THE EDITOR: I remember reacting aloud in response to what I regard as a typically skewed news item re Venezuela a few weeks ago. On the day of the presidential swearing in, a member of the opposition who opted out of the election declared himself president of Venezuela with overseas backing.
The irony of foreign powers being anti-democracy to “restore democracy” did not elude me. I expressed this while travelling in a maxi as the morning news blindly aided in popularising a certain dialogue
A burly, dark-skinned young man who sat between me and the driver on the short trip retorted in a manner that purported intelligence, university training and intimacy with Venezuelan politics.
He left me with the knowledge that the Venezuelan constitution gave the president of the national assembly the right to declare himself president of the country. “The same constitution,” if I’m quoting him verbatim, that the socialist movement “changed to suit themselves.”
As he dropped off and returned to oblivion, I didn’t get the chance to ask the obvious, that being “under what condition does the constitution allow this?” However, by then I already had enough food for thought. Plus his claims set off a glaring red flag: The foreign forces who support regime change operate as if their preferred head of state’s actions are constitutional, yet they never say so in as many words or put out any relevant section for scrutiny.
But I have since checked. That young man was vaguely referring to Title V, Chapter II, Section One of the Venezuelan (Bolivarian) Constitution of 1999 with amendments through 2009.
In it, Article 233 says, “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.”
If this happens before the inauguration, a new election must be called within 30 days. During this period and up until the inauguration, the president of the national assembly shall take charge of the presidency. This is the only part of the constitution which allows that.
Where an inaugurated president becomes “permanently unavailable,” the constitution makes provision for the vice-president to take charge. For how long before calling elections? It varies, depending on how much of the presidential term remains. Therefore, the current president of the national assembly is in contravention of the constitution of Venezuela.
We don’t have to like the government or people or system of governance in Venezuela, but true democracy demands that we respect sovereignty and the rule of law. Articles 1 and 2 of the UN Charter outlaw intervention in the affairs of states. Also, Article 2 (3) says disputes must be settled peacefully, not with threat of war (Article 2(4)). Core states apply the UN Charter to their convenience but that is no reason to let apathy reign among us at the periphery.
We all have a duty to support peaceful dialogue as a solution to this internal fight for power. The alternative is an externally fuelled war for which Trinidad will be used as a launching pad. Then God will no longer be a Trini.