Translated by Javier Liendo
César Miguel Rondón: The TSJ has issued Order 155 which, in practice, finally reveals the full gravity of the situation. You might have heard the statements of Dr. Román Duque Corredor about what’s happening and so… what’s next? Because, de facto, they dissolved the National Assembly, and they threatened to imprison all opposition lawmakers. As Ramón Piñango said to El Nacional, the idea is to get rid of any kind of elections, general, national, gubernatorial, presidential or otherwise, either this year or in 2018, or in 2019, and Nicolás Maduro has been transformed into a kind of monarch, a kind of emperor. Yesterday, Duque himself said that there has never been an order such as this in the entire history of the Republic. I have here some questions that our audience posted on Twitter with the hashtag #AsaltoALaAsamblea, but I’ll read them to you as the conversation evolves. Henry.
This is the 55th order issued by the illegally established Constitutional Chamber against the National Assembly.
Henry Ramos Allup: Well, one thing at a time, César Miguel.
Firstly, I paid close attention to Dr. Duque Corredor’s stance, and legally speaking, I fully agree with it. With his authority as a great jurist and as a man with broad and respected academic and practical experience, he synthesizes what we’ve been talking about, and I’ve been insisting on this since I was Assembly Speaker and the successive TSJ orders started pouring in. I expressly talked about this. Something worth mentioning: first, this is the 55th order issued by the illegally established Constitutional Chamber (highest organ of the TSJ) against the National Assembly.
Second, beyond what it says about assuming Parliament’s authority and doing whatever it wants, synthesizing what it’s been doing with previous orders, there’s an aspect that few people have mentioned; the order not only says that the Constitutional Chamber assumes the Assembly’s authority, but that it may transfer that authority to an as-yet unnamed third institution. This also violates an essential principle of public law, which is the principle of non-transferable public authority. The Tribunal can’t transfer its power to issue judicial orders to any other institutions. The President can’t transfer his power to manage public funds to any other institutions. Same with the National Assembly and its capacity to legislate, and if the Tribunal is now assuming the capacity to legislate, even if that were constitutionally viable, it could still not transfer that capacity, but exercise it directly.
When Dr. Duque says what we’ve been saying, that this Tribunal is illegal established, it’s because its members are these justices hand-picked by the regime, and now they’ve taken to show solidarity in their joint statements, but well.
CMR: And nobody has the courage to accept individual responsibility.
HRA: Yes. There’s no Rule of Law, the Constitution is being systematically violated, and the worst thing is, César Miguel, that they send random messages here and there, because they’re concerned about what will happen to them when change comes, because it will eventually change, hopefully sooner rather than later, and they’ll have to answer before justice for systematically violating the Constitution, because not only have they mocked popular sovereignty, they’ve also interpreted the Constitution against itself.
Even though it’s true that the Constitution establishes that the Constitutional Chamber is the final interpreter of the Constitution, they can’t do that against the very text of that same Constitution, which means that in the exercise of their capacities, they couldn’t interpret that the death penalty is constitutional in Venezuela, for instance, because the Constitution prohibits it. So, among the many violations they’ve committed, they’ve interpreted the Constitution against itself: they quoted constitutional articles differently than how they’re established and were voted for in the Constituent Assembly.
Of course the situation is extremely severe, there’s no Rule of Law or Branch Autonomy here; the Constitution is disrespected and there are political prisoners here; Freedom of Speech is exercised with great difficulty and risks, in addition to the humanitarian crisis.
This is a criminal and failed regime that fits that exact definition as specified in international law. Now to answer the inevitable question: What can we do? Exactly what Dr. Duque said. We must firmly resist this Tribunal’s violations, both individually and collectively, but also appeal to all international institutions: the OAS, the European Community, the World Inter Parliamentary Union, the European Parliament. And this is precisely what troubles this regime, and they don’t realize that these constant complaints to international institutions about their barbarities have most severely damaged their international standing.
Right now, the private citizen is completely helpless, orphaned. In my humble opinion, I think the least the government’s after with this order is to imprison all opposition lawmakers, after blatantly declaring their empire.
