I remember reading Nineteen Eighty-Four as a teenager and thinking that while the novel was powerful, Orwell’s description of the cognitive gymnastics the party elite was expected to master was way over the top.

Orwell stressed that high party officials needed to commit wholeheartedly to Doublethink – the ability to hold directly contradictory ideas in their mind simultaneously and to accept both of them. This sounded to me dangerously close to the definition of schizophrenia. And it seemed far-fetched to me that a state run by crazy people could remain stable for long.

Fast forward 25 years to the Supreme Tribunal’s Constitutional Chamber yesterday, and 15-year-old Quico es un güebón. In yet another decision that adds more to their prontuario than to their jurisprudence, the Justices showed the terrifying prescience of Orwell’s vision.

The decision deals with the National Assembly’s oversight and subpoena powers, and by “deals with” I mean “sticks a knife in, then twists it.” This is not just about creatively qualifying and arbitrarily limiting the powers the Constitution reserves to the Assembly, this is about directly contradicting the plain meaning of the constitutional text.

The point that jumps out at me has to do with the Assembly’s subpoena powers. The constitution is anything but opaque on this point. Article 223 is, actually, entirely explicit.

Todos los funcionarios públicos o funcionarias publicas están obligados u obligadas, bajo las sanciones que establezca las leyes, a comparecer ante dichas Comisiones y a suministrar las informaciones y documentos que requieran para el cumplimiento de sus funciones. Esta obligación comprende también a los particulares; quedando a salvo los derechos y garantías que esta Constitución consagra.

All public employees are obligated, subject to the penalties established by law, to appear before the Assembly’s committees and to provide the information and the documents needed to accomplish its functions. This obligation includes also private individuals; without undermining the rights and guarantees this Constitution enshrines.

The language is sweeping, explicit and categorical. Ahí no hay pa donde coger. Right?

You’d think so. But you shouldn’t doublethink so.

In its decision yesterday, the court takes the simple, legible, straightforward, entirely plain meaning of Article 223 and shoots it full of holes. From the power to demand an appearance in person, as well as answers and documentary evidence from, in effect, anyone – including any public servant, yes, but also any private individual as well – we get to a circumscribed power to subpoena only public servants “subject to political control” working for the executive branch, but not including the military, and then giving them the preferential option to submit their answers in writing, and a long series of potential excuses not to, if they – not the Assembly, but they – feel that doing so might negatively affect the conduct of public administration.

Inside the chavista imagination, you safeguard the constitution by negating it. You sustain its legitimacy by ignoring its content. The defense of the constitution and the shredding of the constitution are one and the same thing.

War is peace.

Freedom is slavery.

Ignorance is strength.

38 COMMENTS

  1. Where do we go from here? Because this blockade looks like the final stab to make the Assembly a body with voice but no vote, crushing in effect the will of the voters.

    The game is at a stalemate, provoked by the Court with the sole purpose of keeping power. When you reduce it all to “It’s the Court’s capacity to read the Constitution and act according to the reading it gets”, then the Supreme Court is the legal AND political arm of a dictatorship, giving readings that only pleases the PSUV. How do you face that in a civilized way? Is it even possible?

    I really don’t see how.

  2. All this is true. Still, I wonder, not that it matters, not that it matters at all at this point: does the Court even follow any of its own procedures any more? Like hold hearings and listen to opposing arguments? It seems that they have dispensed not only with reason, but with any of the activities that would make them a Court, as distinct from simply an office of the executive branch.

  3. Instead of subpoenas, the AN will send out invitations. Apparently only opposition members will accept the invitations. Chavismo will never debate or support their positions. Chavismo cannot support their decisions because most of the time the actions of this government are just cover-ups for corruption or to extend their time in power.

    The opposition should go ahead and subpoena dozens of Government officials for questioning. After they do not show up, publicize it heavily and let all of Venezuela know that the current government refuses to support its own actions.

    A starting point would be to hold hearings on why the three opposition deputies were denied seats in the AN. Subpeona all the court justices (they are public employees), to see what they say. Then demand immediate new elections in those districts. (Chavismo is in the toilet with many Chavistas willing to pull the flush handle). If new elections are not approved quickly, then the AN should unilaterally restore the deputies to their positions.

    • 100% concur. The PR battle is not insignificant – it must be won or the public will only see the oppo-held AN doing nothing, rather than understanding WHY the oppo struggles to make any headway.

      Subpoena them, and then publicize the daylights out of it when they don’t show up. Put them in an indefensible position and then hammer the crap out of them for not responding to legitimate inquiries.

