Thursday, April 12, 2007

What the opposition really thinks about separation of powers and rule of law 

April 11th, 12th, and 13th mark the fifth anniversary of the opposition managing to get back into power. No they didn’t win an election. They did what for them is the old fashioned way – they overthrew the government. It worked, at least for a couple of days.

Unfortunately those were days of tumult and bloodshed. But as the saying goes, there is no bad from which some good does not come. This is no exception.

The good in this case is that the Venezuelan people got a little insight into what the opposition is all about, and how they would operate if they were in power.

The opposition claims to be for good government, rule of law, and separation of powers. All sounds good. So how did they do during there 48 hour chance to shine and show the whole world how a GOOD government could be run? Lets take a look at what they did, starting with the founding decree of their government the famous Carmona Decree which was read at the swearing in of the Carmona government and was applauded and signed in support of by a veritable who’s who of the opposition (very curiously, this document was written days in advance of April 11th, seemingly indicating the events of that day were not spontaneous):

Act of Constitution of the Transitional Government of National Unity

The Venezuelan people, true to their republican tradition of struggling for independence, peace, and liberty, represented by diverse sectors organized by the national democratic society, with the backing of the united Armed Forces in a act of patriotic reaffirmation and to recover the democratic institutions and our constitutional path, and utilizing its legitimate right to reject any regime, legislation, or authority that are contrary to the values and principle democratic guarantees established in article 350 of the Constitution of December 30th, 1999.
In agreement with the tenets and principles established in the InterAmerican Democratic Charter signed by the member of the Organization of American States including Venezuela.

That yesterday, the 11th of April 2002, a date that will be remembered with profound indignation and national sadness, there occurred violent events in the city of Caracas that owed to orders given by the government of Hugo Chavez Frias to attack, repress and murder innocent Venezuelans that peacefully demonstrated around Miraflores palace and inflicting upon them grave crimes against the humanity of the Venezuelan people.


Considering: That Hugo Chavez Frias and his government from their high positions have instigated to commit crimes, sponsored violence against all types of private property, as well as obstaculized investigations....

Considering: That Hugo Chavez Frias and his government have irresponsibly promoted a climate of confrontation and social violence, contrary to national unity, democratic pluralism and the principles and values of democracy, against all the institutions and sectors of Venezuelan society.

Considering: That Hugo Chavez Frias and his government have planned and executed a foreign policy contrary to the highest economic, political, and social interests of the nation, bringing about an isolation with grave consequences for the country, having an ambiguous policy with respect to international terrorism and developing undeniable links to the Colombian narcoguerillas.


Considering: That Hugo Chavez Frias yesterday presented his resignation from the position of President of the Republic before the High Command of the Armed Forces, and the Vice-president of the Republic abandoned his office which has brought about a constitutional vacuum of power, so that the republican government can be adapted to the demands of the situation and constitutional principles and to those established in the InterAmerican Democratic Charter

We Decree:

Constructing a democratic transitional government of national unity in the following form under the following principles:

Article 1: Is designated the citizen Pedro Carmona Estanga, Venezuelan, of age, and with I.D. number 1.262.556 be President of the Republic. He assumes by this act immediately the position of Head of State and the National Executive for the period established in this decree. The President of the Republic with the Council of Ministers is empowered to give such edicts as are necessary for the execution of this decree and the consolidation of the national government.

Article 2: Is re-established the name Republic of Venezuela, by which will be identified our homeland from this moment on.

Article 3: Are suspended from their offices the deputies and their alternates of the National Assembly. National legislative elections will be head no later than the end of December 2002 to elect the members of the National Legislative Power, which will be empowered to reform the Constitution of 1999.

Article 4: Is created Consultative Council which will exercise the functions of advising the President of the Republic. The Council of State will be composed of 35 principle members and their alternates representing the diverse sectors of Venezuelan democratic society; the principle members can temporarily leave their seats without losing the right to occupy positions within the National Executive, state, or municipal governments and their temporary absence will be covered by their alternates. The Consultative Council will elect from its members a president, two vice-presidents and a secretary. The Consultative Council will be made up of 35 citizens named by decree.

Article 5: The President of the Republic of Venezuela will coordinate the national democratic transition policies and other acts necessary to secure the state and municipal powers.

Article 6: National general elections will be held within 365 days beginning from today’s date. The transitional government will cease to exist once a new democratically elected president assumes office. The President of the Republic designated in this act cannot be a candidate for the Presidency in the said elections.

Article 7: The President of the Republic with the Council of Ministers can designate temporarily the heads of the public powers, at the national, state and local level to assure democratic institutionality and adequate rule of law, along with Venezuela’s representatives before the Andean and Latin American parliaments.

