Thursday, January 10, 2013

Venezuelan Supreme Court Backs Chavez's Delayed Inauguration

On Wednesday, the Venezuelan Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) ruled that the inauguration of President Hugo Chavez, which was scheduled for today, can be legally postponed in order for the president to recover from cancer treatment in Cuba. Although the Venezuelan Constitution calls for presidents to be sworn in on the January 10th after elections in order to begin their term, El Universal reports that Supreme Court President Luisa Estela Morales said that Chavez can delay taking his oath of office because “there is no interruption in the exercise of his authority." She also pointed to the National Assembly’s motion to allow Chavez to postpone his inauguration, which passed on Tuesday.

The full text of the TSJ’s decision, written by Justice Morales and approved unanimously by the Constitutional Chamber of the court, is available online. One of the most interesting aspects of the ruling, as Bloomberg notes, is the fact that Morales cited an obscure 19th century U.S. vice president named William R. King as a precedent to justify the TSJ’s interpretation of the inauguration as a mere formality. King was elected as Franklin Pierce’s running mate in 1852 and took his oath of office 20 days after the new administration’s term began while receiving tuberculosis treatment in Cuba.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who has been a vocal advocate for a Court ruling on the issue over the past several days, surprised many by calmly accepting the TSJ’s decision, which he recognized as binding. Over at Caracas Chronicles, Ramon Muchacho provides an explanation for Capriles’ restraint after the court’s endorsement of what many among the opposition see as a “coup.” He points out that the position is likely based on the fact that the anti-Chavez camp cannot afford to lose popularity by pressing the legality of the delayed inauguration, adding that the opposition “can’t be seen as trying to gain via a technicality what we have yet to achieve via the vote.”

While Chavez will not be present, the Venezuelan government is moving forward with plans to hold a rally today in support of the ailing leader. The New York Times reports that National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello is urging Chavistas to come to the Caracas rally wearing a ceremonial sash bearing the national colors. Such a sash would traditionally be worn by the president during inauguration, and is a nod to his mantra that “Chavez is the people and the people are Chavez.

According to Telesur, a number of regional heads of state will be in attendance in a display of solidarity, including Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, Uruguay’s Jose Mujica and Haiti’s Michel Martellly. The foreign ministers of Argentina, Ecuador, Guyana and Suriname are also slated to attend.

News Briefs

  • The Center for Economic Policy and Research’s Dan Beeton offers a sharp rebuttal of claims that the decision to postpone Chavez’s inauguration is unconstitutional.  He notes that the Venezuelan Constitution allows the president-elect to take an oath of office before the TSJ if he is unable to do so before the National Assembly on January 10th, and provides no deadline for this.
  • The Washington Post reports on discreet talks between members of the Obama administration and Venezuelan officials, which Vice President Maduro acknowledged last week but maintained were ordered by President Chavez. The Post, however, suggests that these exploratory talks on issues like oil production and Venezuela’s relationship with Iran, are a direct result of Maduro’s heightened importance in the wake of Chavez’s illness.  
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has signed a bill into law which guarantees state assistance to victims of crime in the country. Passed by Mexico’s congress in April but resisted by former president Felipe Calderon, it requires local and federal officials to compensate victims by paying for health care costs and any necessary trauma therapy. It will also establish a national relief fund and nationwide registry of all crime victims. While El Universal reports that the project will be funded by the seized assets of drug traffickers, BBC Mundo notes that many in the country are still doubtful that the government will adequately uphold the law and allocate the necessary resources for this compensation.
  • The first unilateral ceasefire declared by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in ten years, which was declared on November 20th and will expire on January 20th, will not be extended, FARC leader Ivan Marquez told reporters in a break from peace negotiations in Havana. Marquez said that the guerrilla group’s leadership “had not contemplated the possibility” of continuing the ceasefire and that this would only be possible if the government agreed to cease hostilities against the FARC as well, a proposition which President Juan Manuel Santos has repeatedly rejected.
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cut short her vacation on Tuesday in order to respond to a developing energy crisis in the country that Reuters reports could impact economic growth. Because the country has been hit by a historic drought in recent months, Brazil’s hydroelectric dams are low on water, causing many analysts to speculate that energy rationing will be necessary. The government has denied this, but the AP notes that the last time water levels were this low, in 2001, it caused massive power outages.
  • The Argentine frigate seized for two months in Ghana at the behest of international creditors, La Libertad, has finally arrived home. As the ship entered the port city of Mar del Plata yesterday, the AP reports that it was greeted by a crowd of thousands of people. President Cristina Fernandez also welcomed the return of the ship, and called its arrival a victory against "vulture" capitalists.
  • A public report released by the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention calls on Cuba to immediately release jailed U.S. contractor Alan Gross. The group found that while Gross was afforded due process, he was tried by a biased judiciary on vague and inflated charges.
  • Just the Facts’ Adam Isaacson takes a look at what change President Barack Obama’s nominees for Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and CIA Director (John Kerry, Chuck Hagel and John Brennan, respectively) could bring to U.S. policy toward Latin America. Considering that all three favor more limited intervention abroad, Isaacson argues that this will likely result in more special operations, a heightened intelligence community presence, increased reliance on drone technology and more emphasis on cyber-security in the region.
  • In response to public outcry, Peru21 reports that the Peruvian Congress has annulled a recently-passed law raising lawmakers’ pay to 41 times the country’s minimum wage.
  • The Financial Times profiles the emergence of a middle class with disposable income in Peru, fueled largely by increased Asian demand for the country’s mining exports.

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