When Muammar el-Qaddafi was dragged out a drainage pipe, beaten, shot, impaled, killed and paraded around like a gutted piñata by his people, I read a brief article by Ian Buruma where the professor made a simple but keen observation: “Putting Qaddafi on trial would not have satisfied every Libyans’ feeling of injustice, but it might have helped to instill in Libyans greater respect for the rule of law.”

This simple reflection stayed with me since then, and I go back to it every time Venezuela is subjected to an injustice. Each time the opposition is tempted to flick the chip off its shoulder. It stayed with me during Chavez’s abuse of public funds to finance his personalistic project, and it stayed with me during the 2014 protests, when the disproportionate and criminal response of the Government produced several deaths. And I thought of it again reading Quico’s cretinous tirade about re-packing the Supreme Tribunal.

As Quico points out, this was the same strategy chavismo used to take control of the TSJ over a decade ago, which, most likely, the current TSJ will declare unconstitutional. By doing so they would be sort of admitting that the mechanism that brought them into power was a sham.

Ok. That’s right, simple, and clever. But we already knew that, and we also know they don’t really care that we know. Apart from the fact that this effort would not show tangible results, this strategy shows the same disregard for the rule of law that chavismo has been exercising for so long, it belittles what the new majority should stand for. A big part of respecting the rule of law has to do with upholding the system, especially when it finally favors you.

Authoritarian governments such as ours thrive on the rubble of institutions and invite their people to distance themselves from the rule of law. They relish life in the shadows, away from order and justice, and to get to this place, they need everybody on board. Think of the way the government drives you to buy and sell products in the black market, forcing you to break the law just to get the basics. A catch-22.   

So, Nicolás Maduro vanished for a week. During that time the outgoing National Assembly violated the Constitution and disregarded the legal procedures to rush the appointment of the new PSUV-controlled justices on the Supreme Tribunal (TSJ).

Once Maduro reemerged from his vision quest nothing much had changed. He wasted the suspense of his disappearance, and just went back to his usual clownish authoritarianism. He reenacted the chupalo scene from the day after the opposition coleteó chavismo in the parliament elections, and repeated his threats, with renewed resolve to reverse the result of the elections. He abused his enabling powers one last time by signing into law a regressive tax reform and a sort of rekindling of the exchange control regime, on the day his enabling powers ended.

As if in collusion with the Supreme Tribunal, while the President accused the opposition of buying votes, Venezuela’s highest court ruled to suspend the proclamation of the newly elected deputies for Amazonas for reasons that are still not clear, but may have something to do, precisely, with what the President said.

It’s quite explicit, in the government’s actions (and in their comments), that they are doing everything they can to neutralize the new AN. A big player in this plot is the chavista TSJ which can block many of the new parliament’s actions. No wonder one of the opposition’s biggest concerns right now is how to deal with the Tribunal.

Chavismo has a history of abusing legal forms to get away with political powergrabs. And even when these extra limitations may have the desired effect on the short/medium term, we need to keep our eye on long-term accountability.

And this is a big part of my quibble with Quico’s idea to blow up the Constitutional chamber to dilute chavista judges. It’s a ploy that amounts to the same mumbo-jumbo that opposition experts and politicians have been denouncing all along.

The integrity of the new National Assembly is not worth compromising for a fraudulent maneuver just to ascertain something that we already know.

What Quico merrily suggests, is that we drag the ailing body of Venezuelan institutionality out of its drainage pipe and throw it to the masses for a lynching. Although it sounds tempting, and feels like it would bring some poetic justice to the people (albeit not a tangible result), in the end it would do a disservice to the cause as we would absorb it as a normal way of doing politics and legislating.   

You want to expose the TSJ? Have them overturn laws the people really want/need (like giving title to the recipients of Mision Vivienda, or enforcing transparency rules over the Central Bank). You want to stand tall before the TSJ? Go ahead and do so. Swear in your 112  deputies. Right now you are bigger than them. You want to have a more balanced judicial power? Well at least activate the correct procedures, enforce the control functions of the AN, let’s see what happens.

