By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – The process of transferring state funds, personnel, property and other assets from Opposition Metropolitan Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma to a new “head of government” in Caracas was said Tuesday to have been completed following publication of the relevant law in the Official Gazette.
Ledezma was voted into the post of what was then chief executive of the capital at the state and municipal elections last November. Ever since, he has faced a string of obstacles placed in his way by the government and its supporters in what critics see as an attempt to “defenestrate” the mayor in political terms.
With the passage on April 30 by the National Assembly of the District Capital Law redefining the status of the capital, Ledezma was legally obliged to hand over state funds allotted to his office, along with control over city employees, buildings and other assets to a new, unelected city boss Jacqueline Farías.
Formerly a regional director of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), Farías was directly appointed as the new Caracas chief by Chávez. Having done so, the president stands accused of deliberately negating the result of last year’s vote simply because his side didn’t win.
Ledezma has formally requested the National Electoral Council (CNE) to hold a referendum on the Capital District Law. To date, there’s been no response in public from the CNE, where four of the five members of the board are deemed to be sympathetic to the president and his political project.
Even as Ledezma’s fate as a powerless figurehead seemed sealed, Edgar Parra, an attorney aligned with the Opposition, petitioned the Constitutional Chamber at the Supreme Justice Tribunal (TSJ) for an injunction against the District Capital Law on several grounds.
Parra cited no less than 10 Articles of the Bolivarian Constitution adopted in 2000 at the behest of Chávez as the cornerstone of the President’s declared intention to bring about major change in the political structure of the country.
The lawyer argued that the Capital District Law not only violated his rights as an elector and a citizen but also generic rights that were “inherent in the person” such as the right to vote and participate in political decisions, “which must be considered a human right and as such indispensable.”
There was no indication from court officials as to when a ruling on Parra’s suit might be expected from the Chamber. Several petitions on similar issues stemming from government actions are still awaiting rulings from the TSJ, which like the CNE is deemed to include an over-riding majority of government sympathizers.
While Ledezma’s future in practical terms looked doomed, the overwhelming government majority at the National Assembly prepared to press on with legislation aimed at consolidating what critics claim is a transfer of power from an elected authority to a hand-picked appointee.
The 2009 budget for the Capital District worth BsF924.82 billion passed without change by the finance committee after a rubber sta
mp first debate.
With the chamber dominated by an absolute majority from the PSUV and its minor allies, the debate – as has become customary – looked like a forgone conclusion.
As it is, during the first debate, the dissenting minority, largely made up of the social democratic party, Podemos, which used to support Chávez but crossed to the opposition two years ago, abstained from voting at the first debate.
The legislation earmarked funds for public services, security, civil protection, family issues and, among other things, “Caraqueño character,” a catch-all phrase for measures aimed at smartening up the city. With all this going to Farías, it was hard to see what Ledezma would have left to do as city mayor.
It also remained unclear how the money would be distributed afterwards. Doubts were sparked by a remark from National Assembly Deputy Germán Ferrer, a member of the finance committee, to the effect that the budget legislation represented an “act of justice” for Libertador, the only municipality in Caracas still controlled by the Chávez camp in the wake of the elections.
Until the new law, claimed Ferrer, resources allotted to the capital had been “distributed to the five municipalities” that made up the old Metropolitan District of Caracas.
Libertador in west Caracas is by far the biggest of the capital’s municipalities – and arguably, quite easily the most problematic as well. It includes large swathes of inadequate housing, water supply and sewage systems, as well as the highest per capita crime rate of any of the five municipalities, plus mountains of uncollected garbage and other shortcomings.