term Which Does Not Apply Here

Articles 233 and 234 of the Venezuelan Constitution define situations whereby the powers of the presidency can/should be transferred to another official on a short-term basis, either because the President has asked this to be done (temporary basis) or because the President has become permanently unavailable and new elections are needed.


Regarding being permanently unavailable, which would require new elections to be called, the Constitution states:


Article 233: The President of the Republic shall become permanently unavailable to serve by reason of any of the following events: death; resignation; removal from office by decision of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice; permanent physical or mental disability certified by a medical board designated by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice with the approval of the National Assembly; abandonment of his position, duly declared by the National Assembly; and recall by popular vote. 


None of these criteria are met in the current situation.


Regarding the term “temporary absence” outlined in Article 234 of the Constitution, Morales explained that this is something that needs to be requested by Presidents themselves. The constitution explaisn that this would then see the powers of the Presidential office transferred for a fixed period of time ofup to 180 days.


Morales said: “President Chávez’s absence from the country should not be considered to automatically entail a temporary absence as defined in Article 234 of the Constitution, unless it is explicitly stipulated by the Head of State through a decree written specifically to that effect.”


Clearly this has not been requested and instead Hugo Chávez, is in Cuba as the President, and as agreed by the National Assembly before his trip for medical treatment.


6) The Supreme Courts Decision Is Binding

Finally, the court’s President recalled that the decision is legally binding, and that the institution “is the highest interpreter Of the Constitution and [its] interpretation of Article 231 should once again bring Venezuelans certainty, calm and peace in knowing that the [Constitution] has provided for civic life and the political development of the government in a clear manner.”


An English language version of Venezuela’s 1999 Constitution can be viewed at:http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/constitution  


2) Packed Emergency Meeting Stands in Solidarity with Venezuela


Despite being called at only four days notice, 150 people packed out the Venezuelan Embassy’s Bolivar Hall on Thursday (January 10) to attend a VSC-organised meeting entitled Respect the Democratic Choice of the People, No to Right-wing Destabilisation Plans! called to mark the beginning of Hugo Chavez’s new term in office.


The meeting was called in order to set out the truth about the current situation in Venezuela and respond to positions coming from Venezuela’s right-wing opposition, who are seeking to take advantage of President Chavez’s illness in order to see him removed in office.


VSC Vice-Chair Karen Mitchell opened the meeting by insisting that “we must remain vigilant and keep up international solidarity,” drawing attention to the fact that “Venezuela’s right-wing opposition have previously tried coup d’etat, economic sabotage and special referenda to remove Hugo Chávez from office.”


The first speaker was HE Ambassador Samuel Moncada, who outlined in-depth the constitutional situation in Venezuela and why, in line with this, the Supreme Court had clearly ruled that Hugo Chavez’s new term in office began on January 10.


Arguing the situation was “clear and simple,” the Ambassador emphasised Hugo Chavez’s clear mandate from the electorate, last confirmed with his landslide victory in October, and that the beginning of his new term in office clearly represented “the will of the people,” and that the Supreme Court ruling was clear that article 231 of the constitution allowed for him to be sworn in at a later date.


Ambassador Moncada stated that Chavez “is the President in charge legally” and explained that the National Assembly had “unanimously authorised” President Chavez to be in Cuba for medical treatment “without leaving office”. He argued that those who were arguing for President Chavez to be temporarily removed from office – or that his new term had not yet begun – were arguing against the constitution. He explained that the Supreme Court, the highest body in the land on such matters, had ruled on this and “their ruling is binding, if you don’t like it then you are entitled to your opinion but Venezuela is governed by the law.”


He noted that members of the right-wing opposition were calling on external bodies to act including the Washington based Organisation of American States. Rejecting this he said “Venezuelans will decide our own future”.


The meeting then heard a message from Grahame Morris MP, who “On behalf of Labour Friends of Venezuela and thousands of ordinary trade unionists and party members,” called upon “Venezuela’s right-wing opposition to respect the constitution and the democratic will of the people.”


The event then gave a rapturous response to writer and long-term friend of Venezuela Tariq Ali.


Commenting on the extensive– and often inaccurate nature – of the international media coverage of the current situation in Venezuela, he said that “Venezuela’s democracy is the most observed in the world today”. This he explained was because “in a world taken over by neo-liberal capitalism, the only part where this is challenged is in Latin America” and that Venezuela was key to this. 


