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.

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