The Game the TSJ is Playing

Chavista courts are playing a dangerous game. By declaring the National Assembly ineffective, they want to taint the political process as a whole. They are falling into the abyss, and they are intent of bringing the opposition down with them.

Venezuela is no place for “I-told-you-so’s.” Nope. In this land, your crazy cat-lady aunt from El Cafetal is as lucid a political forecaster as you’re gonna get. She’s usually right, because it doesn’t take Luis Vicente León-worthy fortune telling skills to figure out what people are up to: Chavismo has always been quite obvious and vocal about their intentions.

This is why nobody who says they saw what was going to happen after the legislative elections can claim any sort of superior forecasting power.

We all knew, for example, that the government would use the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal, our beloved TSJ, to shackle the opposition-led National Assembly (la AN). It doesn’t take a genius to see that Maduro’s pet court was out to do one thing from the get go: take everyone down with them.

We’ve discussed this extensively on the blog. We were not the first to say it, but we wanted to chronicle what, to some, were Cafetal cat-lady aunt theories in a way that our friends abroad could easily digest.

Take last week’s sham. Through a ruling, the TSJ basically tried to abolish the AN via its Rules of Debate, rules chavismo had disfigured to hyperempower their simple majority after they lost their unanimous hold on the AN in 2010.

To add insult to injury, the instrument they picked was a five-year old injunction introduced by opposition deputies to prevent the chavista majority from stripping the (then) minority of their powers.  

In brief: they subverted the legislative process by tying the passing of laws to some sort of popular consultation process (what chavistas call “streetside parliamentarianism”) which they came up with by mixing peyote with cocuy. It’s simply impossible to interpret that the Constitution mandates any such thing.

Aside from this, they made the legislative process much more cumbersome. Now, the agenda for debates can’t be modified, and the summons need to be made 48 hours in advance. They eliminated time limits for Assembly Members’ interventions so that now everyone can be a little Chávez. And, the cherry on top: they invented a new requirement that any bill brought to the Assembly floor must be subjected to the Executive Branch first for “approval of its economic viability.”

Since before the new AN deputies took their oath, we were expecting a clash with the TSJ. Everybody knows the role the TSJ plays in the politics of post-chavismo. What people may need reminding of is the role it played before we got to this point. Which brings us to the question: How deeply rooted is the influence of the TSJ in the all around crisis that Venezuela undergoes today?

Deeper than you’d think. They enabled 21st century socialism (or whatever it’s called today) and have protected it since conception.

We constantly go back to Antonio Canova’s (et al) work on the 45,474 decisions TSJ made in 2005-2014, never once ruling against the government. 

But sometimes we miss what’s really behind these monstrous statistics. What they’ve done goes beyond the specifics of the cases they’re ruling on.

The TSJ has created a culture of impunity that has permeated the entire justice system they preside over and, in consequence, the public administration as a whole. They’ve programmed helplessness into the brains of Venezuelans. That’s why no one files civil lawsuits these days. That’s why crimes are not reported, and why you could get cheap dollars to import imaginary moringa containers and get away with it.    

In my view, the TSJ is 70% —give or take—  accountable for the decay of the rule of law in our country.

And in the end, the country has become a safe haven for crime. Even Luisa Ortega Díaz, Attorney General since the Chávez days, agrees. In her “memoria y cuenta” before the AN, she kind of let slip that the courts were mostly accountable for letting criminals back in the streets.

The TSJ enabled chavismo. It protected its culprits by weaving a system that could be relied on never to hold them to account. 

But our highest court’s role today is somewhat different. It’s not about ensuring the survival of chavismo anymore. It’s about making sure when chavismo does go down – as it plainly will – it brings down the whole of the nation with it.

Plays like using an injunction Maria Corina Machado signed in 2011 to neuter the AN give the game away. These people aren’t content to just flout the basics of juridical reasoning, they’re determined to let nobody miss the message: we’re not just here to make sure you can’t take power, we’re determined to humiliate you in the process.

Decisions such as their ludicrous rewriting of the Rules of Debate take aim at the MUD’s most important source political capital: the faith of the people who just elected them. Getting them all into a funk where they’re none of it was worth it seems to be the whole point. TSJ is chavismo’s premier mechanism for demobilizing us. 

This is why it was so important that the AN go beyond Ramos Allup’s political showmanship or his attempts to play inside baseball with the Vice-President and defies the bizarre mockery of justice the TSJ now embodies.

Sadly, it hasn’t.

Things are getting really bad really fast. The country is going to need solid leadership to turn to once the inevitable collapse of this failed regime is consummated. TSJ’s role is now less to prevent a collapse – which is no longer possible – but to prevent the opposition from leading the country out of collapse in something like an orderly fashion. 

Is it working? Judging by the latest Venebarómetro poll, the answer is yes. Approval ratings for the National Assembly have dropped since February, from 64% to about 50% currently. Meanwhile, the National Assembly’s negatives have climbed from 28% to 44% in two months.

The good thing, for now, is that the AN doesn’t seem to be abiding by the TSJ’s ruling. It’s  taking bolder stances, like dismissing Rodolfo Marco Torres, former Finance Minister and current Minister of Food. TSJ’s decision nullifying yet one more of the functions the constitution explicitly reserves to the Assembly shouldn’t take long now.

Chavismo has no prospects of recovery. In effect, chavismo has ended. Whatever rotting corpse of a movement remains, its final goal is to turn its self-destruction into a murder-suicide, clinging to its political adversaries hoping to drag them down into the same dark pit they’ve taken up permanent residence in.

The question here is whether chavismo will be able to turn the anti-politics that brought them into power into a permanent feature of our public sphere. 

What will the waters bring if they succeed? Who will be around to take the helm?

I don’t know. Might as well go ask my crazy cat-lady aunt in El Cafetal.