The opposition made the right call to take the long road out of this mess. It would be a shame to taint that with puerile legislative maneuvers. Our legal system has been lynched enough by chavismo. For the healing to start, we need to show we’re better than that.

There is no way around the constitutional crisis chavismo is forcing. We might as well deal with it head on. Now’s not the time for flashy but cheap political tricks. Now’s the time to put our political muscle at the service of something grander. Something genuinely transcendent: standing up for the rule of law.

 

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41 COMMENTS

      • Raul makes a valid and principled point. I hate the idea of employing the same cynical and perverted tactics that Chavismo employs. It is distasteful and sets a bad precedent for the future of the country. It may be that the best strategy is to pursue all of the legally and constitutionally correct avenues first, even if it only serves to force a show of the government’s blocking them at every turn. Finally, when the regime’s intentions and strategies are obvious to the whole world, we can proceed with:

        1. Forcing an Asamblea Constituyente. This would be declared unconstitutional by the TSJ and will force a showdown.

        or,

        2. General strikes and protests to force Maduro’s resignation. Again a showdown.

        I suppose that a showdown is always where this has been headed, but I think that the new AN has to explore all of the other avenues first. And who knows? Maybe the military will step in and force the un-dynamic duo to back off and respect the decisions of the new AN. I am not holding my breath, but it is a remote possibility.

  1. The truth is that the opposition doesn’t have the fortitude to try it. I think it would be a good first step in responding to the judicial injustice that is bound to happen. Give them a “chance” and see what happens, but if they use their power poorly, I see no issue with “pulling the trigger.” It’s incomparable to what happened to Gaddafi. He got a gutshot by some kid using his own gold gun. Something that happens dozens a time a day in the Venezuelan streets, only without the gold gun.

  2. I like where you are going with this, Raul, but this may be a case where practicality trumps principles.

    If the TSJ were even SOMEWHAT neutral I would get behind your stance 100%, but after 45676 rulings going the way of Chavismo, I think you have to get a bit creative and this is where I agree that Quico’s gambit makes sense.

    Nothing I would like more than for Venezuela to begin to stand on principle again, but this time even though you’re right you’re still going to jail.

    And you could argue slippery slope, but the option of eternal wrangling with the TSJ given the state of affairs is just not practial.

    • But Raúl’s point – which, on cool-headed consideration, I tend to agree with – is that the gambit I proposed wouldn’t work anyway: the Constitutional Chamber would just rule it unconstitutional. So we’d be shitting on our own principles for no tangible benefit.

      There is no way to sidestep the Choque de Poderes. Creativity won’t help. They’ve decided they want it, and they’re going to get it.

      Llevé coñazos que jode en este post. Ya me sobé. En el fondo creo que tiene razón Stolk.

      • The fact that this article is up there (including the “cretinous” bit and the fact that you’ve replied in the comments with such a cool head and honesty makes me respect you and this site even more. Keep up the good work

      • Sorry but I prefer the “Quico Arrecho y Cuatriboleado” to the “Quico Comeflor”. Diosdado eats comeflores for breakfast and has shown it for a long time. In addition, what “Quico Arrecho” proposed appears to be entirely above board. Yea, I wouldn’t like it if I were a Chavista but then this is not a popularity contest, is it?

      • Your gambit is better than you think. If they rule against it they are basically admitting their OWN existence is illegal.

        That kind of “twist” would play marvelously outside Venezuela.

        If you’re a TSJ judge, how do you look at someone with a straight face after that?

        • I agree, the 45,477th stripe will definitely be too much for this tiger to bear. 45,476 they can live with.

          But 45,477 is just more than they can stand…

          I think Raul is basically right. There’s no upside to forcing someone into demonstrating something is true after everyone already knows that it’s true. That’s not a revelation, that’s just posturing.

        • Ya no es tigre, es pantera negra de tanta raya.