Adding that, he did not think “there has been a political leader in recent history who has won so many elections and referenda by purely democratic means” as Hugo Chavez, he also condemned recent comments by President Obama suggesting that Chavez was an “authoritarian,” thereby also alerting the meeting to the dangers of US intervention and possible backing for right-wing destabilisation plans in Venezuela.


After Tariq spoke, the meeting heard a further message of support, from Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, who said, “The people of Venezuela made their democratic choice very clear on October 7. It is sad that despite their defeat at the ballot box some of the opposition appear willing to use President Chavez’s illness to destabilise the country. We hope for both a successful outcome for President Chavez treatment and respect for the democratic wishes of the Venezuelan people“


The final speaker was Jeremy Corbyn MP, who said the meeting was a show “solidarity and support with Hugo Chavez, and the people of Venezuela.” 


Calling on all present to follow closely events in Venezuela, and build solidarity across British society, he concluded by saying that Venezuela clearly showed a “better way was possible” where they are standing up for a world without war and whose resources are shared”. 


He called for the British Government to constructively engage with the country and respect the clear and democratic decisions made in Venezuela in line with the constitution in recent days.


3) Statements of support from Britain for Hugo Chavez on the day his new term of office begins


“When President Hugo Chavez won his overwhelming mandate last year, in an election praised internationally for being scrupulously free and fair, few could have imagined that barely a few months later, the defeated right-wing opposition would attempt to exploit President Chavez’s current treatment for cancer to try and mount an unconstitutional challenge to him.


On behalf of Labour Friends of Venezuela and thousands of ordinary trades unionists and party members in the United Kingdom, I call upon Venezuela ‘s right-wing opposition to respect the constitution and the democratic will of the people. I also wish President Hugo Chavez a speedy recovery, and would remind Opposition leaders that the eyes of the world are now very firmly focussed on Venezuela. For it is by their words and deeds, we shall judge them.” Grahame Morris MP, Labour Friends of Venezuela 


“The people of Venezuela made their democratic choice very clear on October 7. It is sad that despite their defeat at the ballot box some of the opposition appear willing to use President Chavez’s illness to destabilise the country. We hope for both a successful outcome for President Chavez treatment and respect for the democratic wishes of the Venezuelan people“ Frances O’Grady , General Secretary of the TUC, representing 7 million workers in the UK


“I was privileged to be chosen as an election witness for Venezuela’s most recent national elections. The people of Venezuela are fully engaged in their democratic process and should be held up as an example to the rest of the world.  Having witnessed what was a free and fair election it is disturbing to hear that there are those who would exploit the health of President Hugo Chavez to usurp his legitimate election. The Constitution is clear and the democratic decision of the people of Venezuelashould be respected by the opposition and defended by the international community.”

Diane Abbott MP


 “Former US President, Jimmy Carter hailed the Venezuelan election process as the best in the world.  When President Chavez received 54% of a historic 80% turnout in 2012 it was not only a victory for socialism but a victory for democracy.  Unfortunately, there are forces at work attempting to prevent Hugo Chavez being re-elected as President for their own ends.  This is outrageous as it is quite clear that the majority of the Venezuelan people want President Chavez to rightfully take up his role as President.  The system allows for the swearing in to take place at a later date and that is what must happen in the interest of fairness and democracy.” Elaine Smith MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament)


“Black communities in Britain are deeply inspired by the immense social progress made in Venezuela over the past decade. President Chavez is an international leader who is proud of his African and Indigenous heritage. On behalf of the NUS Black Students Campaign, representing one million students, I express my full solidarity with President Chávez and the Venezuelan people at this difficult time and completely reject any attempts to undermine the democratic decision by the people and the right of President Chavez to be sworn in at a later date as the constitution allows.” Aaron Kiely, National Union of Students Black Students’ Officer


“President Chavez is the elected leader of Venezuela, recognised as such by the majority of Venezuelans, and people throughout the world. Efforts to oust him, because of his illness, are simply attempts at a coup by other means.  We salute the gallant Venezuelans defending their democratically elected leader.  Our best wishes for his speedy recovery.” Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communications Workers Union


“On behalf of the RMT, we fully support President Chavez fulfilling his role as democratically president of Venezuela. Its garbage that people are using the President’s health treatment to try to deny this democratic wish of the Venezuelan people” Bob Crow, General Secretary RMT


 “I give my full support to Hugo Chavez’s electoral victory in Venezuela and, given the circumstances, to the postponement of his taking office until he is fully recovered. I am sure the whole Argentine people accompany me in this expression of support to the Bolivarian leader. Professor Ernesto Laclau, Professor Emeritus of Government at the University of Essex

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