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Cablegate: Supreme Court Donnybrook Stalls Recall

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS CARACAS 000946

SIPDIS


NSC FOR TSHANNON AND CBARTON
USCINSO ALSO FOR POLAD
STATE PASS USAID FOR DCHA/OTI

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM VE
SUBJECT: SUPREME COURT DONNYBROOK STALLS RECALL

REF: CARACAS 00923 AND PREVIOUS

--------
Summary:
--------

1. (U) The Supreme Court (TSJ) Constitutional Chamber ordered
the Electoral Chamber to stop all activity related to the
National Electoral Council (CNE) March 17. In a March 18
letter, the Electoral Chamber reaffirmed its jurisdiction in
the matter and refused to give up its files. For its part,
the CNE appealed the Electoral Chamber's March 15 injunction
regarding the presidential recall referendum signatures in
the in the TSJ's Constitutional Chamber March 17, alleging
that order violated CNE autonomy as a separate governmental
power. CNE vice president Ezequiel Zamora, part of the
opposition minority, said March 18 the CNE was obligated to
follow the Electoral Chamber's order and schedule a
presidential recall referendum. Pro-GoV CNE director Jorge
Rodriguez was hospitalized March 18 for hypertension.
Justice Luis Martinez, the vice president of the TSJ
Electoral Chamber, issued a public statement March 18
denouncing the March 15 ruling, and attacking his fellow
Electoral Chamber justices as politically motivated. The
apparent deadlock in the court now leaves little room for a
legal solution that can satisfy the parties. In the
meanwhile, the presidential recall referendum is stalled.

----------------------
Dueling Court Chambers
----------------------

2. (U) The feud between Chambers of the Supreme Court of
Justice (TSJ) continued March 17, as three justices from the
court's Constitutional Chamber ordered the Electoral Chamber
to stop all activity on legal actions related to the National
Electoral Council (CNE) and signatures seeking a presidential
recall referendum (reftel). As authority, the Constitutional
Chamber cited its own opinion, issued in December 2001 in a
separate case, in which it declared itself competent to hear
cases having to do with the CNE. The March 17 pronouncement
also ordered the TSJ's Electoral Chamber to transfer files
having to do with the CNE case. In a March 18 letter sent to
the Constitutional Chamber, Justice Alberto Martini, the
president of the Electoral Chamber, reaffirmed his Chamber's
legal authority to settle electoral matters and refused to
transfer any files in the pending CNE case. Martini also
questioned the legitimacy of the Constitutional Chamber's
March 17 order, saying it was signed by only three members of
the five-judge chamber when four are required under court
rules to form a quorum.

------------------------------------------
CNE: We'll Follow All Court Orders, But...
------------------------------------------

3. (U) The CNE filed an appeal in the TSJ's Constitutional
Chamber March 17, alleging that the Electoral Chamber's March
15 order regarding signatures for a presidential recall
referendum violated CNE autonomy as a separate governmental
power. In a public announcement, Francisco Carrasquero the
CNE's pro-GoV president, said the legal action was necessary
to ensure the CNE remains the "final authority for all
electoral issues." Carrasquero tempered his earlier comments
regarding the March 15 ruling, by saying he was a "man of
laws" and would therefore follow all orders of the court. He
insisted, however, that the Constitutional Chamber was the
appropriate forum for any questions regarding the CNE.
(Note: Carrasquero did not address the arguments raised by
the Electoral Chamber, the opposition and by constitutional
scholars, who point to Article 298 of the Venezuelan
constitution, which says all questions regarding the CNE will
be settled in the TSJ's Electoral Chamber. End Note.)
Carrasquero also denied that the referendum process was being
delayed, saying "nothing is paralyzed." Carrasquero said he
expects the process will continue once the Constitutional
Court issues a final ruling.

4. (U) Ezequiel Zamora, the CNE pro-opposition vice

president, responded March 18, saying the CNE was obligated
to follow the March 15 order of the TSJ's Electoral Chamber,
add the more than 870,000 signatures at issue to the total
verified, and schedule a presidential recall referendum.
Zamora said he and CNE director Sobella Mejias did not agree
with Carrasquero's decision to appeal the Electoral Chamber
March 15 ruling. Zamora also hinted he may take the place of
pro-GoV CNE director Jorge Rodriguez at a March 19 meeting
with opposition leaders scheduled to negotiate the terms of
an appeals process. Rodriguez was hospitalized March 18 for
treatment of hypertension.

---------------------------------------
Dissenting Electoral Justice Lashes Out
---------------------------------------

5. (U) Justice Luis Martinez, the pro-GoV vice president of
the TSJ Electoral Chamber, issued a public statement March 18
denouncing the Electoral Chamber's March 15 ruling regarding
signatures for a recall referendum, and attacking his fellow
Electoral Chamber justices as politically motivated.
Martinez's statement was carried as a paid, full-page
advertisement in the major Caracas daily newspaper El
Universal and in the pro-GoV daily tabloid Vea. (Note: El
Universal sources told the Embassy press section that such an
advertisement cost over 18 million bolivares, or
approximately $9,000 usd. End note.)

6. (U) Martinez did not refer to any legal basis for his
argument, but instead leveled a personal attack on his
colleague Justice Alberto Martini, the Electoral Chamber
president. Martini, he said, had written a "disgraceful"
decision, filled with "serious falsehoods" designed to
support his personal political preferences. Martinez's paid
announcement said Martini's decision was beneath the dignity
of a court chamber president, and could qualify as "serious
and criminal behavior." Martini also set out his alternative
policy argument, suggesting that the CNE was correct to send
more than 870,000 signatures for additional consideration
rather than validating them.

--------
Comment:
--------

7. (U) The GoV is pulling out the stops to obscure the legal
issues and to raise questions of propriety in regard to rival
sections of the Supreme Court. It is worth noting that each
argument raised by GoV operatives is a mirror of complaints
lodged by opposition lawyers against the GoV. When the smoke
clears, the GoV still enjoys a narrow majority in the CNE,
the TSJ's Constitutional Chamber, and the National Assembly,
and will likely be able to block any opposition appeal in the
TSJ sitting en banc. Any eventual solution, therefore, will

SIPDIS
need to be the result of a political agreement rather than
from a judicial decree. In the meanwhile, the presidential
recall referendum is stalled.
SHAPIRO


NNNN

2004CARACA00946 - UNCLASSIFIED

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