As several commenters have pointed out, I probably went too far in saying there is “no constitutional basis” for the National Assembly’s move to hold a “juicio político” against President Maduro.

The better translation for “juicio político” is “rendering a political judgment”.

As José Ignacio Hernández explains in ProDav, the constitution’s Article 222 explicitly empowers the Assembly to declare a public official’s “political responsibility” for failing to carry out his duties. There is a 2000 TSJ ruling that establishes plainly that this extends to the president.

Catch is, for the Assembly to find the president “politically responsible” would have no legal effect. Certainly, it would not remove him from office.

The problem, I think, is of translation: the “juicio” in “juicio político” is ambiguous. You could translate it as “trial”, but then you’re on a slippery slope to translating the whole phrase as “impeachment”, and an Article 222 “juicio político” certainly is not that.

Article 222 is there. It’s constitutional. But it does nothing.

The better translation for “juicio político” is “rendering a political judgment” — a phrase that gets at the essential toothlessness of Article 222.

It’s there. It’s constitutional. But it does nothing.

And “Abandono del Cargo”?

A somewhat more promising route is Article 233, which gives the Assembly complete discretion to remove the president by declaring that he has “abandoned his post.”

This is dicey. On the one hand the Constitution doesn’t define “abandono”, doesn’t limit when it can be declared and — uniquely — doesn’t demand the involvement of any other part of the state: the Assembly can act on its own. On the other hand, the dude is behind his desk at Miraflores Palace, working. (Or, bueno, or doing what passes for work for a guy like Maduro.)

Obviously, that is not the kind of situation the drafters had in mind when they wrote Article 233 the way they did. Declaring that the president has “abandoned his post” because he has failed to carry out what you see as his duties even though the guy’s on Cadena Nacional three times a day would be a…heroic interpretative stretch, to say the least.

Then again, chavismo has done far more violence to the constitution recently through a spate of decisions that don’t so much “stretch” the text as negate and subvert it.

For the opposition to invoke article 233 right now would rest on a boneheadedly literalist reading of the constitution.

Just in the last few months, we’ve seen various chavista bodies declare that the right to a Recall isn’t a right, that the people of Amazonas state’s right to be represented in the National Assembly isn’t a right, that the constitution’s explicit demand for A.N. authorization to decree an economic emergency is optional, that when the constitution says the president has to present the National Budget to the Assembly for its approval that actually does mean that, that when the constitution says the Assembly may decree amnesties it means it, and that’s just off the top of my head here.

For the opposition to invoke article 233 right now would rest on a boneheadedly literalist reading of the constitution. That said, chavismo would be more credible in its rejection of this kind of shenanigan if it didn’t routinely shit all over the text we’re reading-a-tad-too-literally.

16 COMMENTS

  1. How about this – the NA calls the president for a political judgment before the assembly. Maduro won’t show up, so they have a reason to invoke article 233 and declare him to have abandoned his post, rendering all his future signatures liable to be declared null at a later point.

  2. I think it’s fair to say that when push comes to shove, as in the AN finds him “guilty” in the political judgement and then declares he has abandoned his post the next move by the government is to say”So what?”

    And of course, the TSJ will issue the same “So What?”

    And now what?

    Clash of Titans time.

    The AN can remove the “express judges” appointed as the old AN was moribund last December, and name a new slate. Try to get the TSJ to rule impartially and so on.

    Great. Picture the scene at the TSJ the day the new judges come with their cardboard office boxes to pick out their desks!
    The AN declared that Maduro needs to present himself next Tuesday to come to account.

    Maduro “invited” Ramos Allup to a “Defense Council” meeting today?

    Will either attend the others invitation? I doubt Maduro will get anywhere near the AN.

    All the moves of the AN are like nails in a coffin, but do they have the stake they need to finish this off?

    The only real thing the MUD has right now is the desire for change that the majority of the country is clamoring for.

    The only way they can pull anything off is for them to heat up the street and keep it boiling, but that will only go so far timewise.With the populace out in force, they need to keep harrying the regime into committing a mistake that costs them everything, and that needs to happen soon.

    A mistake the military cannot overlook, and therefore the mistake that costs them the game.

    • Didn’t the AN decided last Sunday to start the process to name new judges and CNE directors? that ball is rolling. Pressure in every front is the strategy.

      • They announced they would do those things, but haven’t started. I am sure they will go forward with these things. What comes of them is another matter.

        What I said about the day the new judges show up to work goes for the people they appoint to the CNE.

        I don’t see either the TSJ “express” judges or the 4 “ladies” of the CNE meekly handing over the keys to them.

        The pressure on every front is the tactic, but there will come a moment when the final stroke is needed and I do not know whether the MUD have the tools to do so.