          Ok, so if you don’t pack the court as your “cretinous” (Raul dixit) play suggested, what’s the alternative?

          Take the moral high ground?

          Isn’t that posturing too?

          You can begin a battle and try to do it the right way, work within the laws and so on, but you’re going to have many Pyrrhic victories.

          I have a feeling that the people that cast null votes, or love Chavez and hate Maduro and voted the bums out aren’t going to stand for principles for very long.

          If that’s the case then scary times indeed are right around the corner.

          Gatas en batea and all that…..which is probably the play they want. Estado de excepcion right around the corner.

          It’s going to come down to the folks with the guns, and who knows how they are going to jump.

          We might have to add January 5th to April 13th.

          Cada 6 tiene su 5 might be the new phrase………

    • “but this may be a case where practicality trumps principles.”

      Agreed. Venezuelan democracy has already morphed into Cuban authoritarianism. It is simply naive to assume otherwise.

  3. So RS thinks it’s improper to (legally) pack the Supreme Court to overcome earlier Supreme Court packing by the Chavez gang.

    Ok, but then we need to hear his plan for what to do when the already-packed Supreme Court arbitrarily disallows every bit of legislation that passes the AN.

    And it seems that here, RS’s plan is to expose that court, by passing laws involving transparency rules over the Central Bank, and passing title to those already living in Mission Vivienda homes. If these are vetoed, then the court is exposed!

    I am not sure that Central Bank transparency, or even legal title to some homes, are big issues in the barrios. So these exposures may work in some places, but not in most. More likely, everyone already knows the court is a farce, but lack the power to change that.

    It’s nice if everything happens all legal-like. But let’s recognize there is a difference between legally increasing the size of the Supreme Court, and executing Maduro in front of a culvert.

  4. Esa es precisamente la diferencia entre la asamblea de una república democrática y la de una república bananera.
    Lo que se está desmoronando es el chavismo, lo seguirá haciendo porque sigue por el mismo camino.
    No nos comportemos como ellos, aunque eso tenga un costo en el corto plazo.
    100% de acuerdo con la opinión del Sr. Stolk.

  5. We’re kind of assuming that the TSJ will block everything coming out of the new AN. But, what if it doesn’t? They could very well allow the law on the Mision Vivienda title deeds, for example. And then the Ministry of Housing will drag their feet and issue the titles very, very slowly. Same for the Central Bank.

    I think the government will be selective in their use of the TSJ veto, saving it for existential threats to their rule. They’ll veto recall referendums, 2/3 majorities, changes in other branches of government (CNE, Poder Ciudadano). They’ll have the TSJ rule against the government in non-vital issues, just to keep the facade. Like they did a few days ago, with the TSJ rejecting 7 out of 8 of the election challenges, and suspending a PSUV deputy.

    I’m not sold on the idea that PSUV is pushing for a total constitutional crisis, a full-on confrontation. It’s simply not in their best interest, at least for now. Instead, I think their strategy will be more of a balancing act. They’ll have the TSJ blocking the nuclear weapons thrown by MUD, while taking some bullet shots to keep the democracy facade going.

    • This is along the lines of what I am expecting. Keep the farce going as long as possible because they have no where to go if they lose control.

  6. I agree with the idea of exposing the TSJ as chavistas stooges, in the same way as la Salida exposed the government to be a dictatorship led by intellectual and moral midgets (let us not forget, at great cost). Of course, they should capture the moral high ground. But once that is done, I would expect a chavismo-cara-e-tabla response in similar manner to the one given to their electoral defeat.

    But I think we will not even get to that.

    Chavismo is precipitating a showdown tomorrow. It is spouting all the menacing talk it can.

    Cards are to be counted and we shall see what real brutal force they can project. Will the colectivos rumble? Will the Guardia Nacional ballenas come out against the AN? Will they even close the metro?

    If chavismo just fizzles, then they may start doing politics, otherwise they will just run for the culverts.