      It’s very simple messaging to the public: How can any competent, honest public servant be opposed to transparency? If the President and the TSJ oppose transparency tooth and nail, what does that mean?

      They have got to hammer this point day in and day out until it is in the consciousness of every Venezuelan: THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW THE TRUTH

      • It is not like the opposition in general or the assembly in particular have access to a wide variety of media to get their message out, almost only the social media and some brave independent press.

        • Yes, of course you are right, that’s been part of chavismo’s game all along…I suppose the question then is “OK, there is a long list of things we can’t do…so what CAN we do??”

          Perhaps…

          A website that systematically lists and tracks legitimate inquiries and the non-response to them?

          Another website that lists and tracks government efforts to censor/limit information to the public?

          Another website that lays out, in a straightforward and easily understandable manner, the MUD’s main goals, why they matter, and how the Exec/TSJ are impeding them?

          All of these websites would need to be promoted nationwide in every manner possible, via social media, flyers, posters, political rallies, town cryers, carrier pigeons, whatever! All with the same message hammered again and again: NOSOTROS BUSCAMOS ALUMBRAR; ELLOS BUSCAN OCULTAR. ¿EN QUIÉN DEBERÍA UD CONFIAR DE VERDAD?

          Also…

          Perhaps specifically (and insistently) invite respected journalists from neutral, non “imperio” countries (Canada, Finland, Sweden, Costa Rica, etc) to come to Venezuela and cover events more closely?

          Perhaps invite an independent, 3rd party top-to-bottom audit of all gvmt institutions by a respected accounting firm from a non “imperio” country? Of course the exec/TSJ would shoot this down…but again, it would be yet another opportunity to say “We even wanted to bring in impartial, respected parties from Finland (least corrupt country on earth), Canada (who harbors ill will toward the Canadians??), Costa Rica (LatAm democracy with 95% literacy & universal healthcare) etc, but for some unknown reason the chavistas wouldn’t have it…”

          Maybe I’m dreaming here…just trying to think outside the box. Somehow MUD needs to preempt the possible development of a Venezuelan meme that says “we gave them the AN and they didn’t do anything with it.” This they must do by VERY publically forcing the chavistas to defend the indefensible, then hammer them for changing the topic.

          Yes, it’s a tall order…but MUD does have a powerful advantage that the chavistas can never take away from them: they have the truth on their side.

  4. Aside from our intellectual amazement at the regime’s “cognitive gymnastics”, we always knew that they would never relinquish power voluntarily. The entire exercise of voting in the Opposition controlled AN was simply a means to demonstrate to ourselves, the public, and to especially to the world, that the regime is neither democratic nor constitutional. It was necessary in order to force the regime to show its true nature and strip it of its democratic disguise.

    With this ruling, the Opposition should:

    1. Approach the OAS with a formal request to invoke the Democratic Charter.
    2. Accelerate the call for a change in government with a specific process and timeline and a precise date for the removal of the president from office.

    • This government will never be removed by democratic means.
      That is obvious.

      The next question is what’s next?

      • Again, set a date. The last time, the Opposition defined a date (6D) the Venezuelan people responded. If the Opposition defines a path, however indefinite, but with a set date, the expectation and hope created will generate its own momentum.

  5. “You’d think so. But you shouldn’t doublethink so.”

    El coño de tu madre Quico. De donde sacaste estas genialidad?

  6. El punto que trajo Quico es claro y explícito.

    Ahora, me pregunto: qué va a hacer la oposición? Pareciera que su objetivo y dejar pasar y concentrase en las eleciones que vienen.

    Ganan algo con eso?

    Cuando Caracas -hay Caracas- se prepara para un racionamiento de agua brutal. Qué sumado a lo que ya tiene, solo aumenta el desespero.

  7. The AN commission dealing with reviewing the method followed by the past NA to appoint the new TSJ magistrate invited all 30 odd members of the Academia de Ciencias Sociales y Politicas ( Institutionally the highest concentration of top level legal minds in the country) to attend a meeting in which they were asked about the procedure followed to make such appointments , their unanimous opinion was that the procedure followed rendered the appointments null and void ………..apparently they also invited other former magistrates to attend and some of them said that de facto they had not resigned their positions but had been fired to make room for the new magistrates ( I Know personally of one magistrate (not Maikel Moreno) who is telling all who ask him that there was nothing voluntary about his resignation, instead there was….. an order from ‘above’ to abandon their posts) .

    The AN was voted not merely to change things as is ususally assumed but more viscerally to confront the govt and hit it hard in the most belligerent way possible …….If they don’t do this they will fast lose the confidence of those that gave them their votes . There is a lot of anger against the regime , The AN whatever good wishes are advertised for conciliation cant be seen to be weak or contemporizing or the political loss of face will be highly adverse !!

