Newly-elected president Hugo Chavez is in Cuba getting treatment for cancer. He developed a lung infection, which means he can’t travel back to Venezuela for the inauguration. The Venezuelan Constitution specifies (see Art. 231) that the swearing in must be done on the 10th, either before the Legislature or the Supreme Court. So the right wing is trying to force new elections in the hope that they can split Chavez’s successors in a new election. Their argument is flawed, because Art. 234 specifies detailed procedures to declare a president-elect permanently disabled, and those procedures are under the control of Chavez proteges. (Something similar, by the way, happened during the coup d’etat against Honduras’s Zelaya, where he was declared permanently disabled to hold the presidency because the right-wing wouldn’t let him return).
The danger of the US considering this an opportune moment to meddle in Venezuela’s affairs is, in my opinion, significant. And, of course, there’s no guarantee that Chavez will survive this most recent health crisis, meaning that we could be seeing new elections in a few months. But the real problem is that the factions within the Chavez bloc have serious strains, and there is no figure of his stature and cleverness to hold it all together and keep infighting from weakening the coalition. It is good to see other Latin American countries rallying around to try to prevent the right-wing seizure of power through their mischievous interpretation of the Constitution.
This is a tragic situation. I think Chavez made a mistake by running again, because he has been drifting toward authoritarianism to try to overcome seemingly intractable problems. I have also said that the greatest failure of the Bolivaran “revolution” is the failure to develop leaders who could continue the process of change after his passing. There’s no doubt that a significant majority of the population believes that Chavez was on the right track, even if they disagreed with specific policies. If their will is denied, it will be a tragedy for democracy, and it will leave Venezuela ripe for crisis. Democracy only works when most people want it to, and it’s pretty clear that neither the US nor the Venezuelan oligarchy want it to.
Update: Greg Palast has a piece on Chavez, as well as a DVD. Palast thinks Nicolas Maduro can, and deserves to, survive the coming storm.
And right on cue, the Catholic Church lays down markers with the opposition. Jonathan Watts and Virginia Lopez, The Guardian:
“The nation’s political and social stability is at serious risk,” said Bishop Diego Padrón, the conference’s president, reading a statement from the Venezuelan bishops’ conference.
They never learn.
And Mark Weisbrot rebuts fear-mongering on the Venezuelan economy.