CMR: Henry, we were saying earlier today while we analyzed the recent developments, that the opposition has been light on the government. We’ve heard time and again that the political cost of the regime’s decisions should be increased, but that has never happened. The costs have remained low and so, “‘ta barato, dame dos” as they say. Regarding the international pressure you refer to, the OAS, after the interventions of Delcy Rodríguez, on the one hand, and Samuel Moncada, on the other, it was fairly evident that they care little what happens at the OAS. In fact, Maduro already said that they don’t need the OAS because it’s not useful for them. In other words, it seems that they’ll pull out of the OAS themselves before they do anything else.
If they don’t care about the OAS, which is the regional forum, they’ll care even less about the United Nations or the European Union. They just don’t care. And internally, after an order like this, the attitude assumed by the justices, and the way, for instance, that Diosdado Cabello or even Nicolás Maduro himself talk about homosexual lawmakers, it appears that the regime really doesn’t care about finally revealing what they truly are. So it seems the country’s cornered. Right now, the private citizen is completely helpless, orphaned. In my humble opinion, I think the least the government’s after with this order is to imprison all opposition lawmakers, after blatantly declaring their empire.
HRA: Well, one thing at a time. About increasing or decreasing political costs. With a government like this, some troublemakers suggest we should take to the streets and other proposals that simply can’t be accomplished, because it’s easy to make promises that end up cold.
CMR: I agree.
HRA: So, what are we lawmakers going to do before this de facto violation of our immunity? We’re going to keep going to the National Assembly and exercising our authority at any risk, because that authority doesn’t come from any particular title we were given. We were elected by the people, and the one thing we can’t do is run away, hide and say that, since these criminals in the Supreme Tribunal say we can’t legislate, we won’t legislate. We’ll continue to do our job.
Look, do you know what we did and keep doing in the National Assembly? Every time the government signs a contract, grants a concession or performs any kind of transaction that must be previously approved by the National Assembly, according to the Constitution, we notify every embassy so they know what that entails, and that has dealt the government terrible damage, because when they travel abroad to find financing or help, the first thing they see is the Constitution. And when they say that we’re in contempt, other countries tell them that they don’t know anything about contempt. What they do know is that, according to this article of the Constitution, the National Assembly must approve the agreements.
Of course I think they will withdraw from the OAS, but after that, what next?
CMR: And bankers are cowards, they won’t take that risk.
HRA: The sad part, César Miguel, is that this will have repercussions abroad, because the government will grow more isolated with every passing day. Of course I think they will withdraw from the OAS, but after that, what next? Are they going to withdraw from the United Nations? From the world?
Because this has real consequences, and they can’t withdraw, for example, from international trade, or globalization, because oil, the only thing we export, producing less and less of and growing cheaper every day, is traded internationally. Now, a moment will come when this government won’t be able to trade internationally, just like Cuba, and we’ll see how they react. The regrettable and painful part is that the crimes of this outlaw government and their consequences will have to be paid by the Venezuelan people. And that’s our greatest concern.
CMR: We’re already paying.
HRA: Indeed. Because all the sanctions against this criminal regime will be suffered by the Venezuelan people. That’s the real regret. The blockades, the economic consequences, we only need to look at Cuba. Who have suffered the Castros’ barbarities? The Cuban people.
CMR: Now, Julio Borges says, in an interview with Versión Final: “Their end will come faster if they arrest the lawmakers.” What’s that end, I wonder? Because for this dictatorial, authoritarian and despotic regime, evidently, the endgame is “We don’t have an Assembly, we don’t have any kind of comptrollership, the dissidence has been quelled, that’s our endgame and we’ve accomplished it.” What could be the alternative? Because I feel that they’re stomping on everything. How do we stop them?
HRA: First, let me restate that the only thing we lawmakers can’t do is surrender before this adversity and say “Well, since the Supreme Tribunal threatens our immunity and declares that we’ll be tried by military judges instead of civilian judges, and whatever else they say, then we’ll surrender.” We must insist on fulfilling our constitutional duties, regardless of any criminal act perpetrated by any other branch of government, at any risk. Like I said a few months ago in a radio program, perhaps even this one, that when I was Speaker, I feared that any day, I’d go to the Assembly and Casa Militar wouldn’t let me in or that they would drag me out. That’s what I felt back then. The same thing Julio Borges could say now. Those soldiers aren’t there to protect us or to uphold Parliament’s authority. They might very well be there to arrest us someday. But we must accept the risk with courage, without taking a single step back.
Second, the country should know that we won’t back down just because they declare us traitors every time we go to international institutions. To simplify: this government is trying to merge country, State and government into a single identity, ergo if you criticize the government, you’re criticizing the State and the country.
