Formalities in formaldehyde


One of the more salient points of these surreal times we are living through is that a Revolution spawned out of a formal oath in front of a tree … now considers oath-taking a mere “formality.”

Part of the chavista argument for wiping the floor with the Constitutional mandate for swearing in the President on January 10th is that Chávez is both President and President-elect. Hence, according to them, the Presidential period is simply ongoing.

But we’ve been in this situation before … with the exact same President.

In 2006, Hugo Chávez was re-elected in a landslide. In early 2007, he announced his Cabinet for the new Presidential term. Among other changes, Jorge Rodríguez replaced José Vicente Rangel as Vice-President because Rangel’s term ended. The Cabinet was sworn in (a mere formality!) on January 8th, a couple of days before the President. Significantly, even the Ministers that stayed in their posts were sworn in that day, clearly signifying that their term was expiring and a new one was beginning, even though they had the same job.

According to the Maduro doctrine, Presidential Inaugurations are quaint little social conventions that bear no judicial weight whatsoever, as significant as shaking hands or bending the tip of your hat when you greet someone – it’s nice when we do it, but doesn’t make much of a difference in the overall scheme of things.

Chàvez’s 2007 behavior directly contradicts that. What Maduro regards as a formality, Chávez himself regards as grand theater, something he has always considered a big deal.

When Chávez showed up at the National Assembly dressed to the nines to take the oath on January 10th 2007, he vowed “Fatherland, Socialism or Death! I swear it!” This is a man used to making historic stream-of-consciousness affairs out of routine addresses to the National Assembly.

Who can forget his swearing over a “moribund Constitution” in 1999? What about his nine-hour long address to the National Assembly a year ago?

Speeches and oaths are occasions for grand theater in chavista lore, so the suggestion that these are mere “formalities” is downright … counter-revolutionary.

One has to wonder what Chávez himself would think of the Maduro doctrine.

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  1. “One has to wonder what Chávez himself would think of the Maduro doctrine.”

    Er, Chavez? Think? No, that’s not his forte. Meaningless gibberish combined with dramatic hand gestures is about as far as the thought process gets with Hugo. But,…but, were he able to think for himself, and it might be a first, from a hospital bed in Havana, with plastic tubes hooked to gizmo machines, with all kinds of blinking lights in the background, it would probably be along the lines of, ” What the hell are you morons waiting for? Call an election,….now! I’ve spent the whole friggen kitchen sink on the last one. There’s no time to waist!”

  2. Juan, my reading is entirely different. Both Chávez and Maduro follow the same doctrine: power lust justifies the means. If for histrionic or whatever reasons you need to swear, do swear. On the contrary, if you don’t need to swear, why do it? It’s exactly the same with any other aspect of their policy. They are democrats until results go against them (2007 referendum anyone?). They promote the constitution until it’s not useful anymore. That’s what Chávez did for 14 years and Maduro (or whoever takes the coroto now) will do ad nauseam.

    What I’m seeing is that everyone these days is playing the “what would Chávez do?” game to their favor. Apparently, just as he always hoped, he became the new Bolivar. Now all factions claim to know exactly what his true intentions were. I have even seen people saying that the guy was always a democrat and he would have never kicked the table! If that’s our political reality with him still alive (supposedly), I can’t imagine what 20 years will bring to the country’s political landscape. Plaza Chávez for each town?

  3. I had been hesitant to comment on this issue because I’m kind of irritated about how badly written the articles concerning the absence (permanent or otherwise) of the president are. So much that it leads to absurdities. Suppose Chavez dies today, and elections were held in 30 days, and the opposition wins. The new president cannot take office until… January 10th, 2014!!! Because that’s what the constitution says; presidents are sworn in January 10th of the year following their election.

    This is completely ridiculous, but if you are to follow the constitution, this is what you have to do, because this is what it says. I’m pretty sure this is not what the people who wrote the constitution had in mind. What’s the point of hurrying an election in 30 days if the new guy has to wait almost a year to take office?

    What can I say? They did a crappy job at writing that little blue book.

    I know that the constitution must be followed no matter what, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really make much of a difference, the new president has to wait until January 10th next year, whether Chavez absence is declared permanent now or later this year. We are actually “drowning in a glass of water” as far as the final results are concerned.

    • Just to let you know TSJ has a couple of sentences regarding those issues that you mention.
      The problem here is that even though the TSJ already clarified those issues, Chavistas seem not give a dam about their own sentences…

      • As far as I know, TSJ sentences were about ratifying that the president has to be sworn in January 10th (and nothing else), which only confirms my point about it being absurd to hurry an election in 30 days if the new guy has to wait almost a year to become president.

        If you know of anything TSJ has sentenced other than this, please post the corresponding link.