  7. I think they are both right, we must first take Raul’s way, it is the better way, of you want to be different act different, but Quico’s point is still valid, so I think we better try first the higth way then if fails the fast way.

    Great post Raul, great point.

  8. I think Raul and FT are right; the opposition must do all they can to take the high road. After 6D they have a golden opportunity to show how democracy is *supposed* to work. They’ve got to show a difference – preferably a big one – between how healthy governments function and how PSUV has always operated.

    Let PSUV be the irrational party. Let TSJ be the entity obstructing needed reforms. I can’t wait to see how TSJ twists themselves into knots to make an argument against government transparency and accountability. Meanwhile, let MUD be the reasoned voice of cool-headed and high-minded rationality, ready to help the nation recover from years of incompetence, malice, and epic levels of graft.

    This approach CAN work. The chavistas no longer enjoy the popular/military support necessary to simply impose their political will as in the past. They are no longer loved nor feared, and they just might be closer to a jaque mate and FT’s Ceausescu-style rapid collapse scenario than anyone can imagine.

    I’d much rather be an oppo pol in Venezuela than a chavista right now. PSUV hacks have GOT to be feeling the walls closing in on them. They are incompetent, friendless, and perhaps most important of all, broke. Hopefully they start hitting the exits quickly. Such an outcome may seem unlikely or even impossible right now but it’s possible that in hindsight it will seem to have been inevitable.

  9. Good point all around. It is a bit like contemplating a forest burned to the ground. Like a forest, the system will not be salvageable overnight. It will take years. A realistic short term objective is the release of political prisoners. Work on prison reform is urgently needed…policing….there is no shortage of work that needs doing.

    • …or like the fire that destroyed most of Chicago in 1871. It was a catastrophic event…but as soon as the flames died down architects and builders flocked there from everywhere for the opportunity to be a part of raising a modern city from the ashes.

      Here’s to hoping for a similar rebirth for Venezuela…

      • Or like Chicago recovering after Al Capone. THAT was a decades-long project of reform, and that’s Chicago we’re talking about.

        I think if there is any bright spot, it is in the psychology of the judiciary that the AN brought in, ironically. If anecdotal accounts I’ve heard are any indication, this is not a team of tough, experienced, smart ideologues who are anxious to stick their heads into the public debate and hold the line for chavismo. Quite the opposite. These are people whose nominations have made the rounds on social media, lawyer to lawyer, as a big and unfortunate joke.

        Judges of this standing in the community, to call it that, may decide according to what they are told to a point, but a certain kind of weak judge, suddenly finding him or herself in over his or her head, and subject to a scrutiny they did not imagine, will at some point fold to the weight of public opinion. (before then jumping on a plane for Miami, et cetera). Also, it is not clear, going forward, that these judges will be getting clear directions from a single source. That in turn makes being a corrupt judge more complicated.

        In other words, a handful of weak judges completely lacking in legitimacy in the eyes of the public is not necessarily an impregnable line of defense, on its own terms. If the regime wants to bring on some crazy-ass cases, let them be litigated. See how far these judges are prepared to go with crazy-ass decision making. It may not be that far.

        • Whoa. That seems…sobering and encouraging at the same time.

          What I mean is that chavismo bravado is starting to seem more and more like a bold facade covering up a reality so completely rotted through that the whole thing could fall over with a good hard shove.

          I would not want to be a PSUV strategist trying to brainstorm potential solutions right now.

  10. I know we all are fascinated by the moral aesthetics of being goody goody and noble and righteous, with wearing the most beautiful and pure gestures before the mirror of our own moral vanity , but sometimes if youre facing a gangster regime you have to stoop a bit to conquer , The TSJ must be purged to have it meet its basic institutional mission which is to impart justice impartially , if there is an expedient and effective way of achieving that end then why swoon with perfumed cloying scruples to proceed along that path . Bolivar did a lot of dark terrible things to achieve independence , the war to the death decree among others , but he did try to set himself some limits which stood up to the best ethical standards of war, Ours however was a very savage war and for him to play the role of a fastidious european petit maitre would have led to certain defeat of the cause of independence. Lets follow his example even if we choose carefully what battles we must give first and how to advance the oppo cause in the most effective manner possible. !!

