Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Friday that the U.S. should cancel its plans to send a delegation to Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez’s funeral because the country’s new government violated its constitution in choosing Chavez’s successor.
Venezuela’s constitution calls for the head of its legislature to succeed the president in the event of a vacancy, with a special election to be called within 30 days. But on Friday, Chavez's handpicked successor, vice president Nicolas Maduro, will be sworn in, provoking the opposition party to accuse Chavez’s allies of a power grab.
“Venezuela’s own constitution specifies that the head of the legislature, not the vice president, should become interim president following the president’s death and that elections for a new president must be called within 30 days,” Rubio said. “It does not bode well that the first act of this new leadership is to ignore their own constitution. The Obama administration should immediately condemn this unconstitutional act and urge our democratic partners in the Western Hemisphere to do the same.”
Chavez died of cancer at a Cuban hospital on Tuesday.
Rep. Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.), former Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), and James Derham, the charge d'affaires at the U.S. embassy in Caracas, are among those that will represent the U.S. delegation at Chavez’s funeral, which started Friday.
President Obama’s selection of Meeks has come under scrutiny for his past relationship with Chavez. Meeks allegedly met with the Venezuelan strongman in 2006 at the bequest of one of his donors, indicted Ponzi schemer Allen Stanford, to request a criminal probe into a Venezuelan banker who had fallen out with Stanford, The Miami Herald reported in 2009.
The banker, Gonzalo Tirado, was charged with tax evasion and theft a year after the meeting with Meeks.
Meeks said at the time that the trip was aimed at thanking Chavez for providing heating oil for poor Americans through Citgo, a subsidiary of the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela. Citgo is the primary donor of heating oil to Citizens Energy, a nonprofit organization led by former Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D-Mass.) that provides discounted heating oil to poor families.