        • Not true.
          There are at least another two sentences, one dealing with a local governor being sworn in an administrative court, and another of the electoral chamber dealing with the formality of oath-taking, in the latter it was stated that “El inicio de la acción de Gobierno depende de la correspondiente toma de posesión”.
          Any lawyer that bothered to study a little at school know that anywhere in the world constitutions are “interpreted” due to gaps and unclear wording that could have been resulted from the legislative process; that’s nothing new. Therefore, it is ridiculous to take the wording literally when there are circumstances that don’t allow that, i.e. the case of an extemporaneous election due to death or else. The TSJ declared that Chavez didn’t have to wait until the 10 of January to be sworn in. This is the famous ñapa, of the referendum.
          There is even a sentence in which the Constitutional chamber denies another interpretation of this issue for being already revised.

        • I think you’re confused about the Jan 10th thing. January 10th of the year following a regular election is when the “Periodo Constitucional”. If an election is held within 30 days to fill in for someone unable to conclude his periódo constitucional, then that person is elected not to a fresh periodo constitucional but to serve the balance of the time remaining on the existing periódo constitucional. The Dead Constitution is pretty explicit about this.

          • It might have been pretty explicit in the old constitution, but not in the one we have today. None of what you said is written explicitly there (where does it say “January 10th of the year following a regular election is when the “Periodo Constitucional” “? or something like that?)

            It would only make sense to do things the way you claim, but since it is not explicit…

          • Artículo 231. El candidato elegido o candidata elegida tomará posesión del cargo de Presidente o Presidenta de la República el diez de enero del primer año de su período constitucional, mediante juramento ante la Asamblea Nacional.

            Art. 233. En los casos anteriores, (i.e., when a new pres is elected after a 30-day-election because the old one is absent during the first 4 years of the periodo constitucional) el nuevo Presidente o Presidenta completará el período constitucional correspondiente.

          • Aha! Ok, thanks for bringing up article 233. A friend of mine who is a lawyer says it is ambiguous. You can argue that the “periodo constitucional correspondiente” to be completed is the one that would start on January 10th, 2014, not 2013.

            It is not the most logical interpretation, but it is possible.

          • Sad thing is that, as Kevin Drum put it in a radically different (USAmerican) context,

            “There is, apparently, a widespread belief that courts will uphold a literal, hypertechnical reading of legislative language regardless of its obvious intent, but I’m quite certain this isn’t true. Courts are expected to rule based on the most sensible interpretation of a law, not its most tortured possible construction.”

            Claro, eso será en el Norte, pero allá no hay Doctrina Biden.

          • For that reason the Constitutional Chamber has among its duties to interpret those “gaps”.

            Decision 759, “De la Procedencia” 11(a):

            “…el inicio del actual período del Presidente es la fecha de su toma de posesión, previa juramentación ante la Asamblea Nacional, el día 19.08.99, de acuerdo con los artículos 3 y 31 del Decreto sobre el Estatuto Electoral del Poder Público, y la duración es la de un período completo, es decir, por seis años, a tenor de lo dispuesto en el citado artículo 3 eiusdem; si se admitiera el acortamiento del actual período se violaría este artículo; b) el próximo período constitucional comienza el 10.01.07, según lo dispone el artículo 231 de la Constitución de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela; c) el Presidente de la República deberá continuar en el ejercicio de sus funciones de acuerdo con lo establecido en el artículo 231 de la Constitución de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela, es decir, hasta el 10.01.07, ya que, de otro modo, habría que enmendar la Constitución de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela en el sentido de señalar, como inicio del mandato presidencial siguiente el día 19 de agosto, en vista de que el actual período concluye el mismo día y el mismo mes del año 2006, conforme lo prevé el artículo 3 del Decreto sobre el Estatuto Electoral del Poder Público, a menos que se desaplique el artículo 231 de la Constitución de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela, lo cual sería inconstitucional y, enmendador, por ende, de la norma suprema.”

        • Now the catch is, there is always a catch, that the Constitutional Chamber will decide on regards to oath-taking before the TSJ, something that was not elaborated by decision 759.
          They will say Constitution doesn’t say anything about dates, they will not say a word about medical commission to verify whether Chavez is frozen or just embalmed, and that’s it for us…

  4. The regimes actual day to day behaviour shows that it is fundamentally lawless, it has little respect for the rule of law but doesnt want to be seen by the world as flagrantly lawless so that to the extent it can it attempts to give a thin veneer of formal legality to its acts . Theirs is a g string type of legality , one which minimally covers appearances but has no qualms about breaking the law , when it suits them .This posture is more than a matter of convenience, their Macho ‘revolutionary’ narcicism makes them gloat in displaying through naked , raw, muscular violent gestures the ‘super powers’ they feel they posses. This being the case its natural for them to see the rules that make up the Law as mere formalities , because to them they are basically ornamental , the ornament of the grand raw political power they feel they posses . The so called Maduro Doctrine shows that to supporters of Mr Chavez , it is not only that the swearing in act is a formality but that all of the law is a formality , to be dispensed with whenever their need for keeping up appearances makes it possible . They care about appearances but not about the Law because to them raw violent histrionically displayed political power is all that matters , the thing their revolutionary narcicism really enjoys.

