A state of emergency decree is like one of those red shiny emergency cabinets that read “In case of emergency break glass”. It’s meant to be issued only when the Executive Branch is unable to face an emergency with its ordinary powers – which are pretty huge. #CaracazoWeek provides an excellent chance to look at the ser and the deber ser of states of emergency. In these days of permanent rule-via-emergency, it’s easy to forget an emergency decree is meant to address precisely that: an emergency.

Let’s recall: the Caracazo witnessed a landmark such state of emergency declaration. Faced with serious disorder and looting, president Carlos Andrés Pérez issued Presidential Decree No. 49 for a “suspension of guarantees” —which was the term used in the 1961 Constitution— published in Gaceta Oficial No. 34.168, 28 Feb, 1989.

The first two recitals of the decree are revealing,

Whereas over the last several hours Caracas and other cities have witnessed a series of events that constitute grave violations to public order and have caused consternation among the population.

Whereas the social tension generated by the crisis the country has been facing has given rise to an explosion of violence, acts of vandalism, and attacks on Venezuelans’ personal and family property, in the loss of life and many goods, which further worsens the country’s economic situation

Que en el curso de las últimas horas se han producido en Caracas y en otras ciudades del país una serie de hechos que configuran graves alteraciones del orden público y han ocasionado zozobra en la colectividad.

Que la tensión social generada por la crisis que viene confrontando el país ha servido para propiciar estallidos de violencia, actos de vandalismo y atentados contra la seguridad personal y familiar de los venezolanos, en la pérdida de vidas y de cuantiosos bienes que agravan aún más la situación económica del país.

The abuses in the application of the Decree of State of exception on the occasion of “El Caracazo” are enshrined in our collective memory. A full account of such abuses —and crimes— can be seen in the judgement handed down by the Inter-American Court of human rights of 11 November 1999. The Court found a number of military and civilian officials carried out executions in shantytowns, and added there is no certainty about the number of victims.


Twenty seven years later the government has once again resorted to a state of emergency. The current one, set out in Gaceta Oficial N ° 6.227 extraordinaria, May 13th, 2016, is the second of 2016, was issued supposedly to prevent alterations of the public order.

Yet the current one appears aimed more at extending the government’s regular powers than at restoring order. Couched in terms of the discourse of foreign threats and people’s power, it’s not hard to see who it’s really aimed at.

For example, one of its recitals reads

Whereas certain economic agents active in our country, backed by foreign interests, hinder Venezuelans’ timely access to goods and services that are indispensible to a dignified family, deliberately generating discontent in the population through distortionary phenomena such as “bachaqueo”, induced queues and a climate of consternation and incitement to fraternal violence.

Que ciertos agentes económicos que hacen vida en el país, auspiciados por intereses extranjeros, obstaculizan el acceso oportuno de las venezolanas y los venezolanos a bienes y servicios indispensables para la vida digna de la familia venezolana, generando de manera deliberada malestar en la población a través de fenómenos distorsivos como el “bachaqueo”, las colas inducidas y un clima de desasosiego e incitación a la violencia entre hermanos.

Paragraph 9 of article 2 is particularly significant, because through it the President decides to,

Attribute the role of oversight and organization to the Local Committees for Supply and Distribution (CLAP), to Communal Councils and other grassroots organizations of the people’s power, together with the Armed Forces, the National Bolivarian Police and State and Municipal police, to maintain public order and guarantee the country’s security and sovereignty.

Atribuir funciones de vigilancia y organización a los Comités Locales de Abastecimiento y Distribución (CLAP), a los Consejos Comunales y demás organizaciones de base del Poder Popular, conjuntamente con la Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana, Policía Nacional Bolivariana, Cuerpos de Policía Estadal y Municipal, para mantener el orden público y garantizar la seguridad y soberanía en el país.

Or, for example, paragraph 10 of the same article 2 grants,

Authorization to relevant ministers to dictate measures that guarantee the sale of price-controlled products according to opportunity timetables that respond to the given characteristics of a region or area, giving priority to the interest of guaranteeing access to goods with due controls and oversight, with the goal of ensuring that first necessity goods reach the entire population, through a just distribution of products that destimulates their hoarding and resale.

La autorización a los Ministros o Ministras competentes para dictar medidas que garanticen la venta de productos regulados según cronogramas de oportunidad que respondan a las particulares características de la zona o región, prevaleciendo el interés en el acceso a los bienes con el debido control y supervisión, y con el fin de lograr que los artículos de primera necesidad lleguen a toda la población, mediante una justa distribución de productos que desestimule el acaparamiento y reventa de éstos.

In the ongoing economic emergency decree, the Government disavows all responsibility for the current crisis and hands off responsibility for solving it to other entities. Of course, the root of the problem is the a clear misunderstanding of the real causes of the current crisis.


The 1989 state of emergency was an extraordinary response to an extraordinary situation, although —as the Venezuelan State itself acknowledged at the hearing before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights— civil servants and military committed unjustifiable and cruel abuses, which caused the death of an undetermined number of Venezuelans.

Moreover, it was an exceptional regime for a short period of time.

By contrast, the current Executive Branch has completely distorted the state of emergency by turning it into a routine measure for administration, one already in place for several months now. In fact, the Executive has fraudulently extended the economic emergency decree on three occasions, by approving two supposedly different decrees and extending both. Article 337 of the Constitution allows only a single extension. This has given the Executive Branch extraordinary powers for much longer than the Constitution allows.

