It’s been one of those days when if you bend down to tie your shoelaces, you miss an important development in Venezuela’s dawning Constitutional Crisis. The headlines:

  1. The Defense Minister, Vladimir Padrino López, flanked by all the army’s top generals, speaks to the nation in full battle gear. His words say one thing, his tone another.
  2. The chairman of the National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, replies to the speech on the floor of the A.N. with a highly vituperative, harshly personal speech blaming Padrino López personally for the fact people hate the Armed Forces now.
  3. The Assembly approves a motion to launch a “procedure to declare the president’s political responsibility for the breakdown of constitutional order”. From the floor of the Assembly, speaker after speaker uses the shorthand “political trial” (juicio político) to refer to it.  You will search in vain in the Venezuelan constitution for the text string “political trial”: it’s not there.

Vamos por partes. 

I thought Padrino López’s speech was…a lot more equivocal than people seem to realize. Judge for yourselves:

Yes he rejects the Assembly’s exhortations for him to disobey the president’s orders and renewed his pledge of loyalty to the Commander in Chief, but then he couldn’t very well not do that unless he was going to launch a coup, could he?

Significantly, he reads out the constitution’s Article 328, which establishes the Armed Forces as apolitical and in the service of the nation rather than any political partiality. This is one of those “inconvenient articles” chavista propaganda has banished from the public sphere, so to hear a Defense Minister cite it is highly significant. But then Padrino López goes on to argue that the Commander in Chief is not “a political partiality.” He closed the whole thing with a ¡Chávez vive!, but his speech steered clear of the kind of highly divisive language that’s the hallmark of chavismo.

I would’ve thought Henry would want to be a bit more measured in his approach to a guy like Padrino López who is still widely respected in military circles…I would’ve thought wrong. 

My sense is that he was trying to signal different things to different audiences, and not doing it terribly skillfully. We in Venezuela know very well what a classic chavista speech sounds like: the torrent of insults, of extreme declarations and wild sloganeering that State Propaganda carries around the clock. Stylistically, Padrino López was poles apart from that kind of speech — and in a context like this, style is substance.

To my befuddlement, Henry Ramos Allup doesn’t seem to have picked up any of that nuance: he lit into the Defense Minister with a blistering personal attack blaming him for corruption and the fact everyone hates the Armed Forces.

Check it out:

I would’ve thought Henry would want to be a bit more measured in his approach to a guy like Padrino López who is still widely respected in military circles…I would’ve thought wrong.

Finally, the National Assembly closed its debate approving a procedure described consistently “juicio político” against Nicolás Maduro, summoning him to appear before them on Tuesday.

This is a…peculiar gambit. The standard translation for “juicio político” is “impeachment”, but it’s clear there is no such figure in the Venezuelan constitution.

At the pace this crisis is developing, who knows what could happen in the 18 hours between now and then. 

Henry Ramos Allup, who is too much of a lawyer to ignore that fact, described it as a political procedure to establish the “political responsibility” for the crisis, distinguishing a “political trial” from a criminal trial. Still, there is neither a Constitutional basis nor a clear precedent for what the Assembly just approved with regard to Maduro.

For people now vowing to re-establish the constitution’s validity, this is a…weird road to go down. You’d think now more than ever legalism would be winning the day in the opposition. Instead, the attitude seems to be “well, if you’re going to make up weird new constitutional powers for yourselves, we can play that game too.”

It’s not a positive development.

Tomorrow will be a day of protests…but at the pace this crisis is developing, who knows what could happen in the 18 hours between now and then.

54 COMMENTS

  1. Come on, trying to say that the FFAA are apolitical after the GNB let Jorgito’s minions into the assembly? we’ve been playing this “tira-la-piedra-esconde-la-mano” game for too long. Of course grandpa Allup is pissed AF.

    I think you are trying to read too much into Vladimiro, hear the part of “ingerencia internacional” again.

  2. Ah sí, ahora las FAN son apolíticas. Y que paso con Patria, Socialismo o Muerte importado desde la Habana?.

    Y yo no sé porque ese poco de gordos con la tension alta andan en traje de campaña. Si ninguno le va a echar bola a nada en la calle y mucho menos correr detrás de un guarimbero. Ese mensaje sublimal ridiculo solamente se les ocurre a los idiotas cuyo mejor argumento es rasparte el armador de un AK-74.

    Nada más les falto decir: Chiabes te estraño!

  3. It seems to me that the alpha male approach works in Venezuela better than legality. Trying the same thing over and over again and expecting it to work the next time is a sign of insanity (or at least stupidity), maybe the NA just tried something new for a change.

