Caracas, February 12th 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) - The Venezuelan Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) has ruled that President Nicolas Maduro’s January 14th decree declaring a state of economic emergency in the country is both constitutional and currently in force.
The top court’s decision comes after the presidential decree was blocked on January 22nd by the National Assembly, which the rightwing MUD (Roundtable of Democratic Unity) coalition currently controls.
The economic decree comes in the midst of a severe financial crisis in the country. Venezuela was hit by unprecedented levels of inflation in the last quarter of 2015, which leapt to more than 140%. It is also suffering from massively depleted national revenue due to the global slump in oil prices.
“Now that the economic emergency decree is in force, over the next few days I will activate a number of measures which I have been working on,” said President Nicolas Maduro on state television channel VTV.
Useful and Necessary
According to this week’s ruling, the Supreme Court found that the measures outlined in the presidential decree are “proportional, pertinent, useful and necessary” for the state to fulfil its constitutional social obligations, given the extent of the economic crisis.
It also found the decree to be in compliance with international human rights treaties.
The legal basis for the court’s capacity to overrule the National Assembly appears to lie in the fact that the legislative body waited more than the 48 hours required by the Law for States of Exception to hold a special session to review the economic emergency decree.
According to the Law for States of Exception, if the National Assembly does not call a special session within 48 hours or make an official declaration within eight days after the decree is emitted, then “it will be understood as approved”.
“These circumstances violated the legal process, juridic security and due process consecrated in article 49. of the Constitution, (which are) fundamental pillars of the Constitutional State of Law,” reads the TSJ statement.
Opposition legislators have contested the ruling, arguing that the Constitution allows the legislative body eight days to discuss the decree.
But co-writer of the Bolivarian Constitution and constitutional lawyer, Hermann Escarrá, also argued that the Magna Carta does not give the National Assembly the power to block the presidential state of emergency decree, but rather to amend it or to deny the president permission to extend it if solicited.
“The National Assembly disobeyed the constitutional norm in such a way as that the Supreme Court had no other option but to declare the the Economic Emergency Decree as in force,” explained Escarra to news site Que Pasa.
“Only on the request of an extension can it be revoked,” he added.
Interpreting the Constitution
The Law for States of Exception also asserts that the decree will enter into law from the moment that it is published in the National Gazette. The decree in question was included in the January 14th publication by the national executive.
It is the first time that a standoff of this kind between the legislature and executive has emerged since the Bolivarian Constitution of Venezuela came into effect in 1999, meaning that many of its articles are being interpreted for the first time.
The National Assembly’s initial rejection of the law prompted a group of communal councils to file a request with the TSJ judges, who were asked to conduct an official interpretation of the Constitution with regard to the economic decree.
According to the constitution, an economic emergency decree can legally be declared under “extraordinary circumstances,” which seriously affect the “economic life” of the country.
Some of the proposals that Maduro has included in his state of economic emergency decree include: assigning more resources to public services, clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion, a presidential mandate to increase both public and private national production and creating a more streamlined process for importations.
The decree will also allow the state to oblige individuals to put their “means of transport, warehouses and distribution lines” at the service of the public to combat the economic war.
The decree is set to expire 60 days after it was emitted, but the president can seek to extend the decree pending approval by the National Assembly.
Opposition legislators in the National Assembly have called the court’s ruling “unconstitutional” and claim that it will “aggravate the crisis”.
“They don’t have the authority to do what they did,” said National Assembly President, Ramos Allup.
Allup also pledged to find “the most effective, efficient and least damaging way” of cutting short the current government’s term through “constitutional, democratic, pacific and electoral means”.
Leaving the current president in charge for another six months would be “far too long,” he added.
The current Chavista administration of Nicolas Maduro was elected to serve for the 2013-2019 government term.