It is interesting that after 13 years of a new Constitution this potentially important tool is suddenly activated just as Chavez is clearly losing his ability to rule. Is he trying to create a transition council independent of the National Assembly to take over if he croaks? Has he reached such despair that he prefers a council to succeed him rather than appoint a successor? Or is his pride so big that he cannot tolerate a successor?
First, let's look at the council of state and go to a long forgotten blog on the Venezuelan constitutional reform of 2007. For memory, in that blog I took upon many readers to ask them to discuss the proposed reforms and explain why they were negative. To date, if I may allow some deserved pride, the readers of this blog have written the best rebuttal you can find in Internet in English against that fortunately ill fated reform. The power of blogging at its best. As it turns out, the two articles that I took over to get the blog rolling and set a possible example on how to do it were the very articles of the Council of State, articles 251 and 252 on the "consejo de estado".
Let's start with the current version of these articles, in Spanish (use your google translate, it is working better and better)
Sección Sexta: Del Consejo de Estado
Artículo 251. El Consejo de Estado es el órgano superior de consulta del Gobierno y la Administración Pública Nacional. Será de su competencia recomendar políticas de interés nacional en aquellos asuntos a los que el Presidente o Presidenta de la República reconozca de especial trascendencia y requiera su opinión.
La ley respectiva determinará sus funciones y atribuciones.
Artículo 252. El Consejo de Estado lo preside el Vicepresidente Ejecutivo o Vicepresidenta Ejecutiva y estará conformado, además, por cinco personas designadas por el Presidente o Presidenta de la República; un o una representante designado por la Asamblea Nacional; un o una representante designado por el Tribunal Supremo de Justicia y un gobernador designado o gobernadora designada por el conjunto de mandatarios estadales.I described in my rebuttal that the purpose of changing article 252 was to remove the role of the vice president and the governor delegate, aiming at weakening decentralization and strengthening presidential power. In article 251 the proposed changes were to create an organic law (2/3) vote to tie down the council and transform it into a tool for the executive power to "arbitrate" in its favor, no matter how the potlical context of the coutnry may change (loss of majority at the National Assembly or of Governor totals).
Thus when the referendum failed the law remained the original quoted above, and nothing more was said of that Council of State. In article 251 the Council of State is a consulting organism that could discuss conflicts between the different branches of government to try to reach an agreement. And in Article 252 we have its composition as 5 named directly by the president, one by the National Assembly, one by the High Court, and one last one named by the governors. In other words today the council will be formed by 8 chavistas presided by the chavista vice-president as a tie breaker if by any chance the council decided to discuss anything instead of following the dictates of Miraflores.
Now that we understand better the "on paper" role, why is Chavez this late in the game deciding to activate it and publish a regulation law in a hurry? And why is he naming very discredited former defense minister Jose Vicente Rangel and a certain Britto Garcia who is considered an intellectual of chavismo?. We do not know yet who will be the next members but the tone is clearly set.
Such a Council requires of expert lawyers and neither Rangel nor Britto qualify. Thus the Consejo de Estado will be strictly a political organism. It is in charge of creating the dossier of grievances of Venezuela against the IACHR and then use that as an excuse to pull Venezuela out of it. It will not work because, as I understand it, it would almost imply the departure of Venezuela from the OAS, the final rejection of Venezuela application to Mercosur which requires membership to the Court in San Jose and the Commission in Washington. And possibly other problems in other organizations Venezuela belongs to such as the UN. In the XXI century it is very difficult to escape international duties, and the price to pay if you decide to break anyway is usually very high: you become an official pariah nation and this affects everything, from your ability to travel to the one of getting loans in acceptable conditions.
In other words, with this decision announced today almost as an after thought, Chavez may jeopardize durably the international status of Venezuela.
So why do that at a time where he should be worrying about his health and reelection? Two hypothesis.
1) The IACHR is linked to other international courts such as the one in The Hague. Information is exchanged and these are valid enough to substantiate accusations. Venezuela's regime has already quite an assortment of negative decisions in San Jose, and its refusal to apply the requested redress measures. In other words, the dossier of Venezuela at San Jose speaks clearly of a rogue state that does not respect international engagments and along the way tramples the human rights of its citizens. With possible cases against Chavez making their way in The Hague, that is not going to help him (nor his entourage).
Never mind that the latest Aponte^2 scandal establishing the subjection of the Venezuelan judicial power to Chavez is going to add quite a lot of gas to the fire. Courts are never lenient on narco states.
2) Besides vainly attempting to put distance between chavismo and international courts, there is also a second possibility in naming such a last minute commission. The succession war is going on in earnest inside chavismo and Chavez needs at least a group of people to serve as umpire, to defend his interests when he is in Cuba irradiating his ass. The Consejo de Estado could well work as such an umpire group since it will be packed by politicians sticking together without any presidential hope of their own (except for JVR, in an off chance scenario). And if worse comes to worse Chavez will probably prefer such a council to step in and assure a transition period until constitutional changes can take place allowing for example one of his relatives to succeed him. Or some sort of equivalent nincompoopery. Heck, even a military coup that recognizes such a council and places JVR as the interim president could well be acceptable to enough people to have a chance at working it in directing the transition and keeping the opposition at bay.
Whatever the real reasons are (and trust me, we can come up with more hypothesis) the sure implication of today's announcement is a reflection of Chavez weakness, of a deliquescent state where nothing works anymore and where a desperate attempt at creating something new is needed in the vain hope to have something that works, free of the gang wars that besot the regime.
POST SCRIPTUM: I have kept my mind wrapped around this issue since last night. I definitely discard the excuse of removing the IACHR from the scenario. After all Chavez has been thumping his nose at it forever and why should he care for formalities now? The only people really interested in Venezuela withdrawal are from his entourage, from the Narco Generals to Luisa Estela who last night on cadena looked terrible: clearly the woman is not sleeping well and surely Aponte^2 has something to do with it. After all, she was his boss and surely she could not have ignored what he was doing; not to mention that according to the creep she was probably also relaying some of the orders he followed.
Thus indeed, withdrawing from the IACHR is good for Chavez but not essential. And he does not need the Consjo de Estado for that. So, what gives, r-e-a-l-l-y? I think it is all about the transition.
In a transition period even though Chavez has an illegal majority at the National Assembly, his enabling law is about to expire and there is nothing worse but to give the opposition a chance to discuss matters. they will lose any vote but they can make a lot of noise doing so.
A Consejo de Estado whose first motion would be a patriotic show of "Independence " against the IACHR would place such a council in the eyes of Chavez radical followers. After all Chavez has stressed how urgent it was for the newly named council to submit their report: the man is in a hurry, time counts. Let's say that by mid June the council has placed itself in the ye of public opinion. Then Chavez can use it for other purposes, such as a transition council.
Strong man rarely name their successor. There is something in the psyche of these guys that relies on their uniqueness and the idea of a worthy successor challenges that uniqueness of their glorious leadership. sometimes they try to be succeeded by a council like Tito did in the former Yugoslavia. It never works, but of course beloved leaders have no need to learn from history and human nature.
So maybe Chavez and the Castros think that pushing through a council can serve along the lines, from by-passing the National Assembly, to mediate between the succession rivals to, gas, take over the country if needed.