Qaddafi's drainage pipe and the opposition's soul

This is not the time for misguided adventurism. Magical thinking will not avert the oncoming Constitutional Crisis, and revenge fantasies won't re-establish the rule of law in Venezuela.

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.