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.

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