And not only has the current economic emergency decree has been unjustified, but it has also been incredibly useless to because the current crisis -the one it was meant to solve- has worsened.

The social disorder and abuses of the Venezuelan State occurred during and after El Caracazo should be a permanent reminder of where we can get as a society.

But, above all, of the way unchecked power can easily get out of control.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Carl Schmitt, the Nazi jurist so beloved of the Venezuelan Supreme Court, put it this way: “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.”

  2. Since many of you reading and posting here are not only native Venezuelans, but apparently also have socialist leanings (“socialist” not in the sense of communism, but in the sense of broad state control over distribution of resources such as housing, foods, and other commodities of life), I have a question which perhaps you (or even the capitalists here) can answer.

    What is it that Maduro & Co. want for Venezuela?

    It appears to me that they’re set to destroy the country by undermining production. If what they want for the country is no more than for them to remain in positions of power, privilege, and immunity, then why would they want to harm the proverbial goose that laid the golden eggs? Or are they simply totally convinced that their version of “El socialismo del siglo XXI” is the best for the country?

    • You answered yourself: they only want to remain in power and they’re convinced that this absurdity about “El Socialismo del Siglo XXI” is the best for the country.

      One might add that many of them are expected to face prosecution for criminal charges both within the country and abroad. Whether these trials ever happen or result in convictions, that remains to be seen, but the fact is that right now, they’re protected by their unique position. Once they lost that, there’s no telling what will happen to them, if anything.

    • It is a mistake to always try to find out a clear plan or rationale for stuff like this. Like, all that is happening is because they have a plan.

      They dont have a plan. Some of the things they do is because some of them are dogmatic and their answer to seeing their controls and their threats fail is “we need more controls and more threats”. Some of them are more pragmatic but they are looking for #1, themselves. Some of them may want to do something different but who is going to go and say “hey, you know what, masses of people we have lied for years, it seems we were wrong and some of the glorious measures of revolutionary dignity and pride where actually very shitty, and we need to go back to what the opposition was saying”. Some are, yes, convinced their XXI Century Socialism is the best for the country, to the point of that if it means people have to die of hunger and lack of medicine it is good because the future… Some are just looking for a way out with their loot.

      Coherent plans? None. None beyond what gives them a few more days to keep searching for a way out.

  3. Javier, Jesus – Gracias. Entiendo un poco mas. Lo que dicen encaja con la encuesta demonstrando que chavistas y MUD y Nini estan casi parejos en acuerdo en various puntos clave (como por ejemplo, propriedad privada), y con lo que dijo Maduro “Nosotros tenemos que vivir de rumba en rumba” – y claro, el humor de HRA “Delcy Rodriguez es capaz de chocar un carro apagado”. Sigo sin entender como uno pudiera querer chocar un carro apagado – chavismo seria un choque, pues. Possiblemente una razon por la qual es tan deficil sacarlos es que no tienen plan, no tienen medida contra la cual evaluar el exito … y el fracaso.

    Dataincorp hiso la encuesta que aparece en Dolar Today “El 83% de los chavistas apoyan las propuestas economicas de los oppositores”.

  4. This is what still puzzles me:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/latam-bonds-idUSL1N1AK21C

    Clearly, Venezuela would like its bond prices higher, if they are thinking of rolling out the maturity. Clearly, that would help Maduro, S.A. stay in power (I’m not saying it would keep them in power, just that it would be a tiny bit of help). Clearly, they’ve put a lot of effort into paying interest.

    So why would they dump Abad?

    I don’t follow bonds,so maybe they concluded whatever they were doing to readjust them. But there are any number of moves they could make which would work to their advantage – like maybe stop bad-mouthing everyone else in the world who doesn’t agree with them might have helped them with Mercosur.

    It is the opposite logic I don’t get. Like the L.A. riots in which residents of the community burned down shops and stores which served them, reducing their own supplies and conveniences, this opposite logic sounds deliberate.

    • Gringo one thing history teaches us is that a lot of people are not at all times and primarily motivated by rational self interest but by the emotional need to indulge in morally glamorized rages that inflame their ego and make them feel heroic and grand , most people lead mediochre lives or carry the open wounds of many humbling failures and frustrations or have had life experiences that has made them into megalomaniacal narcicists that crave representing the role of enraged warriors in war against an evil order or system that has victimized them or others they identify with…..!!,,,people who are swept by the pull of ego agrandizing histrionic passions ….!!

  5. “… carry the open wounds of many humbling failures and frustrations …” – that phrase struck my reality. In the context of your entire explanation. Yeah … I can see that, or feel it somehow. You must lead a very clean life, to be able to extend your understanding of others that far! To calmly look at things. I have a lot of economics and quantitative stuff in my background and present. Some formal logic. Some Aristotle. I bet somewhere in religious writings there is something to the effect that “their own sins shall destroy them”. Horrible watching it, seeing someone destroy themselves in such a horrible manner. Me, with my ego, I’ll get over it quickly, but right now I feel humbled by your explanation. Really, I’ve read some psychology and social studies, but do not recall running into any explanation as succinct as yours. I’ll continue to look at the phenomena you describe. Thanks, dude – that explains it. When one can identify the disease and its characteristics, one can begin working on a cure. I hope we, collectively as good men, can find one.

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