Listen, I’m not happy to be writing about politics today, either. We’d planned this lovely year end post: a fun thing with the Best of 2015 awards. We’d been brainstorming around it, it was going to be great. But the government has decided to force a constitutional crisis. Now. On the last two days of the year. Suddenly posting lighthearted year-end posts feels…well, just very wrong.

The Supreme Tribunal’s move to overturn December’s election outcome through a fully controlled Supreme Tribunal fits under that strange category that chavista institutionality specializes in: it’s shocking, but not surprising.

It’s shocking because – perogrullada alert – of how mind-bendingly dangerous it is. In his beautifully lucid but at the same bone-chilling alert to the international community, MUD chairman Chúo Torrealba says plainly that the strategy PSUV has embarked on “imperils the peaceful path” out of the crisis the country had chosen on on December 6th. It’s that serious.

It’s not surprising, though, because it was evident all along that the point of the rushed re-packing of the Supreme Court in the days ahead of Christmas was a ploy to nullify the effects of the December 6th election. I mean, the court has always been under political control, but some of the new appointees we’ve gotten are just on a whole different level.

Consider: the Electoral Chamber that will hear the “legal” challenges to the election now counts as its members Christian Zerpa, a guy who just lost his National Assembly seat on the PSUV ticket, then headed back for the lame-duck session of the outgoing Assembly to vote to appoint himself to the Supreme Tribunal! They haven’t even taken down his old A.N. Member page, which has a PSUV logo prominently displayed on it.

Zerpa is the kind of guy chavismo would shop around to international fora where political prisoners were being discussed to vehemently defend their incarceration while blasting imperialism. Amazingly, as recently as October 19th, Zerpa was at it, attacking the opposition for failing to honor elections as the way to settle political disputes in the country:

“On December 6th we have elections. In Venezuela we go to the polls to settle our conflicts. Facing those who seek to end conflicts through other types of mechanisms, we have said no, that’s what we have elections for.”

(Original: “El próximo 6 de diciembre tenemos un proceso electoral. En Venezuela acudimos a las urnas para dirimir nuestros conflictos. Ante quienes mediante otro tipo de formas pretenden acabar con los conflictos, nosotros hemos dicho no, para eso hay elecciones.”)

I guess PSUV is going to have to ask him recuse himself: he’s already prejudged this question in public, he’s clearly going to rule against them. Right?!

Another new magistrate, Fanny Marquez, is as closely tied to the Cabello clan as it’s possible to be unless you have hair in your name. Conatel, Seniat, CENCOEX – her CV is a tour of Diosdado power centers. I mean her previous job was vicepresident of the re-tread CADIVI, the deepest, darkest pit of corruption in a public administration rife with pits of corruption. Now she’s going to decide who did or did not win the election.

At a time like this, with civil peace in the balance, conceptual clarity is the first thing we need. There’s a tendency abroad to think that TSJ magistrates are partisan in the way Supreme Court justices are partisan: in the sense that they’re broadly ideologically aligned with the people who appointed them. This is a dangerous mirage. They’re not.

The government doesn’t influence them. It controls them. It’s not the same. Illegally appointed – self-appointed, in Zerpa’s case – they lack even the modicum of independence to sustain the bare bone optics of constitutional legality. MUD has little choice but to defy them. MUD knows that. All of MUD knows that. And PSUV knows that too. And the implications of that knowledge are enormously dangerous.

Today should be a day for eating grapes and prancing around outdoors with luggage in tow. It can’t be. Era lo único que les faltaba por expropiarnos. And now they’ve gone and done it.

19 COMMENTS

  1. By backing down on 7 of the 8 impugnaciones, the Govt. has shown weakness, not strength. I believe, without information at this time, that the military played a role in this. The marginal several deputies for the 2/3 majority will probably be decided in favor of the 2/3, more peacefully than forcefully. Time will tell….

    • or it’s just for the show, “look, we only accepted one at all, we are fair”: The 2/3 are gone, anyway. The response of the MUD/opposition maybe weaker (on psychological basis, “it was not as bad as expected”), as also the international reaction. And they would play more dirty tricks for sure.

      • The genie is out of the bottle. Maduro did not even dare replace Padrino Lopez. The impugnaciones in Aragua (Al Aissami Governor), one with an 83 Oppo win, were not allowed, and the 7 impugnaciones were denied summarily. The military will try to avoid a violent confrontation at all costs….

