It might have happened any of a dozen times in the last 16 months, but it did happen yesterday: suddenly, an event sharpened the minds of diplomats up and down the continent. For whatever reasons, the stage was set, the stars aligned, and the Western Hemisphere was ready to register this as a moment. A turning point. The straw that broke the camel’s back. 

What straw? An unprecedented move by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (TSJ) plainly usurping the legislative branch’s priorities. With stunning desparpajo, the Chamber declared it will exercise all parliamentary powers itself. They had the staggering cojones to argue, in the ruling, that they must do so “to ensure the rule of law.” 

Simply put: to avoid any possible hold-up from the National Assembly from now on —like, for example, reminding international banks and multilateral entities that any new debt in foreign currency (bonds, swaps, loans and credits) not approved by the National Assembly “is null and void”— the Constitutional Chamber good-as-dismantled the National Assembly by stripping it of all its powers. 

The Tribunal also said that under Maduro’s —legally dubious— State of Emergency,  the president can modify article 33 of the Framework Law on Hydrocarbons, which currently establishes that the National Assembly must approve the constitution of any new joint ventures for primary activities in the hydrocarbons sector as well as substantial changes to existing ventures.

Applying the kind of constitutional dibujo libre doctrine it’s gotten us all used to, the Supreme Court gave legislative powers to Maduro, even though the Constitution clearly says that only the National Assembly can do so through an Enabling Law.

You can search high and low through the constitution for an article that gives the Judicial branch the power to push the Legislative branch off the board. You’ll find nothing. This is the naked power grab of a docile court pointing up at a clear, blue Caribbean sky and declaring it orange. With pink polka dots. 

Though not many expressed it explicitly, chavismo probably felt it was a victory of sorts after receiving some blows at the OAS on Tuesday afternoon.

How did everyone react? Aside from a charming tweet from Diosdado Cabello, chavismo has remained mostly silent on the matter up to now.

Diosdado Cabello claims the opposition —or the plague, as he charmingly refers to us— is complaining, because the constitution and the Law of the Land imposed themselves. But opposition leaders were not simply complaining; they shouted in unison: esto es un Golpe de Estado.

On the opposition front, María Corina Machado was quick to remind everyone that she told us this would happen and called this a straight-up Coup.

That’s not a good look on anyone, mi pana. (Not that she’s wrong, of course.)

Many opposition leaders also tweeted about this coup à la Socialism of the 21st century, including Henry Ramos Allup, Henrique Capriles Radonski, Miguel Pizarro, Stalin González and David Smolansky. (Some UNT leaders have also taken care to remind us not to miss their re-validation process this weekend) 

Others in the opposition also tweeted about the need to take to the streets and protest, including Juan Requesens, Freddy Guevara, Gaby Arellano and Lilian Tintori.

But the most impressive image of the day belongs to AN Speaker Julio Borges, who at a press conference in the gardens of the Legislative Palace tore up the Constitutional Chamber’s ruling and added: “this is a piece of garbage from those who have kidnapped the Constitution, the rights and the freedom of the Venezuelan people”.

 

Los Ojos del Mundo

But it was on the international front that reactions were most pointed. The Secretary General of the OAS Luis Almagro denounced a “Self-inflicted Coup d’État” and called “for the urgent convocation of the Permanent Council.”

Many other international reactions were also heard loud and clear.

President of Chile Michelle Bachelet tweeted “The situation in Venezuela is very worrying. In Latin America, we must defend democratic coexistence in our societies”.

The President of Perú Pedro Pablo Kuczynski condemned the rupture of democracy in Venezuela and announced the permanent withdrawal of Peru’s Ambassador to Venezuela.

Through a tweet from national deputy Amelia Belisario we learned that Costa Rica’s parliament condemned the violation of the democratic regime in Venezuela and asked the Central Government to invoke the activation of the Democratic Charter and to withdraw the country’s Ambassador from Venezuela.

The US Department of State issued a press statement claiming that “the United States condemns the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s March 29 decision to usurp the powers of the democratically elected National Assembly… We consider it a serious setback for democracy in Venezuela”.

The governments of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Panamá issued statements outlining their governments’ concerns about the latest actions of the Supreme Court and its impact on Venezuelan democracy, while reiterating the importance of the dialogue between the government and opposition.

After meeting with the Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín, Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray also claimed: “Mexico is seriously concerned about the deterioration of the democratic order in a sister country like Venezuela”.

And all the way from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the European Union stated its concern and added: “it is therefore of utmost importance to establish a clear electoral calendar and to respect the National Assembly and all its members, as provided for in the Constitution”.


 

This is only the beginning of this new chapter of the Venezuelan institutional crisis. The entire diplomatic corps have been invited to the Supreme Court today to learn more about the infamous decision from the Constitutional Chamber, so many more reactions should ensue in the next few hours.

 

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