After a couple of days of uncertainty, today at 5:00 pm Nicolás Maduro is scheduled to give his Memoria y Cuenta —the criollo version of the State of the Union address— before the National Assembly. Maybe this does not seem such a big deal next to “disincorporated” deputies, the chance of an institutional clash, or the possible cohabitation. But it is a sign to note.
Maduro is not used to talking in front of audiences he hasn’t handpicked. His public appearances are virtually always in controlled spaces with hand-picked crowds, and even in those settings he is not known for his ability to respond well to criticism. This lady from Los Teques could tell you about it, and this other lady from Aragua, or this other one from Macarao.
Of course, talking to a hostile audience is never easy, but Nicolás is going to have to endure it. He’s going to stand in an opposition packed room, recognizing the “Asamblea Nacional Burguesa” the people (as in el pueblo) voted for. He’s going to do it because he has to. And that’s awesome.
Even if it is uncomfortable, even if you might look bad for not having a good answer to a hard question, and even if every TSJ decision is biased in your favor, if you are the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela you have to go to the Asamblea Nacional within the first 10 days of its installation and explain what you did last year in office. That’s what article 237 of the Constitution says.
Living in the country with the poorest rule of law in the world, we all know our constitution is better understood as a series of “shoulds” than “shalls”: suggestion to be followed when convenient — if you are the government, of course. So, to see the President following the law in a circumstance he probably didn’t want to, is just the kind of unfamiliar, feel good departure this new Assembly promises. It means our Executive Branch still needs to comply with some formalities, and as long as that’s the case, the game is on.
To be sure, today’s not some gigantic sign of institutional vitality. Maybe Maduro wants his followers to know he stands by his actions (even though his actions lead us to chronic scarcity, the highest inflation in the world, and a rise in poverty). Maybe there was some negotiation amongst fractions. Maybe there is some important (economic?) announcement to make – a gal can dream, right? Maybe there’s a show planned. The list goes on.
But the thing is, even though they have violated the Constitution before, and probably will keep at it, this time they are complying. Skipping the Memoria y Cuenta —or giving a chimba version of it before the judicial power— was another step into that infinite darkness that lies just beyond the horizon, once the regime has stopped caring about appearances entirely.
In the end, the reasons for him to go give his address is simple. Politics.
The government is finally being forced to engage in politics. Something they’ve spent 17 years avoiding. They have zero experience here. Maybe that’s why they had to fish Aristóbulo out of Anzoátegui – there weren’t any chavistas left in Caracas who even remembered what politics is like.
So, let’s just relax, enjoy the show, and hope for many more moments of one branch of power being seriously scrutinized, as we may be opening the door to another little something we haven’t seen in a long time: Accountability.
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