Hugo Chavez May Be Absent, But He Still Rules In Venezuela

It was his political will. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez briefly returned to Venezuela on December 8th and demanded that new elections be called should he be incapacitated to inaugurate his new term. Afterwards, he returned to Cuba to undergo a fourth cancer operation. The President has not spoken or written since then, which has aggravated worries about his health.

The heirs did not fulfill his last will. The Venezuelan Constitution clearly establishes January 10th, 2013, as the date for taking office and therefore beginning the government period. Chávez was unable to appear before the National Assembly (Congress) as ruled by the law. However, new elections are not programmed for the time being since a particular interpretation issued by the Supreme Court determined that Chávez could be sworn in as soon as he is able to do so, with no determined time frame for his recovery. The judges also refused to name a medical commission to evaluate his medical condition, another regulation included in the Constitution.

Although Chávez is still president, he has not been seen, heard or read in the last month. In other words, he is a president unable to act as a president.

— Andrés Cañizález

Public authorities in Venezuela are co-opted by Chávez supporters. Before the decision made by the Supreme Court, the country’s National Assembly reached an agreement which confirmed that the President had been awarded a health permit with no expiration date.

Accordingly, Chávez will still be the president of Venezuela, even though his health condition is unknown. The country’s Supreme Court refused to call upon the mechanisms described in the Constitution for “temporary absences” of the head of state, which would have implied an intern presidency of the current president of parliament, Diosdado Cabello. According to this rule, new elections should be organized after 180 continuous days of “temporary absence”. Anticipating this particular scenario, Chávez appointed Nicolás Maduro as his candidate for the new presidential elections in his last television broadcast aired on December 8th.

The lack of agreement inside the government party due to divisions between Cabello and Maduro seems to be the main explanation for not complying with Chávez’s detailed instructions. The current situation is difficult to grasp even for Venezuelans. There is an elected president, Hugo Chávez, who is supposed to take office in an uncertain moment in the future. In the meantime, Maduro is running the country but he is not ranked as the president since he is still the executive vice president and chancellor. The vice president position is not elected by voters but appointed by the President, which complicates the current situation: if Maduro had accompanied Chávez as his partner selected by votes, he could clearly assume the head of the State.

The Constitution establishes that absolute absences from the president after 180 continuous days should be substituted by the president of parliament, because he is the second high-ranked public officer elected by voters. This is not occurring in the moment. For the past 18 months –since the cancer was diagnosed– Chávez has been absent from the country in several opportunities, but he was very cautious to appear in “government functions”. Therefore, he exercised the presidency of Venezuela… from Cuba. Although Chávez is still president, he has not been seen, heard or read in the last month. In other words, he is a president unable to act as a president.

In the official strategy, the absence and silence of the leader is used to mythologize the figure of Chávez. The main thesis of the government is to tell all Venezuelans: “Chávez is you”; “Chávez is the people”. Every political heir is adamant in citing the commander, in remembering anecdotes, in rekindling the sentimental flame saying that Chávez is willing to give his life for the poorest.