The Smoking Gun That Went on Nicorettes

Quico says: Here’s a question to ponder: what really changed in Venezuela when the 26 laws of the Gacetazo were decreed into effect? We’ve heard a lot of...

Quico says: Here’s a question to ponder: what really changed in Venezuela when the 26 laws of the Gacetazo were decreed into effect? We’ve heard a lot of woolly thinking in the opposition about this, a lot of emotional posturing, and a huge amount of red-rag charging. But if you put your spleen on hold and think with your head for a second, can you tell me what specifically changed when the new laws came into effect?

The standard rap is that the decrees are unconstitutional, and anyway they were rejected in the December 2nd referendum. The logic here seems to be that in order to change, say, the mechanisms for expropriating a farm, you need a constitutional amendment.

There are two problems with that. The first is that in the weeks and months ahead of the Constitutional Reform Referendum, we argued that most of the changes proposed didn’t require a constitutional amendment! We protested loudly, saying the government could achieve the same thing by changing the laws and that most of the changes were “cover” for the one real change that did require changing the constitution: removing presidential term limits.

For my money, we had it right the first time: most of the proposed reforms didn’t require changing the constitution, they just required changing the laws, which is exactly what the government is doing.

Does this mean the policies in the new laws are good? Hell no! Or wise? Far from! But, unconstitutional? That just doesn’t follow.

A lot of the confusion seems to come from a sloppy tendency to just use the words “bad” and “unconstitutional” as rough synonyms. That’s childish. Bad ≠ Unconstitutional.

The second problem is the whole sense of irreality as we discuss, in grave terms, the expansion of the government’s legal powers to regulate and sanction private actors. But Chávez has never paid any attention to what the laws say in terms of what he can and can’t do vis-à-vis society, and it’s been years since he’s faced any significant institutional counterweights. We speak in horrified tones about how easy it’ll be to expropriate farms from now on, but seven years ago I was making films about guys in Barinas who had their farms confiscated with zero notification, zero due process, and no recourse to the courts!

The violations of the constitution these laws allow are nothing new. Take the latest LOFAN (or, erm, LOFANB, as I guess we’ll have to call it now) – which blatantly tramples the constitution by creating a praetorianish Militia within the Armed Forces. The semantic trick they use to slip this one in amounts to the barest coating of vaseline: the constitution says the Armed Forces are “integrated by” four components (Army, Navy, Air Force, National Guard) whereas article 5 of LOFANB says the Armed Forces are “organized by” a bunch of bodies that don’t show up in the constitution, including the militia. That’s some thin gruel, but no doubt the TSJ will drink it up with relish.

Clearly unconstitutional, yes, but does it change anything? Is the constitution more violate today than it was two weeks ago? Not really, because the 2005 version of LOFAN also invented new military components out of thin air. All the LOFANB does is rename the Guardia Territorial and the reserva, calling them the Militia.

In practice, the Gacetazo doesn’t really make Venezuela more autocratic than it was before. It doesn’t violate the constitution any more than has become sadly usual. That’s, of course, cold comfort: the country was already alarmingly autocratic before the new decrees, and the constitution has long been a stomping ground for chavista whims.

The point, though, is that the Gacetazo doesn’t appreciably add to the already desperate state of our state. That there’s nothing in the gacetazo that substantially alters our situation. They have, indeed, jiggled around some old laws that they were blatantly breaking, and thought up some novel ways to violate constitutional principles they’ve been violating for years. But if you didn’t think an Article 350 adventure was warranted this time last month, there’s nothing in the gacetazo to make you think it is now.

From the Art. 350 User’s Manual.
Step 1: patronize your way to power.