Mérida, 12th January 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan opposition has called for a “massive” street protest against the legality of the delay in Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s swearing-in, with some sectors of the opposition declaring that they no longer recognise the Chavez government.
The opposition’s call comes in reaction to the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday, which ruled unanimously that a postponement of Chavez’s inauguration was constitutional.
The Venezuelan constitution stipulates that a president-elect should be sworn-in on the January 10th after their election. It further states that if for any “intervening reason” this is not possible, the president can be sworn in by the Supreme Court, with no date specified.
Chavez, who was re-elected as Venezuelan president for the 2013 – 2019 period in October, has been in Cuba for the last month recovering from a fourth operation for cancer.
The Venezuelan opposition argues that a delay in Chavez’s swearing-in is unconstitutional, and that without the ceremony taking place it is illegal for the government to continue in power.
However, yesterday the Supreme Court’s ruling received the backing of the Organisation of American States (OAS). Speaking to press, OAS secretary-general Jose Miguel Insulza announced that the OAS “fully respects the decision taken by the constitutional powers in Venezuela”.
He continued, “This issue has now been resolved by the three powers of the Venezuelan state [executive, legislative and judicial]…they have chosen a way that gives time for the situation [with Chavez’s health] to become clear, that allows a waiting period for the president elect to return and be sworn-in”.
The OAS stance reflects broad international support for the legality of the constitutional situation in Venezuela, with representatives from twenty seven Latin American countries attending a huge rally to support Chavez on his would-be inauguration day on Thursday.
At that event, Venezuelan vice president Nicolas Maduro said that a poll by an international company found that 68% of Venezuelans support the legality of the delay in Chavez’s inauguration.
The executive secretary of the opposition’s Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition, Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, reacted bitterly to the OAS’s announcement, calling it “frankly lamentable”.
In reference to the OAS general-secretary's Chilean nationality, he said, “It’s hard to believe that a person who has suffered dictatorship and exile simply accepts the government’s official version”.
The MUD had previously sent a “warning” to the OAS over the constitutional situation in Venezuela, in the hope of getting the OAS to declare a “violation” of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
Calls for a “massive show of force”
In protest against the Supreme Court’s ruling, on Thursday the opposition called for a “massive demonstration of force on the streets of Venezuela” on Wednesday 23 January.
The MUD parliamentary bloc in the National Assembly called for supporters to join “this civic, peaceful and democratic struggle, principally inside our country, as well as bringing the denouncement of the violation of our constitution and its democratic principles to the international community”.
Some sectors of the opposition have declared that they no longer recognise the legitimacy of the government.
Opposition legislator Maria Corina Machado said on opposition TV station Globovision yesterday that, “Venezuela has awoken today with a usurped government,” and that neither Maduro nor government ministers should continue in their posts.
She said that the demonstration on 23 January would mark the beginning of a “new stage” of “mobilisation and action” by the opposition.
Futher, opposition leader and mayor of Metropolitan Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, repeated the opposition’s claim that the delay in Chavez’s swearing-in was a “state coup”. Backing the call to demonstrate, he said, “The people shouldn’t surrender nor accept humiliation,” while also urging “moderation”.
Several pro-government public and grassroots media sources have drawn parallels between these declarations and the opposition’s discourse in the lead-up to the short-lived 2002 coup against the Chavez government.
Speaking at the pro-Chavez rally on Thursday, Maduro reminded those who disagree with the current constitutional situation, “who want to come out and march and shout slogans, can do so, in the framework of the law”.
However, he warned opposition supporters “not to go crazy, to respect the peace of the country; and to that opposition that always falls for coup temptations, we call on them to reflect and rectify in time”.
Opposition student protests
Pro-opposition students organised a series of small protests yesterday. Students from the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) gathered in Caracas to denounce the “kidnapping” of the constitution.
At the same time, a group of students from the law department of the UCV announced their support for the Supreme Court’s decision as “in concordance” with the “fundamental principles” of the constitution.
A small protest in San Cristobal in Tachira state turned violent, with authorities and public media accusing a group of students of trying to burn down the headquarters of two public institutions. Opposition TV Globovision has denounced that nine students were wounded in confrontations with police at the protest.
Today, opposition supporters gathered in a public square in Caracas to “reject” the Supreme Court’s judgement. The right-wing Popular Will party, which organised the event, urged citizens to turn out to protest an “indefinite usurpation” of the constitution by the Supreme Court.