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Venezuela: Legal tradition

The legal system of Venezuela is based on the civil law tradition inherited through the reception, adaptation and codification of laws introduced by Spain during the colonial period that lasted from the early 15th century until the mid 19th century. The French Civil Code heavily influenced the legal system as well; it served as a source of inspiration for the first Civil Code adopted in 1861 in Venezuela.

Venezuela declared its independence from Spain in 1811, and in 1830 became a republic under a unitary and centralized power. During the rest of the 19th century, and the first half of the 20th century, the history of Venezuela was characterized by a succession of revolutions and dictatorships.[1]

Elections held at the end of 1958 ushered in a new p The leaders of the principal political parties of the country signed a political and social agreement known as the Covenant of Punto Fijo. During this period, known as “puntofijismo”, the political parties Acción Democrática (AD) and Comité de Organización Política Electoral Independiente (COPEI) governed the country for almost forty years.[2]

In 1998, Hugo Chavez was elected as President, ending the period of “puntofijismo” and starting what the incoming government referred to as the “Bolivarian revolution” with the adoption of a new constitution in 1999. This period was characterized by extensive reform of the institutions of the State, including the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, the National Assembly and the National Electoral Council. Supporters of the reforms believed them necessary to deal with corruption and to enable broader social and economic reforms. At the same time, other commentators considered that the reforms allowed then-President Chavez to concentrate too much power in the Executive Branch, infringing the principle of separation of powers.

Some actors in the legal system, including some judges, have cited the “Bolivarian revolution” as forming part of the current legal tradition, influencing their contemporary interpretations of new and pre-existing laws. The phrase “Bolivarian revolution” does not appear in the Constitution, though article 1 does refer to the state “basing its moral property and values of freedom, equality, justice and international peace on the doctrine of Simón Bolívar, the Liberator.”


Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. 1. Allan R. Brewer-Carias, “Cinco Siglos de Historia y un País en Crisis” (Five Centuries of History and a Country in Crisis), Keynote Speech in the Solemn Meeting of the National Academies for the Commemoration of the V Centenary of Venezuela, 7 August 1998, p. 21
  2. 2. Ibid.
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