    I agree it’s not necessarily a positive development, but it’s not the worst thing that could happen either. Who knows, maybe it’ll work.

  4. Really?
    Quico, this is the kind of BS that discourage people to keep up the fight.
    It couldn’t be any clear, Padrino is backing Maduro not the Constitution.
    Lets call the spade an spade.
    The overwhelming opposition opinion is contrary to this piece.
    Can you please post something more motivational for tomorrow historic rally?
    Thanks

    • Lepoldo Castillo tweets:
      Translation:Now we know beyond any doubt Padrino’s position. The good thing about this process is that there is no room for nuanced interpretations.

      Spanish: Ya sabemos sin ninguna duda donde se ubica Padrino. Lo bueno de este proceso es q no hay espacio para las medias tintas.”

  5. Well, if only legalism is ok, then the oppo should accept its defeat, right? Because, legally, only the Supreme Court can say what is or is not in the Constitution. From my point of view the time for a constitutional (or even peaceful) resolution for this whole mess was over a long, long time ago… But, then again, I am just a curious foreigner…

  6. “No precedent”?

    And what happened to CAP then? Wasn’t him “impeached” and thus kicked out of office for using the secret coffer to buy Violeta Chamorro a dress and hire some bodyguards during her takeover in Nicaragua?

    • No, he wasn’t impeached. Let’s revisit.

      The Attorney General introduced an action against CAP for embezzlement.
      The Supreme Court considered the accusation valid, then the Senate immediately stripped the president of his immunity.
      The president informed Congress he would not resign and would take a temporary leave to face the charges against him.
      Three months later, Congress declared his absence permanent and then removed him from the presidency.
      Octavio Lepage assumed the presidency as soon as CAP took his temporary leave but it caused quite a stir among members of Congress so he agreed to being replaced 14 days later.
      That’s how Ramón J. Velásquez stepped in and his presidency became permanent.

      It was a political trial disguised as a criminal one, as anyone can see. Impeachment is too general a word in the English language to call it that way.

      Contrary to what Quico stated, there is a clear precedent for what the Assembly just approved with regard to Maduro. They’d done the same move with Jaime Lusinchi back when they were called Congress. As to whether there is a Constitutional basis to do that, there may not be one but let’s not forget a fact of these times: whatever is not prohibited is permitted.

  7. It seems that Padrino Lopez wants to be Chavista and democratic at the same time. A hapless and untenable position.

    So he will not tolerate the abolition of the National Assembly, and he will support Maduro to the end. Except that Maduro runs roughshod with the TSJ rubber stamping his idiocy.

    The only way out of this is for Maduro to resign, by hook or by crook.

    • You are dreaming. Chavistas will never go peacefully. They are all about survival. What happens when gangs of thugs amp up their play and begin targeting areas of the opposition and even kidnapping the family members.

      What happens when Maduro puts the AN in prison for inciting violence against the gubmint?
      Like it or not, Maduro was elected and can play the victim in all of this.

      Remember, you have to kill the king and his court. Not just him this time.

      If the MUD don’t install a leader who disolves and arrests and then in prisons the TSJ, and installs new “judges”, the problem still exists. Then you still have the military who could care less as they only crave more power through all of this.

      Sorry, it’s just too much to overcome by a group of simple bandits with nicer clothes.

      There are not enough peasants to hold up pitchforks to influence the military. That ship has sailed last Sept and it was lost at sea only to return to it’s own port. Nothing was gained.

      Maybe I am all wrong and things will turn out for the better in spite of the challenges.

      Don’t blink.

  8. Quico keeps hoping against hope: “listen very closely, I see division”. Let me spell it out for you Mr. Toro: this government is going down by people’s pressure on the streets, not by any dialog or smart speech.

  9. The opposition asked, and they got their answer. Defense of the Constitution no less.

    At least we didn’t have to hear another wacky interpretation from the nation’s highest jurists on that point. The thugs have issued their judgment directly and spared us the formalities.

  10. Padrino’s declaration that the FANB is “apolitical” would have been more effective if it was not delivered while standing in front of a large picture of Chavez and various other symbols of the Chavista revolution. But, nevertheless I could see Francisco’s point that his speech was somewhat nuanced and could be interpreted as not pledging unconditional support to Maduro.

    However, the current situation doesn’t support nuance. Lines are being drawn that are very difficult to straddle. Statements not made with utter clarity get misinterpreted by both sides.

