-Coño, Maikel! Tu eres webón?!?

-Sr. Presidente, yo le aseguro que no escribí esa sentencia.

That was probably the way the phone call went down between the President and head of the Supreme Tribunal (TSJ), Maikel Moreno, when Venezuela woke up to the news that Maikel’s outfit had effectively dissolved the National Assembly.

News of the now infamous ruling #156 set off a whirlwind of hemispheric condemnation and market panic, which reached its zenith when Luisa Ortega Díaz, Venezuela’s chavista Prosecutor General, shocked everyone by publicly denouncing the decision as a rupture of the constitutional order in the country.

Conspiracy theories didn’t take long to filter through. Why would the Venezuelan government, at a time when its ability to feign democracy was being minutely scrutinized, pull such a stunt?

One popular theory is that Diosdado was behind the ruling. Playing Joker to Maduro’s Batman, Diosdado used his sway over the TSJ to sow chaos as part of a power play. Diosdado broke the news of the ruling on his live TV show almost immediately after it happened (either he’s psychic, or…). And he was the only high-profile chavista to celebrate it.

While Diosdado’s grubby hands might very well be all over this, the explanation for Chavismo’s biggest fuck-up yet is much simpler. It has more to do with Human Resources than it does with Constitutional Law.

The thing is, you don’t need a TSJ ruling to usurp the National Assembly’s functions. They’ve been doing that for months.

Ruling 156 is, when you look at it closely, a strange beast. It’s not really about constitutional issues at all. 99% of the ruling is about the Hydrocarbons Law, actually. But the entire hemispheric shitstorm has nothing to do with Hydrocarbons. The diplomatic meltdown relates to a single line of text — section 4.4 — way at the bottom of a long ruling:

“As long as the National Assembly remains in contempt and the nullity of its acts persists, this Constitutional Chamber shall guarantee that the parliamentary attributions will be exercised directly by this Chamber or by the entity that this Chamber shall empower, so as to safeguard the Rule of Law.”

The thing is, you don’t need a TSJ ruling to usurp the National Assembly’s functions. They’ve been doing that for months. Up to now, they’d managed to do it in a way that didn’t get ambassadors recalled.

What you did need was a ruling to allow the government to circumvent the Hydrocarbons Law and sell off a chunk of Petropiar to Rosneft in exchange for some desperately needed cash before the April 12th PDVSA maturities.

This interpretation has been hiding in plain sight. The ruling’s socratic preamble clearly sets out the reasoning behind TSJ’s acts:

“It is worth asking the following questions: Is the National Assembly’s previous approval required for the creation of joint ventures, and do the conditions that regulate primary activities require previous approval? What should the Executive do before such circumstances? Does the current State of Exception have an impact?”

A line of questioning that sets the stage for a harmless ruling allowing the President to circumvent the AN and close a deal with the Russians, without having to incur the wrath of democracy defenders worldwide.

My pet theory is that section 4.4 was the work of some harried, underpaid intern who hadn’t had time for the ink on his Universidad Bolivariana diploma to dry yet.

So why did TSJ have to go and screw this up?

My pet theory is that section 4.4 was the work of some harried, underpaid intern who hadn’t had time for the ink on his Universidad Bolivariana diploma to dry yet. I’m picturing the guy hunched over a cubicle at TSJ, too worried trying to make his quincena last to realize he’s written an insanely explosive decision.

I’m sure the guy’s been fired by now. Let’s hope he’s not being tortured by SEBIN. Maybe he wasn’t at TSJ, maybe he was at PDVSA’s legal department and so obsessed with the Rosneft deal he hadn’t even registered the atmosphere at OAS all week.

Whatever the case, his fuck-up brought the country THIS CLOSE to being unanimously and unambiguously labeled a dictatorship.

Worse, he apparently scared off the Russians. Rosneft, if reporting is to be believed, won’t touch the Petropiar deal now.

Of course, loans could still be forthcoming —though on conditions one shudders to even think of. One way or another this miscalculation has already cost the erario público a shocking amount of money.

Credit where it’s due: Maduro’s handled the situation with real finesse. After remaining silent for more than 24 hours on the matter, he blithely reached for the holy kryptonite to international pressure: dialogue. Invoking dialogue has the power to diffuse even the most unconstitutional of constitutional crises. It’s the dictator’s get-out-jail-free card.

With the OAS permanent Council to convene for an emergency session on Monday, Maduro called for a peaceful resolution to what he called a mere  “discrepancy between branches of government.” “Dialogue” happened, and hours later, section 4.4 was no more.