        • It was 6 of 7, and the 6 were not dismissed, simply put under study for possible future action. The legality of the TSJ being able to “un-proclaim” winners already proclaimed by the CNE is under question. The military behind-the-scenes will be the final arbiter, even recently admitted as such by pro-Revolution ideologue Heinz Dietrich.

  2. Am wondering if the TSJ ruling was done to strengthen the governments negotiating hand, without causing full outrage with the international community or going fully nuclear (yet!). With the case depending, they know they can upend the 2/3 majority at any point, but are waiting to see what the opposition will do now? Do nothing, negotiate, or go full nuclear themselves…

    That said, it is smart for the government to make this a fight between the TSJ and the AN (without the executive branch getting involved yet), while it is also smart for the opposition to try to link the two in everyone’s minds, as best they can…

  3. The situation is very explosive, but I don’t think it is a foregone conclusion that it will end in a violent way. For one, the military is unlikely to tolerate ‘desorden’ such as street warfare or crippling strikes. The question is on which side will they fall, and the rumors, so far, are indicating a preference for the opposition.

    Chavismo is being true to its antidemocratic roots, it cannot help itself but to act in this way, but with all the bluster being displayed I suspect their strength is that of a paper tiger. They will fight to death, but it will not amount to much. Toro’s prediction of Ceaușescu moment is the most likely outcome (and I do pray for this).

    • I tend to agree that the greatest probability is the scenario is the “Ceaușescu moment” collapse. But, nothing is certain. Maduro and Cabello are forcing a showdown. I think that their hand is weaker than they think it is, but we simply will not know until we get there. I DO believe that the citizens are prepared and willing to do what is needed, and that this regime is coming down, whether it is well orchestrated and peaceful, or not.

  4. Funny I seem to remember Maduro asking for all ministers resignation so that he could appoint a new gabinet 3 weeks ago and by today nothing has happened , People speculated that the reason for Maduro to ask for the Ministers resignation was to allow a clean looking replacement of Padrino the Defense Minister who purpotedly has opposed a last minute manouver by the govt to meddle with the electoral results, There was a warning shot accross the bow from the US alerting that one potential replacement to that Defense ministr post was in the list of rgime officials to be indicted on drug trafficking charges , now a manouver which initially was intended to affect 6 electoral circuits and 8 deputies has been wittled down the amazon state candidates ( including one Psuv deputy) , does this mean that they lack the control of the military needed to go for something more drastic or that they are giving the oppo a chance for some behind the door negotiation to limit the extent to which it might use the supermayority to up end the regime and rush it to its ruin………Ramos Allup would be the guy for the oppo to use in any negotiations ,a hardened , practical , sharp witted, professional politician ……. . Its all speculative …… . One thing Im sure off , the oppo knew that something like this was coming and was prepared for it . The very quick recusatory suit againts the newly appointed TSJ magistrates is a sign that they had some warning of what was coming and had a lawsuit ready to use. Wouldnt surprise me that people inside the TSJ are already talking to the oppo or in secret exchanges with them in part out of spontaneous sympathy in part to cover their asses now that the regimes position is faultering and leaking from all sides.!!

  5. We all hope it will be their last expropriation for the country sake. Yesterday, a friend, exasperated, posted: “I am tired of this country, I want to leave right now”. I understand her so 🙁

  6. As Yogi Berra would paraphrase:”It’s 1957 all over again”.

    They’re trying everything to see where they can slip one past us.

    What’s needed now is what MUD is doing.

    Calling the fouls, maybe a little ankle grabbing on the grass while you grimace.

    Until January 5th.

    On that day, I pray to God the MUD doesn’t back down.

    Easy to state from the outside, but the time has come.

  7. Totally expected -though infuriating- and there’s still a few days until the new assembly takes control. What else do they have under their sleeve? Extraordinary TSJ session on Sunday?

    We all know we are not dealing with democrats as in pre-Chavez times. Chavismo top-down is a group of thugs, desperate to remain in control, be it for power, money or benefits. They’re violent, scared, unscrupulous and amidst the threat of losing their seats, can be as dangerous as a cornered buffalo. They will not cede without giving up a fight.

  8. The only surprise is how long it took them to decide this was the best way to maintain control, which shows poor and indecisive political leadership in PSUV.

    The Chavistas have their backs firmly against the wall: the economic clock is not on their side; it’s open season as far as the DEA are concerned; regional support is evaporating; and I wonder if even the Chinese would see merit in agreeing any more lifelines with Maduro’s discredited leadership. The risk for the PSUV is that if they become too much more hardline, key supporters will see the time is right to cut and run. And once the trickle starts…

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