It’s all about the courts


A few days ago, our very own Raúl Stolk stirred the pot over in the Daily Beast. In his terrific piece, he makes a point that escapes a lot of foreign watchers of Venezuela’s cataclysm: the regime is being increasingly held up by the courts, and the outcome depends in large part on what the court decides to do (or not do).

Raúl lays the history of chavista interventions in the judiciary: from the first signs of institutional suicide to the Chávez juggernaut to the final nail on the coffin with the naming of the last few justices. After visiting Caracas, Raúl related the sense of dread and despair on the streets, the palpable hunger for an outcome to the crisis, with what the courts decide to do.

In a Stolk-ian piece of flourish, he focuses on maracucho Calixto Ortega, chavista fixer par excellence, whom he names the Tom Hagen of the revolution. The sirloin:

“Ortega’s militancy with the government party goes back to the beginning of the Chávez years. In those days, Ortega held a spot in the National Assembly for the government party. It was said of him that he was one of two government party deputies —the other one being Nicolás Maduro— who had the good sense to tend bridges with their opponents. He was easy to talk to and negotiate with, while stirring his scotch and soda with his little finger. His diplomatic manner may have been the reason the Venezuelan government appointed him chargé d’affaires in the United States in 2013. They needed someone who wasn’t allergic to capitalism, and who could serve as liaison with the US when things got tough: someone loyal who could do some damage control when it was required. And he did.”

The stories about the triple-chinned Ortega’s tastes for the high life are the stuff of legend. That the fate of our country relies on the whims of a shady character who, among other things, was in charge of helping narco-general Hugo Carvajal escape his Aruban prison … is a sign of the depth of our tragedy.

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  1. Do I understand Raul to be saying that this Ortega character is both a member of the National Assembly AND sits on the supreme court? If so, that’s totally insane.

    • It’s not a “venezolanism”. It is a Nagelism. Juan used to use the phrase “value added”… all the time. He got called on it, and after some struggle came up with “sirloin” instead. Personally, I find it awkward, and would rather not see a stock phrase used to introduce what he found to be a particularly salient point. But, at some point, I just began to ignore it. So, there you have it.

          • I used to use the money quote, but it was copied from someone else. Then I started using the value added, but that sounded awkward. El lomito is the best I could come up with, but suggestions are welcome.

          • Juan, first I hope you take this as constructive criticism. I can’t produce article after article like you do, so my perspective is as a reader, not a writer.

            The root of the problem the constant use of the phrase “the money quote”. It came off as contrived, and it didn’t get better with repetition. One time was OK, but after I had seen it a dozen times, it began to grate. The substitutions all had the same problem, but “the sirloin” felt even more contrived. As well, for the new CC reader, it is seems very odd, even though they “get it” from context.

            My suggestion is to introduce the quotations you want to highlight by telling us why you think they are important. Examples:

            John Smith really nails his point in this paragraph….

            John Smith summarizes the problem well in this part…

            John Smith skewers DC’s pathetic response to the problem in this passage…

            Hope this helps! And, keep up the good work.

          • The thing i think that you are supposed to be writing for an international audience i think, or is it just for venezuelans who wants to practice english?

  2. Not to make this too long, but Calixto just goes where he is needed: Parliament, foreign ministry, Supreme Court… It is all the same to him.

    He was a lawmaker when I first met him (during testimony to the Permanent Commission on Foreign Affairs, which he sat on at the time).

    Then he moved to the foreign ministry and first became become its top man at the embassy in Washington DC as Venezuela’s chargé d’affaires: Chief of Mission and the closest thing the country had to an ambassador there. On his return, he was named deputy foreign minister

    Now he is at the Supreme Court but he is not a radical. The Economist calls him as “a moderate with good contacts in the United States.” He has even better contacts with the bolibourgeoisie. I shared a table with him and a couple of ambassadors at the wedding of Antonio Cedeño’s daughter, a lavish bash held at the JW Marriott. More importantly, though, Calixto also has good relations with the opposition. Ambassador Julio César Pineda held a class a few years back which taught diplomacy and international relations at a more serious level than the foreign ministry’s own Pedro Gual institute, the diplomatic academy, which he invited me to guest-lecture one day. Among his forty-four students were quite a few senior civil servants, some Seniat people, Army officers, and … Calixto Ortega!

    In the current context — and knowing Calixto — I would absolutely not be concerned with the fact that he sprung General Carvajal and saved him from near-certain extradition to the States. Calixto was just tasked with doing a job and he did it.

    I would be more worried about having diehard “true believers” like Luis Damiani, longtime PCV cadre, on the Supreme Court now. They are the ones who prefer to go down with the ship, whereas Calixto is the pragmatic kind. His outlook is like that of Roy Chaderton, the former foreign minister, who is only onboard with the revolution as long as the revolution shows staying-power (my driver in Venezuela, a former DISIP officer, previously spent two years driving for Roy Chaderton and the only thing “Bolivarian” about Chaderton is the rhetoric he spews for public consumption. Por ahora.)

    • Fun anecdote – Ortega was a student of my dad’s at law school. He still greets him fondly when they bump into each other.

  3. The strong arm methods used by the regime to extort the netherlands and its caribbean islands to forego Carvajals extradition to the US were those only a savage gangster and thug would use ……if that is a sign of this mans modus operandi….God help us all…….!!


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