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richard heinRichard Hein

The people's Lawyer

From St Louis, Missouri - EE.UU

Argentina and Venezuela: Two Maturing Countries

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On January 20, 1993, I was a 22 year-old second-year law student. In between classes, on a small tube television in the basement of the Law School, I remember watching President Bill Clinton standing in front of the United States Congress overlooking the Mall down to the Washington Monument as United States Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist administered him the oath of office of the President of The United States. I remember becoming emotional. I realized at that moment that this was first time I was old enough to remember and appreciate the significance of a peaceful transfer of executive power from one political party to the opposition party. The last time it had happened in the United States was January 20, 1981, when Ronald Reagan was sworn in after defeating Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election. My emotion was also born of the equally revealing realization of just how rare such a thing is in world history.

The presidential election in Argentina on November 22, 2015, and the National Assembly election in Venezuela on December 6, 2015, as well as the peaceful transfer of executive power with the swearing-in of Mauricio Macri as President of Argentina on December 10, 2015 after more than twelve years of Kirchner-led Peronism (first with Néstor Kirchner from May 2003 until December 2007, and then with his wife, Cristina, from 2007 until this month), can serve as a reminder to reflect once again on that rarity.

The Venezuelan National Assembly election on December 6, 2015, however, does not reflect a transfer of executive power from one party to the other. Rather, because of the nature of the Venezuelan Constitution and its unicameral system, the legislative “qualified majority” of more than 2/3 of the National Assembly seats won by the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (“MUD” in Spanish) coalition (what in the United States we would call a “veto-proof” majority) provides the opposition with power which rivals that of Socialist President Nicolás Maduro and presents a real and constitutional counterweight to the power of his Presidency. For example, the 2/3 majority has the constitutional authority to remove Supreme Court Justices (currently stuffed with Socialist sympathizers) and other congresspersons; create permanent Legislative Commissions; pass special laws; appoint members of the National Election Council (also stuffed with Socialist loyalists); reestablish the independence of the “Citizens’ Moral Branch” of the Venezuelan Government (a purely Socialist invention consisting of the People’s Defender (approximating the Head of the U.S. Justice Department Civil Rights Division), the Attorney General, and the General Administrative Controller (equivalent to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office)), which is currently strongly with the Socialist regime; and, perhaps most importantly, call a National Constitutional Convention, with the possibility of rewriting the Constitution drafted by former President Hugo Chávez and the Socialists and approved in 1999. When sworn in on January 5, 2016, it will be the first time in 17 years since the Socialists came to power under Chávez in 1998 that the Socialists will have a counterbalancing power with which to contend.

The memories of turmoil, coups, countercoups and military juntas, and the abuses resulting from them, are still relatively fresh in both of these countries. The now-accomplished peaceful of transfer of executive power in Argentina and the recognition by the Socialist-controlled National Election Council of the overwhelming vote against Socialist Rule in Venezuela, however, still provide the world cautious optimism that these events signal a maturing of both of these Latin-American republics, and a hope that their new governments will reflect and represent solidarity with the noble people they serve.