As it turns out, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro is taking some heat over accusations that he was actually born in Colombia, not in Caracas, the capital of the country that he leads.
Maduro’s government is sinking under the weight of power outages, a return to expropriation (including a local toilet paper factory) and continued shortages of basic goods due to inefficient foreign currency exchange and a gap between the real and official value of the Venezuelan bolívar, which has led to ridiculous means to game the Venezuelan currency — one story earlier this week demonstrated how flights out of Venezuela are nearly 100% booked for months in advance as a way to arbitrage the difference in the official and actual rates.
Maduro, whose country is essentially locked out of conventional global debt markets, went to Beijing earlier this week (pictured above) to procure another $5 billion in financing (and $14 billion in development of Venezuela’s oil-rich Orinoco belt) from the Chinese government. He picked another odd fight with the United States and came up with a truly nutty excuse for skipping the UN General Assembly meeting this week, which follows the possible implication of Venezuela’s government in the brazen attempt to transport 1.3 tones of cocaine from Caracas to Paris on an Air France flight earlier this month.
Rumors have swirled over the past months about Maduro’s birthplace and his nationality, but his chief rival in the April presidential election, Henrique Capriles, the governor of Miranda state, is ratcheting up the pressure. Capriles and Walter Márquez, an opposition member of Venezuela’s Asamblea Nacional (National Assembly), took up the claim yesterday that Maduro was born in Bogotá:
Márquez claimed that he has documents and testimonies attesting to Maduro’s dual nationality. “Nicolás Maduro lived in the Carora neighborhood, in Cúcuta (Colombia). There are testimonies of people who spent time with him. We found the record of the birth certificate of Nicolás Maduro’s mother. She was born in Cúcuta. I contacted people who can testify that Maduro was born in Bogotá,” Márquez stressed.
Márquez added that so far the supporting documents attesting that Maduro’s father is a Venezuelan have not been found. “We have a copy of the marriage certificate of his (Maduro’s) parents, and the birth certificate of his older sister. Later on, I will disclose documental and testimonial evidence proving Maduro’s Colombian nationality,” he stressed.
Maduro’s doing a pretty good job of discrediting himself these days, so further discrediting Maduro (instead of chavismo more generally) won’t by itself do much good for the opposition — and it could backfire against them. By pursuing a ‘birther’ strategy, the opposition is giving the Venezuelan military or rivals within the chavista elite, such as National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello, an opportunity to remove Maduro and start anew once Venezuela’s basketcase economy truly hits rock bottom.
Even if Márquez and Capriles somehow had smoking-gun proof that Maduro was somehow ineligible for the Venezuelan presidency, it’s also pretty clear that Maduro could claim that he renounced his Colombian citizenship or he could do so and still remain eligible for the presidency. But even if he didn’t, does anyone think that a chavista-dominated court system would even entertain removing Maduro from office? It’s hard to see just why the opposition is pursuing this strategy, because it telescopes to the Venezuelan electorate that Capriles and the opposition are less interested in making their lives better than scoring political points — or even plotting a strategy that could win power.
But under the constitutional process for nationality in Colombia and Venezuela, it’s easy to see how Maduro might wriggle out of any ‘birther’ scandal, even without leaning on Venezuela’s corroded state institutions.
Article 41 of Venezuela’s ‘Bolivarian’ constitution — promulgated by late president Hugo Chávez in 1999 — states that only Venezuelans by birth who have no other nationality shall be permitted to hold the offices of President:
Sólo los venezolanos y venezolanas por nacimiento y sin otra nacionalidad, podrán ejercer los cargos de Presidente o Presidenta de la República.
[Only Venezuelans by birth and without other nationalities, may exercise the powers of the presidency of the Republic.]
It’s important to keep in mind the difference here between citizenship (ciudadania) and nationality (nacionalidad) — it’s the latter, broader category with which we’re concerned.
Let’s assume that Márquez is right and that Maduro was born to a Colombian mother and a Venezuelan father in Colombia — or even in Venezuela. That would make him, under the 1991 Colombian constitution, a pretty clear candidate for Colombian citizenship, so long as he lived for any amount of time in Colombia or registered as a Colombian national at a consulate in Venezuela.
Article 32 of Venezuela’s constitution, however, would also permit Maduro to be considered a ‘Venezuelan by birth’ if he were born in Colombia to at least one Venezuelan parent:
Son venezolanos y venezolanas por nacimiento… Toda persona nacida en territorio extranjero, hijo o hija de padre venezolano por nacimiento o madre venezolana por nacimiento, siempre que establezcan su residencia en el territorio de la República o declaren su voluntad de acogerse a la nacionalidad venezolana.
[Any persons are considered Venezuelan by birth if… such person was born in a foreign territory, was child of a father or a mother, who is Venezuelan by birth, provided such person has established residence within the territory of the Republic or declared his or her intention to obtain the Venezuelan nationality.]
Although the Colombian constitution provides further that Colombian nationals cannot be stripped of their nationality, and dual nationality is permitted, it contemplates the concept that Maduro could renounce his Colombian nationality (though he would be able to recover it under Colombian law in the future).