Wednesday, November 16, 2005

This court has a mind of its own 

One charge that some have leveled against the Chavez administration is that is has supposedly "packed" the Supreme Court (TSJ). Never mind that the Chavez administration couldn't do this as the Venezuelan Constitution mandates that all changes to the TSJ are made by the National Assembly. Given that few opponents of Chavez seem to have ever read the Venezuelan Constitution the absurdity of this charge should not come as a surprise.

More importantly though, the courts have been anything but docile during Chavez's tenure. The Supreme Court previously ruled that there wasn't even a coup in April 2002! (imagine the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the prisoners in Guantanemo couldn't be held because the destruction of the World Trade Center wasn't a terrorist act).

Now we get yet more evidence of the courts independent decision making. Today the TSJ ruled against the government and in favor of one of Venezuela's largest private companies, the beer brewing company Polar. A few months ago the state of Barinas attempted to confiscate some of Polar's grain silos claiming they weren't used and therefor subject to seizure in the public interest. The state government intended to re-open them as a co-op thereby giving jobs to people to run them and an outlet to market for small grain farmers. Today's ruling by the TSJ puts this all on ice as the court decides if the taking over of the silos constitutes an unconstitutional violation of Polar's property rights.

In a seperate ruling the court also lifted the order prohibiting the top directors of opposition NGO Sumate from leaving the country. The prohibition was to ensure that they didn't flee the country before their trial for their participation in the 2002 coup against Chavez. So yet again the court rules against the government which means these individuals may be able to flee the country as so many other coup participants have to avoid justice.

So if Chavez or the Assembly was "stacking" the TSJ to get a pliant court that would rule in its favor they sure didn't do a very good job of it. Getting past the rhetoric what we see is that Venezuelan courts are indeed independent and have quite a mind of their own.


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