Lawyers warn that Maduro "has his hands tied" on key issues
Appointment of ministers, military promotions, and signing of treaties are on hold
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"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."
Cristian Fonseca, a businessman in La Candelaria district downtown Caracas, was doing the accounts in his small shop office on Sunday December 21, 2008. The Christmas shopping season kept him working late hours into the night. It was around 11 p.m. and his phone rang. A friend broke the bad news to him over the telephone.