Last night, President Maduro made an announcement that could change the game. Rolling out yet another mission billed as the Cure to the Common Shortage (but which in fact simply gives the government even more discretional power), Maduro announced that the Defense Minister, Vladimir Padrino López, will henceforth wield powers that…are just not normal for a Defense Minister.

The only way to pull it off is with a single commander in charge. A single command, gentlemen. All ministries, all the ministers, all the institutions of the state are henceforth at the command and the absolute subordination of the National Command of the Gran Misión Abastecimiento Soberano y Seguro, under the command of the president of the republic and under the command of General-in-Chief Vladimir Padrino López, beginning immediately. All ministries.

La única forma de hacerlo es con un solo mando. Mando único, caballero. Todos los ministerios, todos los ministros y ministras, todas las instituciones del Estado quedan bajo el orden y la subordinación absoluta al Comando Nacional de la Gran Misión Abastecimiento Soberano y Seguro, bajo el mando del presidente de la República y bajo el mando del general en jefe Vladimir Padrino López a partir de este momento. Todos los ministerios.

This new arrangement is…well, there are any number of adjectives you could attach to it.

‘Unprecedented’ is certainly one. ‘Plainly unconstitutional’, is another — but that almost goes without saying these days. ‘Bizarre’ fits the bill for sure — only in Venezuela could you have an announcement of a “single” command that consists of having everyone report to two different people. And ‘coup-y’? Oh, definitely ‘coup-y’.

We’ll need to review the fine print, obviously, but on its face Maduro has appointed Padrino López to some made-up new post that’s nowhere to be found in the constitution, something clearly outranking the vice-president and only tenuously below the president’s own level of power.

This comes just days after Maduro unexpectedly kept him on-board as defense minister, despite widespread expectations that he would be replaced. It happens on the day Mercosur suspends Venezuela’s rotating presidency, on the day Citibank announces it will suspend the Central Bank and the Banco de Venezuela’s accounts there. #ExcesivamenteNormal, puej.

Is this the first move in a resignation choreography? What does this mean for the mediation effort due to get underway as soon as today? Is this the same Padrino López who short-circuited PSUV’s power-play during #BarandaTime on the night of legislative elections on December 6th last year? What exactly is happening here?

We’re piecing it together.

For now, all that we know is that the crisis seems to have shifted gears last night. Things are probably going to start happening faster now. It’s probably premature to talk about the end game just yet. But a lot less premature than it was at this time yesterday.

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