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PRESIDENTIAL INAUGURATION

Lawyers warn that Maduro "has his hands tied" on key issues

Appointment of ministers, military promotions, and signing of treaties are on hold

Since he is not the temporary substitute of President Hugo Chávez, Vice-President Nicolás Maduro has no powers to make a number of decisions (File photo)
JUAN FRANCISCO ALONSO |  EL UNIVERSAL
Friday January 11, 2013  10:10 AM
Hugo Chávez's followers on Thursday celebrated downtown Caracas his "alternative" inauguration, following the decision of the Constitutional Court, Supreme Tribunal of Justice, that authorized the government of President Hugo Chávez to continue in power even if the re-elected president could not take oath. Meanwhile, lawyers consulted by El Universal newspaper warned that the TSJ ruling has left Vice President Nicolás Maduro handcuffed and could lead to an eventual paralysis of the Executive Office.

"The ruling makes clear that the current President is Hugo Chávez. Therefore the vice-president can only do what the Constitution provides, as well as exercise some powers vested on him (by Chávez) in December," warned Gustavo Linares Benzo, a professor in administrative law at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV).

"From today, no ministers, ambassadors or military officers can be appointed in Venezuela. No regulations for any law or state agency can be enforced either, because the president did not vest such powers on Maduro," Linares Benzo said.

He also warned that public finances could be hit in the future because "the Republic cannot take on debt. Only bodies such as Petróleos de Venezuela (Pdvsa) may borrow abroad. China should consult with its lawyers and ask who is going to sign any new letter of credit in the name of Venezuela because Chávez is the one who signs them."

In this regard, former president of the extinct Supreme Court of Justice Cecilia Sosa Gómez termed the TSJ ruling "unacceptable." The decision "rewrites the Constitution; it has left the vice-president with his hands tied, and could lead the public administration to a halt in the near future," according to Sosa Gómez.

"If a minister resigns or dies in the next few hours, the vice-president may not appoint a substitute. Internationally, he cannot sign new treaties or conventions because that is an exclusive power of the president."

Safe for now

Meanwhile, lawyer Luis Herrera Orellana said the government apparatus operation is guaranteed, at least for now, as President Chávez delegated some economic powers to Maduro before leaving for Cuba, including powers to approve additional appropriations.

"If budget adjustments or additional funds for public bodies are needed, this government can do it," he said. However, he explained that the situation could be complicated as time passes by.

"If there are vacancies in the Cabinet or the current situation continues until the time of promotions in the Armed Forces, problems may arise. The vice-president has no power to make high-government decisions," said Herrera Orellana. He reminded that the Constitution reserves exclusively to the Head of State the supreme leadership of the military and the task of promoting officers and appointing the heads of the various units.

In Herrera Orellana's view, the current members of the Executive Branch are "usurpers." "They lack a democratic origin, because their appointments for the 2007-2013 term expired on January 9 and they have not been ratified in office by any democratically elected authority who has formally taken oath as president."
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A simple reason: there is oil galore, would suffice to explain Guyana's actions. Another explanation lies in the little or none efforts made by the Venezuelan government to thwart the move by the Guyanese. This is certainly not a new problem, but a problem only recently highlighted because oil is involved. But what other resources does the disputed area hold? For most of us it is a section on the map with black and white stripes on it, a depiction of something distant, alien, a nothingness not worth paying much attention to in geography classes back in elementary school.

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