    • Well stated.
      The law as an ornament, as a jewel, suits narco apologi$t$ and neo-communist$ to a T. When the occasion demands public visuals, they trot out the jewels and add these to their g strings. “Oooh, let’s see how this one looks. No, the earrings are too much.”.
      The wearing of jewels is only temporary. And that’s why the ornamental crafting was so weak; it wasn’t really that important to the overall objective$.

  5. What the big deal, the TSJ just goes to Cuba to swear in President Chavez.

    It happen in the US before,so far the only person who could have become president who was sworn in abroad was William R. King, vice president of the 13th President Franklin Pierce, who suffered from tuberculosis in 1853 traveled to Cuba to try to recover and was not present at the inauguration in Washington. A waiver allowed Congress so he could be sworn in Havana.

    When the August 2, 1923 President Warren Harding died suddenly, his vice president, Calvin Coolidge was in a remote rural area of Vermont( some say he was really born in Canada and not a US citizen) thus became president a day later . The oath was taken by his father. 110 years later, in 1963 Lyndon Johnson was sworn in aboard Air Force One in air space, not even on US soil when JFK was assassinated.

    When Nixon disgraced the country ( I always like the video when he came to Caracas and got chased out of town) and his corrupt VP was dismissed, Nixon resigned and in our Constitution there was no article on what to do, the Chief Justice said Congress could vote in Ford (no mandate their) who was not even elected VP but appointed.

    Rojo Rojito

    • You interestingly then admit that oath-taking is fundamental. Don’t you?
      Elected authorities have to be sworn in order to effectively exercise their power, this is case law in Venezuela (Jurisprudence). It’s also case law that they have to be sworn in the date the constitution mandates.
      Here the issue is that we, neither you nor me, know what Chavez condition is; and depending on it, the President may be unable to govern. To find that out, TSJ should name a commission to verify that. Is not Maduro or his wife who are entitle to do so.

        • If Cuba declares the hospital room Chávez is in as Venezuelan and the TSJ goes there and takes the oath, it will be venezuelan territory.

          It happened in Canada, during WW2 when Princess Juliana of Holland was expecting a baby while being a refugee in Canada. Canada declared that the hospital rooms were international territory and put Holland flag on top of it. As a result, the princess was born “in Holland” and Holland sends thousands of tulips to Ottawa every year.

          • That would be an interesting picture. A Venezuelan flag flying on top of a Cuban hospital, 30 something dudes crammed into a room to swear in a guy who has, after 6 weeks in a hospital bed, to look like shit.

    • Thanks for repeating those talking points. But since the US Constitution is not the Venezuelan Constitution, they are irrelevant. We are talking here about how the Venezuelan Constitution is being violated by Venezuelans. Not only that, but your discussion of the Nixon situation is, as is true of many of your posts, wholly false. Please provide us with a link to where the “Chief Justice said Congress could vote in Ford”. It is impossible to take people seriously who make up stories to advance their side of the argument.

    • Cort: Your point-stretching claim that LBJ was not sworn on US soil is disingenuous. Sovereign air space is a generally understood concept, moreover for the pilot of Air Force One, flying from Dallas to Washington, DC., on November 22, 1963.

      The sad thing is you work so hard at stretching the fabric of truth in order to share your fantasies with us, the already-converted. What other stretches are next?

    • Is he FIT to be President? Is he capable of taking an oath now, in 90 days, in 180 days, or ever in the future? We still don’t know…

    • You have utterly misunderstood the U.S. Constitution, which has a very clear provision for such situations. Also, you have garbled the sequence of events.

      Vice President Agnew was charged with corrupt acts as governor of Maryland, and resigned as Vice President on 10 October 1973. (Incidentally, the charges were filed by the U.S. District Attorney for Maryland, who was appointed by President Nixon.)

      The 25th Amendment, Article 2 states

      “2. Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.”

      The person thus nominated and confirmed is as much Vice President as one elected in the normal fashion.

      Nixon nominated Gerald Ford to be Vice President, and he was promptly confirmed by Congress, taking office on 6 December 1973. Nixon resigned on 9 August 1974, and Ford then succeeded as President. No further action by Congress was required. Nor was any opinion issued by the Chief Justice; none was even expected, as the 25th Amendment is clear and explicit.

  6. I agree with Bill Bass that the law becomes a formality when allegiance is primarily elsewhere, such as to a revolutionary leader. But it is also true that oath-taking is an important element of military culture. “Oaths are unimportant” is an idea which cannot easily be assimilated into the military ethos. They know it is bullshit.

  7. Juan

    I have put that out there through many types of media but trying to get through to the bureaucracy is another matter, some listen no one including listening to President Chavez.


  8. Anyone who thinks oath-swearing is a mere formality should note the consequences of getting it wrong. In 2007, Chavez used ‘Patria, Socialismo o Muerte!!’ Thanks to faulty syntax (later corrected, in the version ‘Patria Socialista o Muerte!!’, but after the damage had been done) the Almighty treated it as a multiple-choice question – and look what happened.


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