  11. No se por que pero me recuerda a un partido de Poker entre HRA y Padrino. Quien esta “bluffing”?
    Tal vez este equivocado, pero un parlamentario “seasoned” como Ramos no va a dar puntada sin dedal.

    Veremos que pasa durante la semana

  12. Padrino´s speech was more measured than normal, but don’t forget that he still has the reins on a lot of businesses and food distribution and has a lot to lose on the event of the fall of chavismo, so while it may be sensible for him to lower the tone a bit, something the entire goverment should do, we shouldn’t place any hope in him.

    Regarding the “jucio politico” thing, seems more like a headline magnet than anything else, the AN could still pass a “mocion de censura” against the president I think, wich would be mostly symbolic, this is what the people want and can give the impression abroad that the oppo is being playing ball.

  13. Fuck yeah. It’s time to call a spade a spade. The military has sat back while Maduro has run roughshod over the constitution, the AN, the people’s right to vote, etc etc etc. And let’s not forget their part in allowing Cuba intelligence to invade the country.

    Someone else mentioned alpha male and I agree. Throw some red meat to those who are sick and tired of trying to play pinkies with a bunch of ruthless pinkos.

  14. “Statements not made with utter clarity get misinterpreted by both sides.”

    That’s the best and most applicable line in this entire story.

  15. I think that the oppo is getting back into the right message. Yesterday’s meeting with the Vatican envoy and with a group of Chavistas was extremely odd. Almost like they had to be part of it because they did not want to lose the support of the Vatican. Today, Henry is right back on message based on the 9 points that were presented on Sunday.

    If the oppo keeps showing weakness like yesterday is going to lose momentum and the support large majority of people in Venezuela fed up with all the abuses from the government.

  16. Pardon my youngness, but, maybe they call “juicio politico” a procedure similar to what was used to take Perez (CAP) out of power, back in the 90’s. Could they be refering to this?

    • Well, you *can* try the president, but that is clearly not what’s happening here. To try the president 1993 style, you need the Tribunal:

      Artículo 266. Son atribuciones del Tribunal Supremo de Justicia:

      2. Declarar si hay o no mérito para el enjuiciamiento del Presidente o Presidenta de la República o quien haga sus veces, y en caso afirmativo, continuar conociendo de la causa previa autorización de la Asamblea Nacional, hasta sentencia definitiva.

      • Yeah, I suspected this, AN says “we’ve got ourselves a trial”, then the TSJ says “all is fine and dandy here”. Serrucho trancado.

        I was discussing this with my mom a few days ago, but since I wasnt sure how it happened with CAP (and she doesn’t remember)…

        Anyways, what a mess… Thanks for clarifying!

      • Two things Quico: first, you are right that there is no “Juicio Politico” in the Constitution, but the law does allow for the NA to declare the “abandono del cargo” and it gives no clear guidance on how that works (Jose Ignacio Hernandez will publish more details on how this works on Prodavinci, he has stated). So, this juicio politico can be framed in a way as to mean a political judgement on whether Maduro is responsible for all of this and is therefore found to have abandoned his position in practice. It doesn’t exactly exist as a mechanism, but it does not really go against the Constitution as far as I understand it (with absolutely no knowledge on the subject matter).

        Second: in my humble opinion, that speech by Padrino Lopez was HIGHLY partisan. I think you are a little numbed by the violent discourse of other chavista leaders, but his message was very clearly a slap on the face for anyone outside of the chavista clique. It could have easily been read by any other chavista in the NA.

        Thanks for the great article, though! And congrats on a fantastic website.

      • Play the same game as the chavistas, “we don’t need no stinkin’ constitution”.

        That’s tongue in cheek, of course, but you know what I mean. Limp-wristed responses to getting clubbed on the head has gotten us nowhere.

  17. What I hear is VPL backing up Maduro, although with measured words (the smart way to do it).
    He could have remained silent, instead he made his position with great clarity.

  18. FT, the military has never been your strength. Where do you get that Vlad is widely respected in military circles? This is so broad and vague, are you making up.for your lack of knowledge? VP runs cocaine for the top bosses. They have him by the balls. Price he paid for the job.

    VP is much better than predecessors at running the show. He is impecable and detail oriented. But he has his flaws

  19. I have to say that it may not have been the most diplomatic or strategic move, but damn, HRA really layed it thick on him. Damn that was savage.

    The Assembly sounds more like a bar than a lawmaking organism.

    • So, listening a bit to the other part… yea, wrong move HRA. I mean, yes, I get it, you got it out of you. But the one that sounds like a statesman, while saying mostly bullshit, is VPL, while HRA sounds… like the chavistas of old. Even if what he says is true.