  3. Francisco:

    Permíteme realizarte un conjunto de reflexiones:

    1.- El artículo 233 contiene un elenco de los diversos supuestos en los cuales se produce la falta absoluta del Presidente de la República.

    2.- Según ese artículo, se produce la falta absoluta:
    a. Por la muerte o renuncia del Presidente;
    b. Por la “destitución” del Presidente. Este es uno de los dos (2) únicos supuestos en los cuales el artículo 233 exige la intervención del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia. El otro es la “incapacidad física o mental permanente” del Presidente, certificada por una junta médica designada por el Tribunal Supremo de Justicia. Este segundo supuesto exige, además, la aprobación de la medida por la Asamblea Nacional;
    c. La revocatoria del mandato del Presidente; y, finalmente,
    d. El “abandono del cargo”. Es a la Asamblea Nacional a la que corresponde declarar si se ha producido dicho abandono.
    Revisemos esta última hipótesis.

    3.- Para determinar qué ha de entenderse por “abandono del cargo” resulta menester revisar, primero que nada, el Diccionario de la Lengua. Conforme a éste, abandonar significa, entre otras cosas, “dejar una actividad u ocupación o no seguir realizándola”. El abandono, dicho en otras palabras, no supone necesariamente “ausencia física”. Es, pues, intrascendente, que el actual Presidente vaya a diario a su oficina y que ocupe el escritorio desde el cual normalmente despacha.

    4.- Siempre según el Diccionario, dejar significa, entre otras cosas, consentir, permitir o no impedir -en nuestro caso- que algo ocurra.

    5.- Si el cargo del Presidente demanda (i) el acatamiento de la Constitución y la ejecución de las leyes, incluyendo el respeto de los demás Poderes Públicos, y la garantía de las libertades públicas, y (ii) el Presidente consiente, permite o no impide la violación de la Constitución y de las leyes y, por ende, de las libertades públicas, (iii) es materia abierta al debate -i.e., a la discusión- si el Presidente ha hecho dejación de su cargo, porque ha dejado de cumplir sus deberes de manera reiterada, y si la Asamblea puede, por tanto, declarar el abandono del cargo, hipótesis en la cual:
    a. Ha de procederse a una nueva elección universal y directa dentro de los treinta días consecutivos siguientes; y,
    b. Mientras se elige y toma posesión el nuevo Presidente, se encargará de la Presidencia de la República el Vicepresidente Ejecutivo.

    Excusa la extensión del comentario. Excusa, además, que lo haya realizado en castellano.

    • Yo estoy 100% claro que esto es lo que van a tratar de alegar. Y no dudo que tiene cierta (lejana) plausibilidad.

      (But c’mon, it’s a lawyer’s convoluted way of circumventing the ordinary language meaning of “abandono“.)

    • Los términos legales no se analizan buscando diccionarios. Para sacar a un Presidente en Venezuela se necesita pasar por el TSJ. Lo de la responsabilidad política estaba en la Constitución de 1961, fue lo que intentaron hacer contra CAP en los ochenta, si mal no me equivoco y se salvo por 1 voto de… JVR. Las ironías de la vida.

  4. Mr. Toro, if the whole “dereliction of duty” was that useless as you make it appear to be here, Maduro wouldn’t have basically scrambled out of his “heroic tour to raise oil prices while being conveniently far from the troubles” to fly back to Venezuela.

    They might try to give it ANY other name, such as “I came back because I planned so! I’m in charge here, I’m president! ÑO ÑO ÑO!” But we all know the truth here, Maduro scurried away without any kind of authorization and that was putting his post at risk by doing that, a risk the castros told him it wasn’t good to have.

  5. The entire system is broken. The AN needs to act over and over again to demonstrate to everyone that it is still alive, to demonstrate to everyone inside and outside of the country that this constitutional crisis is for real, and to piss off the chavistas by fighting fire with fire.

    Something’s gotta give soon and dialogue isn’t going to do anything by give the guys in power more time to plan their next step.

  6. Dereliction of duty isn’t the same as abandoning one’s post. And abandono del cargo makes a hell of a lot more sense than the TSJ declaring that every single act of the AN is unconstitutional. The TSJ could easily be found to have abandoned their posts. Those posts were illegitimate to begin with, and everyone knows that.

    By contrast – and it is a very stark and clear contrast – the AN is full-on duty and full-on their posts. The AN was legitimately elected to represent the population. The MUD is also fulfilling its duty, full-on post, calling for voting to take place.

    What greater dereliction of duty and abandonment of post is there in a “democracy” than to forbid a vote?

    Poor Fransisco. He does a fabulous job every day with CC, yet becomes the seeming plausible target of controversy – and there is plenty of controversy! AH, the woes of the clearly visible! So easily shot at!

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