At this moment, the most pertinent Venezuelan constitutional provision relating Pres. Chavez current medical condition is Article 234.

Article 234: A President of the Republic who becomes temporarily unavailable to serve shall be replaced by the Executive Vice-President for a period of up to 90 days, which may be extended by resolution of the National Assembly for an additional 90 days.

If the temporarily unavailability continues for more than 90 consecutive days, the National Assembly shall have the power to decide by a majority vote of its members whether the unavailability to serve should be considered permanent.

Based on the news we have heard so far from the bourgeois and proletarian media about Chavez’ medical condition, the two sentences in Article 234 are admittedly applicable to the current governmental situation in Venezuela.

The bourgeois and proletarian media say Pres. Hugo Chavez is scheduled to undergo surgery in Havana on Monday or Tuesday of next week to remove a one inch size cancerous growth from his pelvic region where doctors removed a similar growth last year.

The important things about Article 234 is it says that the vice president (VP) can replace the president ANY TIME after the president becomes temporarily unavailable to serve and the Article says that after 90 days of temporary unavailability by the president, the National Assembly MAY remove the president by declaring his temporary unavailability to be a permanent one.

But everybody should be extremely careful if or when they try to apply the language of Article 234.

The first sentence of 234 refers to a president who becomes temporarily unavailable to serve.

The question, then, is when do you start counting the days or recognize the state of unavailability. In the case of Pres. Chavez, do you start counting these days of unavailability on Monday or Tuesday of next week ( that is, the 27th or 28th of Feb.) when Chavez is scheduled to undergo surgery in Havana? Or, do you start counting after the results of the surgical operation have been determined. After all, how do you know whether Chavez is unavailable, if you don’t know the results of the operation?

Another question is how much of a work-load does the president have to carry to be deemed “serving.” After all, as long as the president is serving to some degree, he is not unavailable to serve. In other words, what is the minimum degree of “service” that prevents replacement of the president by the vice president?

It seems that the president, like everybody else, is entitled to some days off work … that is, days when he doesn’t “serve.” As long as the president remains in this entitlement period of days-off, the replacement of the president by the VP is unjustified and unconstitutional.

Entitlement to days-off implies a difference between unavailability to serve and mere unavailability. Not every unavailability is an unavailability to serve.

While he’s in Havana, as long as Pres. Chavez consults, by phone or in person or over the net, with his cabinet ministers about the affairs of state, he is “serving” and nobody, including the VP and National Assembly, should think about replacing him.

There is clear danger of a premature or promiscuous replacement of the president by the VP, meaning the replacement happens before the president’s unavailability to serve is firmly demonstrated.

Article 234 is hard to understand. This is why everybody should be careful with it. Just look at all those things in the Article.

For example, there is an initial 90-day period during which the VP replaces the president, beginning once the president is unavailable to serve. Again, Article 234 doesn’t specify a period of unavailability to serve necessary for the replacement of the president.

As if that isn’t enough complexity, then comes a second 90-day period of VP replacement which the National Assembly may or may not wish to add on to the first 90-day period of VP replacement.

There is an indefinite and indeterminant period of unavailability to serve by the president which triggers the replacement of the president by the VP. This indefinite period of unavailability to serve by the president may be 90 seconds or 90 years.

Finally, after 90 days of “temporary unavailability,” the National Assembly can decide that the temporary unavailability is permanent unavailability. Permanent unavailability obviously means the National Assembly removes the president from office.

Remember that “temporary unavailability” that triggers replacement by the VP may or may not begin at the same time as the temporary unavailability that triggers the removal of the president from office by the National Assembly. Evidently, the National Assembly can decide when and if the Assembly will start counting the 90 days of temporary unavailability that triggers removal.

It’s not easy to unravel these difficulties.

Given the potential for vexation that Article 234 can cause within both the state and civil society, everybody should pray that Pres. Hugo Chavez gets well soon.

What is for sure is that with or without the great patriot and revolutionary Hugo Chavez, revolutionary patriots of Venezuela will win the presidential election set for Oct. 7 this year.

The reactionary quislings of US imperialism will go down in defeat again.