Monday, March 29, 2004

More on today's decision by the Venezuelan Electoral Court
Plus bonus: control of cable TV?

Monday 29, 9 PM

Apparently today's decision delay in coming was due to the need to craft the response to the Constitutional Court in such a way as making it difficult for it to counteract effectively, and to avoid, if possible to go to the full "Sala Plena" with its 20 Justices. First reactions are positive if somewhat cautious.

In brief:
1) the Electoral Court states that it has the competency to decide on electoral matters and thus there is no conflict of powers. Meaning that the Constitutional Court should mind its own business (and if it does not like it, it can seek the Sala Plena itself). It is also an indirect warning to the Electoral Board, CNE, better starts paying attention to the rulings of the Electoral Court and that more stalling might have consequences.

2) the Electoral Court states that the problem is in how the courts should deal among themselves, and that must be as equals. Very clever because it makes this issue the one that will go to the 20 Justices. Naturally they should agree that the Constitutional Court cannot go around bossing the other 5 Courts.

3) and to make things more palatable it announces that it will emit a final ruling on the matter at hand (re: the criteria for invalidation of signatures decided by the CNE) but meanwhile the parties are invited to negotiate some agreement that the Electoral Court would be only too happy to supervise. That agreement must respect the rights of voters, rights such as the presumption of innocence that the Constitutional Court so happily threw away in electoral cases (recognizing in a strange way that politicians are natural crooks, I suppose).

4) and other matters.

My reading is that the referendum is again quite alive, but all is not over. The Constitutional Court seems to be the one that has to go to the Sala Plena. Depending on what it dares to do, how much it decides to go off the beaten path. And one is never certain of what might happen on the Sala Plena level, where one way or the other this should end.

But the Chavez administration is not wasting time waiting for the courts to rule in its favor. Two incidents today remind us from where the wind blows.

In a first incident, the autonomous economic counsel of the National Assembly has been illegally disbanded. It is illegal because it requires a vote from the National Assembly. But the chavista bureau (the opposition is barred from any form of authority in managing the National Assembly). It is done because the counse;l operates as it should do, making projections on the proposed laws and demonstrating that the chavista proposals are not economically sound. Yet again a case of "killing the messenger".

More worrisome is a crass attempt at forcing cable TV systems to broadcast the Chavez cadenas. This is not quite clear yet, but it seems that cable TV might be on the way to force suspension of its Discovery Channel trasnmission to broadcast the "important messages" of Chavez to the nation. Yet another way to limit free speech, in particular such things as CNN (who has the nasty habit of transmitting images of what is really going on in the streets, things that the government claims are not happening...)

This maneuver seems to have been a trial balloon and quickly CONATEL, the agency responsible for broadcast regulation, claimed that "foreign networks would of course be exempt". Me thinks that it was a case of some nincompoopy idea that was caught to late. But at least it shows clearly the mentality inside CONATEL. It also shows the misery of the official message that can only reach people when it is force fed to them. The cadenas failure as a strategy to counter the excesses of the private media is admitted through such measures. Perhaps it might reach their minds some days that good government does not need cadenas to promote itself...

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