The Routinization of Barbarism

expofonden5ht1335994500I can’t help but feel we’re missing the point about Convenio Cambiario #30. Forget the monetary dynamics for a moment, forget PDVSA’s cashflows and the October bond payments and all the rest of that. Let’s look at the big picture: in twiddling the nobs on PDVSA’s contribution to FONDEN, what CC30 regulates is the recondite detail of the pulverization of the rule of law.

Let’s review the facts – somewhat tiresomely but, it appears, necessarily.

The principle that all public spending needs to be, erm, public is obvious enough to border on tautology. The idea that the state can’t spend money except by authorization of the legislative branch – which by the very fact of needing to discuss it and vote on it, needs to make it public – isn’t just an explicit requirement of our current constitution. It’s a kind of meta-constitutional principle, a point-of-confluence of constitutional practice all over the world for the last several hundred years, and a core principle of any law-governed state.

Public spending is public: it’s even hard to enunciate the principle without seeming to belabour the point, this stuff is so basic.

Now we got used to it a long time ago, but it bears restating over and over again: FONDEN tramples this fundamental principle.

FONDEN is a mechanism for spending state money – a lot of state money – not just with no legislative approval, but secretly. We’re not even talking state security spending, or spending of any particular type that could give rise to any plausible justification for secrecy: just normal, run-of-the-mill state spending to finance things like sweets-catering businesses.

Somehow the practice of spending tens of billions of public dollars secretly has now become so normalized in Venezuela’s political culture nobody even bothers to include the half-sentence it takes to decry it. Its legitimacy is granted daily by a silent, common acquiescence that is, in its own right, a sign of deep rot in the public sphere.

Now, here’s the crazy bit: even though by any imaginable understanding of normal constitutional practice, the existence of FONDEN is an outrage, a day-to-day desecration of the bare-bones basics of constitutional government, the state still somehow feels it needs regulate the particular parameters of the desecration. 

CC30 is a little bit as if the Justice Ministry published a regulatory document limiting the number of ATMs that a victim could be dragged to to empty his bank accounts during a secuestro express. But it gets worse, because the next day the papers are filled with “specialists” discussing whether the government was right to cap kidnappers to 6 ATMs per ruleteo session, or whether it would’ve been better to allow 8.

When you engage in that discussion, you tacitly concede the legitimacy of secuestro express. Through the act of discussing it you implicitly acknowledge that the practice itself is now “normal” and that, when push comes to shove, it’s probably better to be clear on what is and what isn’t an acceptable way to express kidnap someone.

Bull. Friggin’. Shit.

Secret public spending is fundamentally unacceptable. Public spending not approved by a legislature is by its nature unconstitutional. The routinization of secret public spending is an outrage no minimally law governed country would yield an inch to, even by implication. And don’t you forget it.