      • Given that the guy is about to be arrested (killed?) and his AN dissolved, his answer was pretty reasonable. Context is important.

  20. Hijos e hijas de Bolívar y de Chávez…. ‘ nough said.

    Me llama la atención como los speechwriters usan la tercera persona cuando se refiere ( padrino) a la nación. Me parece que se les chispotea su identidad antillana.

    Apruebo lo de mostrarle un reto y apelar al macho más macho, a ver si alguien pisa la concha de mango…

  21. To see Padrino as heading a totally unified armed forces is to fool oneself , there are many groups within the armed forces each pursuing its own agenda and watching the others carefully and even intriguing to take over all or part of the others turf or privileges. Padrino is a man that balances the interests and agendas of all those groups while keeping himself aligned with the Powers that Be under the formal institutional structure. He is not independent but someone who stays on top by juggling with different pressures and interests……!! He must maintain the confidence of those groups within the army and also those of his political bosses, so his handling of language must meet many conflicting expectations at the same time !! When he feels that the balance of powers favours him somewhat he may take positions that are basically institutional ( e.g. insisting that the result of the parliamentary elections be honoured) , but he is riding a tiger on top of an elephant and his hold on power is probably pretty precarious……so he must be all things to all men…..and take care that he doenst offend those on which his authority as minister depends. He is much weaker than he appears and may however, under certain circumstances gather enough strenght to act decisively but thats not always….!!

    Thats why his speech is so incongruous and unsattisfactory …….!!

    Its clear HRA handles much information that we dont , one can speculate why he was so hard on Padrino , perhaps he wants Maduro to believe that he can be trusted to be hostile to the oppo (beause of the strong words used by HRA to criticize him) while actually being privy to knowledge that sees him as a potential ally. Maybe he wants to push Padrino to take a more assertive institutional stance by making him fear that the oppo can ultimately punish him for being so accommodating to Maduro’s regime …We really dont know but anything is possible.!!

    There are no constitutional underpinnings to a political trial of Maduro by the NA , but nothing that forbids it either, it would have the same force as a non revocatory plesbicite , with consequences which are moral rather than legal . pyschological rather than directly practical , Think of Vietnam , was the war lost in the battlefields of Vietnam or by the constant mass protests in the streets of US cities ?? Making a big spectacle of the countrys rejection of Maduros presidential authority can have big effects even if they are not necessarily legal…..!!

  22. Don’t get confused, Padrino had the EXACT style of being a completely “hijo de las remil p***s” for using ANOTHER of the classic chaburro-style arguments:

    “Problem? WHAT PROBLEM, DUDE, EVERYTHING IS JUST FINE! Stop being a whiny snob!”

    and

    “Kissing Chávez and Fidel’s asses is NOT ‘politicizing’, because ‘politicizing’ is inherently bad, and thus, BEING AGAINST FIDEL IS POLITICIZING! STOP POLITICIZING EVERYTHING! ÑÑÑAAAAAA!”

    No, Mr. Toro, Padrino didn’t use a “neutral-sounding argument”, he resorted to the most hateful mockery chavismo has used in these 17 years, punching people in the face and then laughing “Why are you hitting yourself, you twerp?”

    http://www.elchiguirebipolar.net/24-10-2016/maduro-hace-que-capriles-se-pegue-en-la-cara-con-su-propio-brazo-y-le-pide-deje-de-pegarse/

    This is the same style of response that could only be uttered from the muzzle of a distilled cretin as Luisiana Melo when she claimed that venezuelan people got sick too often and that they should stop getting sick to stop worrying about meds or the disgraced wretch that mocked the newborns being put in boxes saying “Well, they should DECORATE the boxes”

    • We know. Padrino was the whole talking of sweet nothings like the country is a perfect democratic heaven with fluffy clouds where the “brave” people live content and free and btw I’m Chavista so you know, shut up and enjoy this socialist paradise.

      BUT, said like he was calm, collected, and not looking for a fight. So it one of the same Chavista modes, but where they normally cant stand 1 second of going all “we are so democratic and nice” without unsaying themselves in the next line (like Maduro saying elections are how we will solve the governability issue because we are democratic and btw I dont know when elections are going to be because we have to be sure the wrong people cant win), here it was lacking the fire and brimstone part

      HRA, on the other hand, went all Chávez. The substance is there, all he says is true and yes, it makes the blood boil,, but he sounds hysterical and unstable and vulgar and … well, sounds like a Chavista.