  11. Nowhere in history evil has been dumped on being civil or moral. See american french an latin american revolutions. Heck wasn t bolivar who launched la guerra a muerte. Americans and brittons spread the concept of complete war. Sorry but the very foundation of the state is ultimately on force. These people wont go if you try to play nice. In this case you have to demonstrate to have more strenght at least retorically. I do not agree with raul because if you try to fight with a hand tied you will lose even when everyone else is thinking the other guy is cheating because he uses the irons in his gloves. That’s what they know. Sorry but that line will mean another 17 years of the bs.

  12. Venezuela will have to get worse before it gets better. But this proposal has merit. The TSJ will have to be lined before a wall and shot at some point for that to happen, but it is indeed better for the Pueblo to do it.

  13. All’s fair in love, (politics), and war. The Oppo is dealing with gangsters here, and not a lot of time, as the economic situation gets worse and worse. By the time everything is democratically prettified, the majority of the Pueblo may think they’ve made a mistake. It’s sorry to see FT swallow his “cretinous tirade”….

  14. ¨La revolución no se entrega¨ it was heard days ago,

    Alcaldia Mayor? a new Authority emerged, Avila TV? ANTV? in fact, la revolución no entrega! remember el referendum de la reforma? all the laws rejected by the people were approved later by a bunch of deputies (not a super majority by the way),

    few of them hand out the power by the force of the law, they consider theirselves above any existent law,

    Qaddafi once said he could not quit because he was not the president, instead, he was the ¨leader¨ of the revolution, so for them it is an act beyond the human understanding!

    in many countries after a landslide in an national poll the govt would quit right away, and they do it not because they love to go, but because is a clear mandate of the people they are supposed to serve,

    but in a bunch of situations the rulers, no matter what, stick to power, and it´s unclear how they finish, if they finish at all!

  15. What if the opposition pass some beautiful looking paper laws like a law to force the BCV to show numbers or shuts FONDEN’s funding, the TSJ doesn’t block them and then simply BCV and FONDEN just plain ignore the law and go ahead with business as usual.

    It’s not like the opposition can phissically force anything. The reds could just simply ignore the law and arrest anyone reporting on it. What then? I have no idea of how to solve that, but that’s what I think will happen.

  16. There is a conceptual error in Stolk’s reasoning.

    Packing the courts is not necessarily a bad or immoral thing.
    Packing the courts with qualified, INDEPENDENT judges is the kind of “packing” that is positive and necessary and it wouldn’t destroy the institutionality, but, actually, revitalize it.
    Because the problem is not packing the courts but what you pack them with.

    Also it does not need to be done in an illegal, immoral or chavista-like way.
    The fundamental difference would be in HOW it is done.
    And that is by following the letter AND spirit of the law.

    If the MUD has the necessary votes to increase the number of judges then legally they should be able to do it. Nothing wrong with that and there are plenty of justifications for it.

    But… they should follow the constitutional precepts of having qualified, independent, non partisan judges selected through an open and transparent process.

    In other words the opposite of what chavismo has done in the past. Lets remember that chavismo packed the courts by changing an organic law without the required number of votes and obscurely picking new judges based solely on loyalty.

    Now, if chavismo blocks such an open process, (as they probably will) they will be showing to the public, once again, that they oppose anything that can improve the country.

    In any case the opposition should open that battleground, and let it play out, because sooner or later that is a change that must happen.

  17. I disagree that there is no Machiavellian merit to this idea. Toying with the tsj might pressure, say, the poder ciudadano into agreeing to replace judges.

    All we have to do is put the sword of sanity for the tsj to fall on as they stoop. They move to avoid, we adjust the sword.

    You can’t beat gravity. It’s the economy, stupid!

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