Drama in Venezuela: This “constitutional crisis” is looking pretty serious

posted at 4:01 pm on January 9, 2013 by Erika Johnsen

It’s official: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will supposedly not be sufficiently recovered from his December cancer surgery to attend his pre-scheduled January 10th presidential inauguration, but completely predictably, the Venezuelan high court has decided that Chavez missing the inauguration is constitutionally hunky-dory, despite the protestations from certain lieutenants and opponents alike.

To no one’s great surprise, Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that cancer-stricken Hugo Chavez does not have to take the oath of office Thursday to begin his fourth term has president, a finding that some legal experts assailed as unconstitutional.

In a news conference Wednesday, Court President Luisa Estela Morales said Chavez’s absence is acceptable because it is neither “temporary nor permanent” given that his service will be uninterrupted and therefore does not fall under constitutional guidelines that could have forced Chavez to be present for the swearing-in ceremony or relinquish power. …

To have the Supreme Court administer the oath or delay the swearing-in, the president-elect must ask for a temporary postponement. Government officials say Chavez is conscious and in possession of his mental faculties.

But is Chavez’s incapacitation really neither “temporary nor permanent”? Chavez has not been seen nor heard from publicly since his operation in Cuba almost a full month ago (most out of character for him at such, er, ‘auspicious’ moments), and he is reportedly suffering from “respiratory insufficiency.” The rumors are flying that the two-decade president won’t be well enough to take up the reins again, ever; cue the power vacuum:

“It’s very evident that he isn’t governing, and what they want us to believe is that he’s governing, and they’re lying,” opposition leader Ramon Guillermo Aveledo told the Venezuelan television channel Globovision. He insisted that the National Assembly president should take over temporarily as interim leader and that the Supreme Court should appoint a panel of doctors to determine Chavez’s condition. …

While leaders of both the pro- and anti-Chavez camps say they don’t expect violence to break out Thursday, the government called for the socialist president’s supporters to gather for a demonstration at the presidential palace that day, and said that some foreign leaders were coming to visit. Bolivian President Evo Morales and Uruguayan President Jose Mujica have confirmed they will attend. …

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who was defeated by Chavez in October’s presidential vote, suggested on Tuesday that the military “has a role to play to play here,” though he did not give details. …

On Tuesday night, state television showed a video conference between Maduro and top military officers in which Defense Minister Diego Molero expressed the armed forces “unquestionable loyalty.”

Will Chavez really be back soon in full and robust health, or are we seeing a potential coup in the works here? Keep a weather eye out — the answer will have huge implications about the balance of power in both Venezuela and Latin America at large.

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