Decision on Chavez Inauguration Must Strictly Follow the Constitution


Last week, authorities in Caracas, Venezuela suggested that the January 10 inauguration of President Hugo Chavez may be delayed, perhaps indefinitely, in light of his ongoing absence from the country amid widespread reports of his failing health.  Freedom House calls on the government of Venezuela to ensure transparency and to strictly follow the constitutional process in the event that Hugo Chavez cannot be sworn in for a fourth presidential term on Inauguration Day.

The constitution, drafted under President Chavez and approved by a popular referendum in 1999, mandates that the president be sworn into a new term on January 10th before the National Assembly or the Supreme Court.  It lays out specific provisions in the event of a temporary or absolute absence of the President.  If there is an absolute absence of the President before he is sworn in because s/he dies, is deposed, resigns or is permanently incapacitated, the Constitution dictates that the President of the National Assembly would govern in the interim and call for new elections in 30 days.

President Chavez’s absenteeism on January 10th alone does not justify “absolute absence.” Such a declaration requires certification by a medical board, appointed by the Supreme Court and approved by the National Assembly.  No steps have been taken to appoint such a board. Chavez has not been seen in public
since he left to Cuba to undergo a fourth surgery for an undisclosed form of cancer on December 11. He is said to be in a delicate state after post-surgery complications, including an acute respiratory infection.

“The Venezuelan Constitution lays out clearly what to do if the President is permanently absent on Inauguration Day,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House.  “The leadership in Caracas should respect the letter of the law and follow the constitutional process in the event that Hugo Chavez cannot be inaugurated on January 10.”

Over the past 18 months, President Chavez’s treatment for cancer in Cuba has been shrouded in mystery. Government officials and family members traveled to the island last week, yet scarce and conflicting details about his prognosis have been shared with the Venezuelan public.

“The government’s unwillingness to disclose independently verified medical information about Chavez’s prospects for resuming office continues to damage its credibility and poses a threat to democratic governance. Venezuelans are also concerned that important decisions about their future are being taken outside of country,” added Kramer. “The people of Venezuela deserve a transparent explanation of the President’s state of health to determine if, and when, new elections are necessary. Prolonged uncertainty about who will be the next Venezuelan president is unacceptable.”

Venezuela is rated Partly Free in the 2012 edition of the Freedom in the World and Freedom of the Net surveys and Not Free in Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press 2012 survey.

To learn more about Venezuela, visit:

Freedom in the World 2012: Venezuela

Freedom of the Press 2012: Venezuela

Freedom on the Net 2012: Venezuela

Blog: Modern Election Rigging in Ukraine and Venezuela

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