Hugo Chavez's New Clothes

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 3, 1999 | Go to article overview

Hugo Chavez's New Clothes


A dying constitution can't provide very sturdy political cover. When faced with probing reporters in Washington, however, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez decided that it was better than nothing.

When asked by a reporter about his decision to bar U.S. drug interdiction flights from using Venezuelan airspace, Mr. Chavez said "It's not really me who isn't permitting these flights . . . There is a Venezuelan law and constitution that says very clearly that Venezuelan land, water and skies can be patrolled only by Venezuelan armed forces."

Mr. Chavez's newfound reverence for what the Venezuelan constitution dictates is certainly surprising. Mr. Chavez expressed his lack of awe before Venezuela's current constitution when the constituent assembly decided earlier this year to dissolve the Venezuelan congress. The assembly members, who were democratically elected, are overwhelmingly Chavez loyalists. The assembly's decision to dissolve congress, therefore, surely had the president's approval and generated alarm and ire the world-over. After legislators tried to jump over barricades to reach their offices and rival factions clashed in front of congress, the constituent assembly backed down a bit and decided to return to the congress most of its powers until the next congressional elections are held early next year.

At any rate, Venezuela's current constitution says that foreign forces can't trespass on sovereign Venezuelan territory but it doesn't say anything about allowing U.S. drug interdiction overflights. If this is in fact Mr. Chavez's honest interpretation of the law, however, the constituent assembly, which is currently drafting a new constitution, could write laws that would clearly and specifically allow this.

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