So whenever we go to an international institution of which Venezuela is a member by treaty, such as the OAS, to demand the application of the law, then we’re traitors. That’s preposterous. International treaties are above any single country’s constitution. But we must persist, like Luis Florido in the OAS. I talked to him on the phone yesterday. He’s well aware that he might be imprisoned when he comes back to Venezuela, but we’ll stand by his side.
CMR: You just mentioned a personal anecdote that speaks volumes. You said that when you were Assembly Speaker, you felt that the soldiers aren’t there to protect you or Parliament, or even the Legislative Palace itself, but rather the opposite.
HRA: That’s right.
CMR: So we can say that the brass is an enemy of democracy in Venezuela.
HRA: Right now, that’s absolutely true. At least the upper ranks, without a doubt.
CMR: What can the civilian population do against that armed minority?
HRA: The same thing that can be done against any civilian or military dictatorship. Every time I say this they tell me that I might come off as anti-militaristic, and of course I am, but I’m not against soldiers. I must be anti-militaristic because no democrat can accept the pre-eminence of military life upon civilian life and the Constitution. It’s obvious that this government is supported by two pillars: the decisions of the Supreme Tribunal, and the decisions of the military high command, not the whole of the Armed Forces because there are many factions there and many soldiers are tired of this regime’s violations.
CMR: Do you have proof of that that’s the situation in the barracks?
HRA: Of course there’s great dissatisfaction because those soldiers are married, with children. Outside the barracks, those families can feel the rejection of the people. They’re victims of the crimes of a military high command that have turned their backs on the Constitution and the country. The high command is supporting, for purely personal interests, the crimes of this government, and they will be held accountable as well, sadly.
CMR: But when? Because President Maduro, now turned into a monarch or emperor, bets that he’ll be there ad aeternum, per omnia saecula, that they’ll be there forever. That’s how they’re operating. What do we say about that?
HRA: For us, it’s obvious. We must say and do the opposite of what the government says and does.
CMR: For instance?
Any government that commits electoral fraud, refuses to hold elections or seizes power through a coup d’état can’t survive today, much less in a poor country like ours that only has one product to export.
HRA: If the government doesn’t want elections, we must obviously press for elections. How long will the government deny us elections? How long will they be able to postpone them with schemes such as party re-registration, alleged lack of budget, or the claim that it’s more important to eat than to vote? Because even though back in the 60’s, a government that refused to hold elections or carried out a coup d’état could easily survive in the international community, now that’s no longer possible.
Any government that commits electoral fraud, refuses to hold elections or seizes power through a coup d’état can’t survive today, much less in a poor country like ours that only has one product to export. So we must persist in demanding elections, first regional elections that should’ve been held four months ago, and then mayoral elections since their terms will expire soon as well. We must persist in what the government doesn’t want, which makes sense from their point of view, because they know that they’ll be utterly defeated and severely weakened in any elections.
CMR: In that case, Henry, how long do you think this government can survive?
HRA: Until elections are held. Right now the government holds all governorships except three: Miranda, Lara and Amazonas. By the way, they’ve come up with something called Development Corporations (parallel governorships,) with far more resources and authority than the legitimately elected ones, same with Caracas’s Mayoralty. When the opposition won that mayoralty, the regime emptied its coffers and imprisoned the mayor for a crime he didn’t commit.
They did the same with the National Assembly. As soon as they lost it, they started planning their assault to invalidate the Assembly through their subordinate Supreme Tribunal, challenging Amazonas’ lawmakers, all of that even before Parliament was installed. Some people say it was all because I was too confrontational, but those actions took place before we even began exercising our functions. And they keep doing it against a new, much less aggressive Speaker like Julio Borges, who has handled the Assembly very well considering this terrible situation.
But the problem is that neither me nor Borges will stand for these abuses, because we have a duty to fulfill for the people who elected us into office. And the same will happen with the next Speaker. We must keep insisting.
CMR: Henry, last question, because we’re almost done. We must persist in elections, and you just told me that the government ends when elections are held. Who do you think will speak out and demand elections within this government that’s playing precisely to deny them indefinitely?
HRA: There are factors within the government that are indeed pressing for elections because they say that they can’t deny the people their right to decide. There are people within the regime who are pressing for elections to be held. I’ll leave you with that.
CMR: Henry, thank you very much for coming this morning to the program.
HRA: No, thank you.Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.