Venezuela’s Supreme Court Rules Vice-Minister Cannot Exercise Public Office

Venezuela's Vice-Minister of Foreign Relations, Mari Pili Hernandez, cannot exercise public office for three years, according to the country's Supreme Court. The decision is the result of an earlier accusation that Hernandez was involved in financial irregularities while she was a Caracas city council member.

Caracas, Venezuela, March 28, 2006—The constitutional chamber of Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Mari Pili Hernandez, the Vice-Minister of Foreign Relations for North America, cannot exercise public office because of alleged irregularities she committed while she was a Caracas city council member. Whether this means that she must be removed from her current post as vice-minister was not immediately clear.

A year ago, Venezuela’s Comptroller General implicated Hernandez in financial irregularities in the Caracas city hall while she was city council member (1996-1999) there. According to the Comptroller General, she had voted in favor of irregular financial transactions and was thus fined and prohibited from exercising public office for three years.

Hernandez appealed the Comptroller General’s decision to the Supreme Court, which granted her a temporary exemption from the decision in September 2005. According to that ruling, her removal from office as vice-minister could, “affect the development of diplomatic relations of [Venezuela] in the region where she exercises her office.”

The seven-member constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court, ruled unanimously yesterday that Hernandez’s removal from office would not negatively affect Venezuela’s diplomatic relations with North America after all. Venezuela’s 32-member Supreme Court has five chambers, divided according to area of responsibility: constitutional, civil, criminal, electoral, and administrative.

However, even though the court affirmed that Hernandez could be removed from office without negatively affecting Venezuela’s diplomatic relations, Supreme Court member Luis Velasquez Alvaray, who wrote the decision, said today that the court’s decision did not automatically remove Hernandez from office. “We do not have the authority to remove anyone,” said Velasquez. Rather, the decision of whether she continues as vice-minister is a decision of the executive.

The court decision comes at a time when several of corruption cases have recently reached public attention, such as one involving accusations against judge Velasquez Alvaray, who Interior Minister Jesse Chacon suggested was responsible for the improper purchase of land for new court buildings.