Article 8: Is decreed the reorganization of the public powers with the purpose of recovering their autonomy and independence and assuring a peaceful and democratic transition, from which posts will be hereby deposed those illegitimately occupying them at the present including the President and Magistrates of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General of the Republic, the Comptroller of the Republic, the Omnsbudsman, and the members of the National Electoral Council. The President of the Republic with the Council of Ministers will consult with the Consultative Counsel will designate as rapidly as possible the citizens who will exercise those positions.

Article 9: Are hereby suspended the 48 decrees with the force of law, dictated in accordance with the Enabling Law of November 13, 2000. The President of the Republic will install a commission to review the said laws made up of representatives of the diverse sectors of society.

Article 10: Remain in effect the judicial order in as much as it is not revised by this decree nor by orders of the newly constituted transitional government. Similarly are kept in effect all the international commitments properly entered into by the Republic of Venezuela.

Article 11: The democratic and national unity transitional government will relinquish its powers and give account of its actions to the Public Powers that are legitimately named in accordance with what is established in this decree and other constitutional and legal orders.

Given in the Palace of Miraflores in the city of Caracas on the 12th day of the month of April 2002. The 191st year of independence and 142nd of Federation.

Ladies and gentlemen for the purpose of moving forward with this project of all the national democratic society, in the entrance to this hall we ask you to sign the decree that has just been read to as a way of joining this process.

Separation of powers? Lets see – the self-proclaimed President promptly eliminated the constitution, the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, the National Electoral Council, the Comptroller, and the People’s Ombudsman. Damn, that isn’t separation of powers, that is the elimination of just about every single independent and democratically elected power in the country. And mind you while this decree was read the opposition goons were raiding homes to try to find and arrest elected mayors and governors that they didn’t like.

So it would seem that the opposition isn’t so big on separation of powers after all.

Surely though responsible organizations that support democracy and rule of law were outraged by what was happening and called for the restoration of Venezuela’s democratically elected government, right? Unfortunately not. In fact, the New York Times, which is now found of noting the supposed dire state of Venezuelan democracy right now, cheered the coup on rather loudly from the sideline:

New York Times, April 13, 2002
Hugo Chávez Departs
With yesterday's resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona. But democracy has not yet been restored, and won't be until a new president is elected. That vote has been scheduled for next spring, with new Congressional elections to be held by this December. The prompt announcement of a timetable is welcome, but a year seems rather long to wait for a legitimately elected president.

Washington has a strong stake in Venezuela's recovery. Caracas now provides 15 percent of American oil imports, and with sounder policies could provide more. A stable, democratic Venezuela could help anchor a troubled region where Colombia faces expanded guerrilla warfare, Peru is seeing a rebirth of terrorism and Argentina struggles with a devastating economic crisis. Wisely, Washington never publicly demonized Mr. Chávez, denying him the role of nationalist martyr. Rightly, his removal was a purely Venezuelan affair.

Public faith in Venezuela's institutions began eroding well before Mr. Chávez burst on the scene with a failed 1992 coup. Corruption discredited both main parties, and a patronage-fueled bureaucracy devoured the country's abundant oil revenues, leaving many Venezuelans desperately poor. Mr. Chávez was elected president in 1998 promising change he never delivered. He courted Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein, battled the media and alienated virtually every constituency from middle-class professionals, academics and business leaders to union members and the Roman Catholic Church.

This week's crisis began with a general strike against replacing professional managers at the state oil company with political cronies. It took a grave turn Thursday when armed Chávez supporters fired on peaceful strikers, killing at least 14 and injuring hundreds. Mr. Chávez's response was characteristic. He forced five private television stations off the air for showing pictures of the massacre. Early yesterday he was compelled to resign by military commanders unwilling to order their troops to fire on fellow Venezuelans to keep him in power. He is being held at a military base and may face charges in Thursday's killings.

New presidential elections should be held this year, perhaps at the same time the new Congress is chosen. Some time is needed for plausible national leaders to emerge and parties to reorganize. But Venezuela urgently needs a leader with a strong democratic mandate to clean up the mess, encourage entrepreneurial freedom and slim down and professionalize the bureaucracy.

One encouraging development has been the strong participation of middle-class citizens in organizing opposition groups and street protests. Continued civic participation could help revitalize Venezuela's tired political parties and keep further military involvement to a minimum.

Ok, ok, so institutionality did kind of take a hit that day. But at least basic human rights were upheld. Well, maybe not. In fact, in one little example of what would have happened had the coup not been reversed the state oil company opposition led management promptly fired 79 people. Fired for what? Supporting Chavez? Not participating in the coup or the strike that led up to it? Probably all of that.

Interesting how the opposition that complains about political blacklisting so quickly fired people in just the one working day they were in power. Wonder what would have happened if they had had a whole week in power!!!

BTW, for those who wish to see some video of the opposition frolicking in Miraflores this is a good one. Note the upstanding citizens signing the decree.


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