      Not sure it is in the best interest of the country to get down to their level. No sure it is a good idea to put the situation into who has more balls.

  23. Shake dem fists!..
    Shake dem fists!..
    Murdah, arse-on, terrah,
    We’ll do aniii-tin,
    we’d do everiii-tin,
    to sit on da powaaa!.
    ‘nuf said
    This shithole’s our’s !!!

  24. The problem with PL’s speech is the upraised arm ending “Chavez Vive”, which indicates that he fell on the sword, but the wrong one. Word is that NM was huddled on the Island with RC this A.M.,and PL sent for him, saying everything was AOK.; this fits with CP’s Blog claim that PL was a FAN Bandera Roja infiltrate starting his career early 1980’s, and was a part of 4F, but failed to meet his objective. On the other hand, he was key to the recognition of the Oppo’s AN victory, so maybe he cuts both ways, depending on the wind. With coming Oppo marches, and probable anti-Oppo violence, including vs. HRA/et. al./AN, we will soon see if PL wants to stand beside his nefarious predecessors from Argentina/Chile, and be on the wrong side of history. HRA was entirely right in his tirade, although blame certainly should be spread more widely among Venezuela’s FAN..

  25. I know these are difficult times but when I see the picture of generals trying to look tough it makes me chuckle. Which one is the General of Diapers?

  26. It seems that you did not have the time to go thoroughly over the whole Constitution, even though this Constitution is not of my flavor please read the Articulo 222

    Art�culo 222

    La Asamblea Nacional podr� ejercer su funci�n de control mediante los siguientes mecanismos: las interpelaciones, las investigaciones, las preguntas, las autorizaciones y las aprobaciones parlamentarias previstas en esta Constituci�n y en la ley, y mediante cualquier otro mecanismo que establezcan las leyes y su reglamento. En ejercicio del control parlamentario, podr�n declarar la responsabilidad pol�tica de los funcionarios p�blicos o funcionarias p�blicas y solicitar al Poder Ciudadano que intente las acciones a que haya lugar para hacer efectiva tal responsabilidad.

    Constituci�n VE para BB10 – http://appworld.blackberry.com/webstore/content/19854778

    In other words Maduro would start with a juicio politico and end it in prison…

  27. If nothing else, HRA is a player who always seems to have an angle to his rants. It may be possible that by coming down so hard on PL, he was essentially passing the hot potato of the nation’s dire straights straight into PA’s hands, making HIM responsible for babies dying needlessly in hospitals with corpses exploding next door, for cannibals, and professors killing their pets for comida. It isn’t his fault, but if he is going to rooster around like a Desert Storm vet as the man in charge, maybe HRA’s rant was saying, in efffect, then what are you going to do about it? What can you do to clear the military’s curse and restore their good standing with the people. These Game-of-Thrones style power plays have unpredictable outcomes, so no telling. That much said, it’s fantastic to try and imagine what shape any “dialogue” might take between the Chavistas and the AN. Since the Chavistas are only know for dictating orders, hollow pronouncements and imperialist salvos, what could they possibly offer in the way of negotiations? And with absolutely no move to change basic policies, and narrowly escaping a total collapse by squeaking out some breathing room with the bond swap (which I didn’t think they would), they must know the whole thing is doomed sooner than later. Will Maduro be sacrificed? Fuck if I know….

  28. “Since the Chavistas are only know for dictating orders, hollow pronouncements and imperialist salvos ….”

    Pretty much sums it up, very neatly. They promise a country, an economy, a stability, a fairness … and it’s all vacant, a vacuum, hollow. The tide of oil money recedes, and leaves behind a stinking, mudflat garbage dump for seagulls to scavenge. Socialism.

  29. It’s tough to say what the regime is thinking or what the military is thinking. But a frontal assault on the AN seems like it would be too much of a hot potato. Better to leave them as they are; powerless and ranting.

    • I might be the only one, but the Vatican involvement was smart for exactly that reason. Padrino & Maduro would like nothing better than to squash the opposition and AN, declaring both null & void. The Vatican (knowingly or unknowingly) is acting as another buffer from doing this, while the AN starts the juicio politico process and the protests begin again on the streets.

      It seems the AN/opposition is laying the groundwork for another standoff, which will create leverage for an eventual negotiation…

  30. Francisco, as usual, great summary of what happened. However, and regarding the “jucio político”, even though is not literally mentioned in the Constitution, it is a thing, it does exist in our legal system, and it is covered in articles 232 and 222 of the Constitution. As you said, a legalite as Henry would have never done ese pasito en falso… he knows it, very well.

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