  8. The doublethink chavista corollary:

    Maduro is destroying the country

    Maduro is hijo de Chavez

    I love Chavez because he helped the poor

    We are poor and have less resources because Chavez policies

    Chavez engaged on those policies to destroy the 4th Republic corruption and oligarchy

    We have the same or worse corruption and oligarchy as of the times of the 4th republic

    The 4th Republic is back in the congress

    I hate the congress because it shows how Maduro is destroying the country

    Then I hate Maduro and the Congress

    Chavez I miss you so much…

  9. All of these decisions are entirely predictable and consistent with the Maduro regime. As the country falls apart and slumps toward hunger and no power, the people know who to blame. The judges have placed their names on a very dark list that will be remembered for a long time. It is clear that the regime is not changing course. It is in a tragic suicidal spiral. The question for me is who from inside the spiral wants to escape their role in the tragedy that has one ultimate end. They should step away from the tragedy and help the people and the assembly as soon as possible before it is too late for them to be swept up in unforeseeable events.

    • dear ding, I disagree!

      …the current battles center on how to frame the what, how and who is to be blamed.

      The same pueblo that voted chavez in and that has supported the revolution (or accepted /tolerated)it for 15 years is the one making a choice what narrative it to be believed.

      IMO the nationalistic forces need to step up the game in how the narrative is delivered and how responsibilities are documented.(and eventually hopefully justice served)

    • Reason would have it that hijacking all the power as Chavismo is doing will bring along all the responsibility. And sure Chavismo can spin the reality with “Guerra Economica” and so forth, as they do in Aporrea, but the economic crisis just gets worse and worse and this is not theoretical, people die and go hungry.

      It is telling the “Agricultura Urbana” pie-in-the-sky. They do realize that food shortage is going to get worse and THIS IS THEIR BEST ANSWER??!!!!

      I guess that their current success with stuffing of the TSJ gives them even more hubris. Pero a cada cochino le llega su hora.

      • All I am saying is that reason is not what drives understanding and action, for the most part its emotion, and cognitive conditioning, and many other physiological, semiotic and personal reasons.

        You and I, and most of the audience of this blog, perhaps are able to a larger extend to understand causality, intention, and reasoned inferences and ideas. Not the case in our political market lace and with the population at large.

        Regardless, it also requires intellectual honesty which can be lacking in educated, and less educated, left or right wind alike…

        Just saying do not assume because you can see it that it will be sold that way!

    • You know, guys, Chávez could alter the narrative and out of atrocious situations of his making, paint himself as the victim of some international conspiracy.
      The current PSUV heads are not that skilled and that’s one of the reasons we got such a victory in the latest elections.

      I think that by enforcing them to take the blame (by focusing on public opinion), you mark their agendas. Instead of being reactive, like recently.

  10. What Venezuela needs now is a personality. .Lopez maybe…get him out ..from what I have seen ,El Pueblo loves to get behind some one willing to fight…really pick a fight…they respect it…..coup’….call it whatever you like…it’s not going to happen politically. ..there is no teeth in it…..if it’s not one of yours…it will be one of theirs. ..military = Cuba= end of story

  11. There are several options open to the NA among them to enact a law which spells out what is meant and implied by constitutional texts which aren’t explicit enough that they leave room for a TSJ creative interpretation . A big part of the constitutions is made up of general norms which must be developed through more explicit and concrete legislation (this has been done routinely hundreds of times) , the second one to advance an amendment to the constitution which regulates in more explicit language the exact meaning of a particular norm …….in fact both routes can be followed .

    TheTSJ has authority to interpret the Constitution but not to use is interpretative faculties to enact laws nor to amend the constitution , this is a legitimate area for the constituent powers (which do not include the TSJ but does include the AN) to exercise its authority in performing those activities…..

    Something must be done also to stop the tribunals from arbitrarily using their administrative authority to stall or sabotage the actual operation of the processes of justice , like what happened in the case that brought ruin upon Judge Afiumi or which has allowed the case of the Deputies from the Amazon from having a decision taken which allows them to take their seats in the assembly ….this in effect is a denial of justice and should have consequences for the judges or prosecutors who incur in this misdeed.!!

  12. Something must be done also to stop the tribunals from arbitrarily using their administrative authority to stall or sabotage the actual operation of the processes of justice……
    Yeah Bill…what’s that domething?

