People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 07

February 17, 2013




Venezuela: Waiting for the Return of Chavez


Yohannan Chemarapally


Despite the decisive electoral defeats in the presidential and state elections in recent months, the Venezuelan opposition, dominated by the right wing, is still dreaming of recapturing power. They made an abortive bid to exploit the illness of President Hugo Chavez to short-circuit the constitutional process and create a political crisis. Chavez was due to be formally sworn in for a third term as the president of Venezuela on January 10. The Venezuelan president, who is recuperating in a Havana hospital after cancer surgery, was not in a position to physically take the oath of office in the capital Caracas in the second week of January as was scheduled earlier. The Venezuelan president is still in Havana.




The opposition parties had demanded that a caretaker president be appointed and new elections held immediately. They charged that the president was on “unauthorised absence” from his duties. A US State Department’s spokesperson told the media in early January that the Venezuelan government was “not being transparent” about the health status of the president. Venezuela’s communication minister, Ernesto Villegas, has said that there is an international campaign underway to ultimately “destabilise” Venezuela and nullify the results of the October 2012 presidential elections.


Venezuela’s National Assembly had earlier given permission to the president to delay the swearing in ceremony, allowing him as much time as was needed to recover from the complicated cancer surgery he had undergone. Chavez had suffered complications due to a lung infection following the surgery. The president’s brother, Adan Chavez, who visited his ailing brother in Havana, dismissed the rumours spread by the opposition in this regard. He said that the foreign media were in league with the opposition parties in “spreading lies” about the medical condition of President Chavez. “We know that this is part of a dirty war spread by the necrophilic opposition. With the help of God, science and the people, our president will triumph in this new battle,” he said in Havana. The communication minister, Ernesto Villegas, in a statement issued on January 12 said that the president’s health was improving. “Despite his delicate health state since his complex surgery on December 11, his general health has improved in recent days and the president is in strict compliance with his medical treatment.”


Venezuela’s Supreme Court too gave a landmark ruling in the second week of January that there was nothing unconstitutional about the delay in the swearing in ceremony of the president. The Supreme Court president, Luisa Estella Morales, ruled that it would be “absurd” to consider the Venezuelan president’s treatment in Cuba as an “unauthorised absence,” as the opposition had charged. A seven member Supreme Court bench unanimously decided that Chavez could take the oath of office at a later date as provided by the country’s constitution. Morales pointed out that Chavez had received a new mandate from the people. While recognizing the importance of the formal swearing in ceremony, the Supreme Court said that it should not be allowed to undermine the start of a new presidential term.


Article 233 of Venezuela’s constitution states that new elections should be called only if the Supreme Court decrees “mental or physical incapability” of the president after certification by a duly constituted medical council with the approval of the National Assembly. Currently, President Chavez’s status is that of “being absent from national territory.” He has been granted permission to do so by the National Assembly. Article 231 of the constitution states: “If for any supervening reason the president cannot take office in front of the National Assembly, she/he will do so before Supreme Court.”




Before leaving for Havana to undergo his surgery, Chavez had in a speech to the nation, named his vice president, Nicolas Maduro, as his successor, in case anything untoward was to happen to him. “If such a scenario were to occur, I ask you from my heart that you elect Nicolas Maduro as constitutional president of the Republic,” Chavez had said.


The opposition parties then said that they would no longer recognise Maduro as the vice president after January 10 as he was only appointed to the post by Chavez and not directly elected. Opposition leaders also described the Supreme Court’s decision as a “coup d’état” that was being orchestrated from Havana. The opposition leader, Henrique Capille, who had unsuccessfully challenged Chavez in the presidential elections last October, said that the Supreme Court was “responding to the interests of a political party.” The opposition argued that the constitution mandates that the speaker of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, should be the caretaker president in the absence of Chavez.


Cabello, like Maduro, is also a close associate of Chavez. While announcing the National Assembly’s approval to delay the presidential inauguration ceremony, Cabello said: “President Chavez, this honourable assembly grants you all the time you need to tend to your illness.” In the absence of Chavez, these two personalities will, in all likelihood, be playing an important role in running the country. Washington and the western media are trying to spin stories that the ruling Socialist Party will fall apart in the absence of the larger than life figure of Chavez. It is unthinkable that any other leader in the ruling party would go against the express wishes of the president and challenge his chosen successor. 


The efforts of the opposition to politicise the emotive issue of the Venezuelan president’s fragile health condition only galvanised and united the “Chavistas,” as the supporters of Chavez are called. On January 10, the day on which Chavez was to be sworn in, there was a massive rally in the capital Caracas. More than 100,000 supporters converged near the Presidential Palace, wearing trade mark red “Chavista” shirts emblazoned with the slogan --- “We are all Chavez.” Top dignitaries from 27 Latin American and Caribbean states, including the presidents of Bolivia, Nicaragua and Uruguay, were present on the occasion to show their solidarity with the Venezuelan government and the convalescing president. “My friends, the situation of our brother Chavez is not only a concern for the Venezuelan people but to all of those who are part of the struggle. The best tribute and solidarity with Chavez is to keep the unity between our countries,” urged Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia while addressing the rally.


Vice President Nicolas Maduro, speaking at the conclusion of the huge rally, said that the opposition was “trying to manipulate and opportunistically take advantage of the circumstances of Chavez’s situation in order to destabilise the country.” He said that the government had uncovered a plot by the opposition to stage violent acts and spark nationwide protests. During a joint appearance with Maduro, the National Assembly president, Cabello warned the opposition. “With sadness but firmly we tell you, gentlemen of the bourgeoisie, don’t make a mistake. You would pay dearly.” In his speech on the same day, Maduro emphasised that there “is only one transition here, from capitalism to socialism, with President Chavez at the head, elected, re-elected and ratified.”




The Venezuelan public is well aware that those who are now talking about constitutional niceties were also the same bunch of capitalists, landlords, media moguls and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that supported the abortive 2002 military coup against Chavez. They were, till recently, vehement critics of the country’s constitution that was approved in 1999 after Chavez was first elected to office.


Leaders from the region have also been visiting Havana to show their solidarity with President Chavez. President Christina Kirchner of Argentina, along with her Peruvian counterpart Ollanta Humala, was in the Cuban capital in the second week of January to personally enquire about the health of the Venezuelan leader. The Argentine president recalled the crucial financial assistance extended by Venezuela when Argentina decided to take on the international financial institutions during the presidency of her late husband, Nestor Kirchner.


Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organisation of American States (OAS), said that the OAS fully respects the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s decision regarding the postponement of the President Chavez’s swearing in ceremony. “This issue has been resolved by the three pillars of the Venezuelan state — the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. They have chosen a way that will give for the situation (Chavez’s health), to become clear, that allows a waiting period for the president elect to return and be sworn in,” said Insulza. A recent opinion poll showed that 68 per cent of Venezuelans approved the delay in the swearing in process.


As things stand, the government is doing its job competently despite the absence of the president. The ruling party won 20 out of the 23 governorship in the country in the elections held in December. People are carrying on with their normal lives. For the people of Venezuela and of Latin America, Chavez now symbolises the economic and cultural sovereignty for the continent. The radical changes that Chavez has brought about cannot be easily reversed.