Here’s something you don’t hear every day: a bill passed days ago by the National Assembly has just been signed into law by President Maduro, who just days ago was thundering about shutting down the Assembly altogether. It even got published in the Gaceta Oficial, which seals the deal. What gives!?
We’re talking about the Law to Regulate the Use of Mobile Phones and the Internet Inside Prisons (Ley que Regula el Uso de Telefonía Celular y la Internet en el Interior de los Establecimientos Penitenciarios, Gaceta Oficial Extraordinaria N° 6. 240), designed to ban the use of cell phones in jail.
For some —including yours truly— this is all rather confusing: we thought cellphones were already banned for inmates.
Then again, is not a matter of the laws but their enforcement. Venezuela has far too many laws as it is, but it’s still pretty lawless.
This is the only mechanism for the opposition to do something in the fight against the organized crimes committed by inmates with the use of cell phones. And trust me, they are scary and could truly happen to anyone.
This one happened to a close friend of this blog.
Two weeks ago, our friend took his baby to her first medical checkup. About two hours after returning home, he started getting threatening text messages, saying someone wanted him dead. That someone had followed him home from the hospital and knew he was with his wife and baby. They told him he would have to pay to save himself and his family.
Our friend returned the call several times, but no one answered. They started calling his house and left messages on the answering machine.
He went to the anti-extortion and kidnapping brigade of the CICPC, and gave them the cellphone number from where Friend was receiving the texts and calls. The CICPC tracked the number and to the area of Tocuyito prison. Our friend went to file a complaint, but when the number was checked again, it had just been disconnected due to a separate complaint.
That’s when he began to piece together how his data had probably been stolen: the parking lot was full at the hospital, so he parked the car at a mall across the street and left the car with a valet who saw him walking to the hospital with his wife and baby. He had left some insurance papers in the car, with all the personal data needed to run the scam. The data likely got handed off to an extortionist inside Tocuyito, and the rest was terrifying history.
Still, having the executive and the legislature work together on anything these days in Venezuela is so exceptional, it’s hard not to ask yourself questions.
It wouldn’t be entirely surprising if the TSJ had somehow said that the National Assembly is usurping the powers of the National Executive: these are, after all, people who threatened to sanction the legislature for overstepping its powers for approving a Health Crisis Law.
The TSJ could easily say that there are no available resources enforce this law, since it sets a period of nine months (from today) for the Prisons Ministry to install equipment designed to jam cell phone and internet signals in all prisons. The Ministry must also install landline phones to allow inmates to communicate with the outside world. This argument would be rather far-fetched, but in Venezuela these days the far-fetched is our bread and butter.
Signing this bill into law now signals that the bluster about shutting down the National Assembly is —at least for now— just noise: you wouldn’t give an Assembly you’re right about to shut down a legitimacy-boost like this one. It may be a stretch to glean Padrino’s fingerprints here, but who can tell?
The move may have been calibrated to show that Maduro and his combo will allow the opposition to do some things, just as long as they don’t block or hinder the advance of the revolution.
The new law might do some good —we hope so—, but is not as popular as the law on food vouchers for old folks, which was blocked due to judicial grumbling over financial feasibility. And trust me: if the law does some good, Maduro will claim the credit.
In any case, this is a good sign: an applicable law pushed forward by the opposition was published in the Gaceta Oficial and the Central Government must now enforce it. It’s a small step for Maduro, but a giant leap for the National Assembly.