    • What about going the Referendo Consultivo way: ask people if they consider the appointment of the new magistrates was valid and should be done again following the stablished procedures.
      Actually do this in tándem with the Referendo Revocatorio and you get two birds in one shot.
      TSJ are confy manouvering in their confy offices. Pit them against the electorate to shake the sh*t out of them.

  13. You ennact or ammend a law using old familiar drafting which makes it punishable for a tribunal or prosecutors not to meet the legal deadlines and lapses …..something which has them lose their jobs or pay a fine or have to abandon the case in such a way that it becomes ridiculous to declare it unconstitutional because you follow really venerable past procedure …..They may stop it , but they will have to show their asses to do so ….

  14. One action the AN can do is to proclaim to the world that whatever the executive branch does without the consent of the AN is null and void. Any additional debt, sale of state assets, agreements, shall not be honored once the current regime loses power.

    • A solid idea. And they did that, over the gold deal. That will probably end up in the court of international claims again and probably will cost at least the original settlement. The internal effects on the politics are also an interesting consideration. An article about Saudi Arabia outlined that the Saudis own Aramco, but let foreign guys who know how to run it, run it. They also implemented a savings plan for the bucks. Anyone know any specifics about the Gold Reserve thing, how much profit they get, how much Venezuela gets? One article said something about ownership, then another said it was a lease. Those are two different things. I didn’t see anything about terms other than what 49% ownership would imply, and the “wrap-around” of the settlement into the loan or [forward slash] investment Gold Reserve committed to.

  15. I really don’t see how the AN is going to be effective until the Regime is gone. And since every way to get rid of the Regime is blocked and the Constitution trampled upon and shredded in the process, the AN might as well pass every law quickly and overwhelm the senses of people who know that eventually, when the Regime is gone, all these things will be law and be ready to be sprung into action and quickly lead the recovery efforts…. Overwhelm the senses with the winds of change at a whirlwind pace with all the laws the People and Country want and need…And when this winds down, every single member of the TSJ should be tried and if guilty jailed for what has been the most horrendous abuse of Constiutional Powers ever committed in VZLAn history. These people must be locked up above all, because they are above all, even above the moribund Constitution. Their responsibility was huge and their actions grave… They are the ones who should be made most accountable. The shred of hope, lucid thinking and law making by the AN for the good of the country is being denied, causing irreparable harm to people, country, and Constitutional Order. These thugs should be where all the fury of the people is directed and focused and their removal from power and jailed made an ultimate, necessary goal. The TSJ right now is the pozo negro of the Pais.

  16. There is no way in hell that the Chavistas will ever willingly account to the AN. Chavista politics are set up on a military model where the Jefe barks orders and the Privates do as they are told. Since there is no way now to force the Chavistas to answer to the AN, it seems that the only power that can be brought to bear from the outside is the great power of public opinion, that is, the stonewalling that is going on has to be make widely public via every possible source.

    El Nacional is now showing some bollas and should be spoon fed every drop of blarney that the Chavistas are doing, even install a reporter in the assembly to get the blow-by-blow. Simply put, if the Chavistas won’t account to the assembly, force them to account to the country and to the world.

    the House of Maduuro has to be on shaky legs right now, and it shouldn’t take much to make it fall.

    Another idea I hear floating around is to pass a law that government folk retroactively guilty of illegal enrichment can be tried for treason against the state, which means revoking passports so the rats can’t run.

    And get LL the hell out of jail If nothing else, THAT will stir the pot.

    Aside from the great points raised by Ronaldo, Roy’s action make great sense:

    1. Approach the OAS with a formal request to invoke the Democratic Charter.
    2. Accelerate the call for a change in government with a specific process and timeline and a precise date for the removal of the president from office.

  17. Primero tenemos que hacer algo contra los enemigos que están dentro de la oposición misma. Ese fue el principal error que cometieron Leopoldo López, María Corina Machado y Antonio Ledezma. Ese es el primer paso.

  18. Shout out to those who criticized La Salida. Winning the NA was paramount, but make no mistake, Maduro will be ousted by wide spread protests never seen in the history of Venezuela.

  19. The interplay between the Street and Institutional change is definitely going to be interesting. The fact that the opposition has the Assembly by 2/3 and via the vote gives a legitimacy that any sort of forced resignation a year ago would have lacked. The Commissions and televised debate and the fact that Globovision and Venevision have to interview the opposition leaders and have lost some of their fear is all to the benefit of the MUD both internally and internationally. But the Supreme Court and the Executive’s decisions to block implementation of all laws promulgated by the Assembly clearly means that the X Factor of Street protest has to be implemented. And it can’t be directed by Capriles & Borges. And it has to end at Miraflores.

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