Now that even the Fiscal agrees the Supreme Tribunal is no such thing, now is the time to say: no more. ¡Ya!

But the Tribunal still usurped Assembly prerogatives in its revised ruling. It’s still doing constitutional dibujo libre when it grants TSJ the power to strike new Faja deals, or alter existing ones — a power it doesn’t have the power to grant. The constitution is exactly as dead today as it was this time yesterday: the only difference now is that the Supreme Tribunal’s utter slavish subservience to Maduro’s been made even more obvious, if that’s possible somehow.

This creates just a sliver of an opportunity for the opposition to turn this into an inflection point on the crisis. It’s now open season on TSJ, one of the last bastions of chavista hegemony. Now that even the Fiscal agrees the Supreme Tribunal is no such thing, now is the time to say: no more. ¡Ya! No more convicted murderers in charge of courts. Enough, coño.

Do I trust MUD to do this right? Let’s just hope they also have a pasante bobo to blame when they screw it up.

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  1. Would Trump be able to revise a unanimous decision by the US Supreme Court in less than 8 hours? The revision is just as bad as the original decision… or even worse

  2. A very interesting report. Two billion bucks coming due on April 12th. Will they or will they not make THAT payment? Where on God’s green earth are they gonna find that amount of cash? We’re probably looking at a default, this may finally be it.with a lot of drama. Fasten your seat belts

  3. Cono … this is like diving into a rabbit hole. Sounds like the whole mess was over rewriting the constitution bylaws so Maduro could bum more money to pay off the PDVSA maturities. So far as I can tell in my scattershot reading, the Ruskies won’t bite on the faja offerings, but might if they can use Citgo as collateral. Is that right? If so, there are further problems because a ruling was just awarded to a Canadian firm for appropriated Ven. assets and reports I’ve heard are they are going after Citgo to get their money. Wonder if the Ruskies are really wanting to get involved in a collateral racket where their money might be lost in the bargain.

    Gotta wonder how many more gente Maduro can beg for mass plata. If someone doesn’t lend him a few billion, like now, his position could get untenable overnight.

    • Gotta wonder how many more gente Maduro can beg for mas plata.

      Proud to call Spanglish the official language of CC.

        • Emiliana Duarte,
          Very good article. Maduro backing down is the weakness that the opposition needs to seize.
          To quote General Patton;
          “Nobody ever defended anything successfully, there is only attack and attack and attack some more.”
          A valid argument against Supreme Court rulings is that they are wrong now and have been wrong before. Maduro’s reversal shows that the court is not independent. Just puppets that have denied the people democracy.
          The politicians of the MUD have betrayed the citizens of Venezuela by putting their own personal political ambitions ahead of the people.
          The opposition must speak as one voice. They need to realize that Ben Franklin’s statement “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”, is just as relevant now as it was during the struggle for American independence.
          They must tell the soldiers that their duty is to the people and the Constitution, not any individual administration. The same message must be conveyed to the police.
          They need to mobilize the people. Don’t protest and then go home. Protest and stay for the duration. Attack! Attack!! Attack!!
          The people need to keep the pressure on the government and make the opposition stronger each day. Let the country come to a standstill until this regime is removed from power.

  4. Fantastic! Exactly, Emilliana. It was all in the panic to pay the bonds … and the Russians are about the only people who would do consider doing business with Maduro et al.
    Good expose.

    Maduro shouldn’t count on the Russians for too much, however. So far they have gotten their properties (oil and gas properties) on the cheap in Venezuela. Sechin has been able to finance new purchases largely from the cash flow from the x-BP fields Rosneft got ahold of, which were still in relatively good shape. I understand that this is part of how he legitimizes his Venezuelan escapades//adventures back home in Moscow. (and the geopolitical aspect)

    Meanwhile, there is really nowhere else in LatAm now that Rosneft has much clout as it is relatively low tech and doesn’t have a lot of finance compared to others (though it should not be underestimated). They have actually been producing significant amounts of oil in Venez, which helps their ins with PDVSA et al.

    • Yeah, the parallelism between the guy who served out his sentence, paid his debt to society, was rehabilitated, helped reintegrate generations of former convicts after their release, educated himself, was democratically elected to parliament and then jailed in contravention of parliamentary immunity and remains in jail without habeas corpus because he’s never been presented to a judge and the guy who killed two people, used palanca to get out of serving any time at all for either crime, attached himself to a dictatorship, rose through the ranks of a tribu judicial, guisó and then shut down an elected parliament is PERFECT. Total and complete.

      Das penita, dude…

      • Is this Gilbert Caro on the Supreme Court? Does he have the power to create a constitutional crisis at the stroke of a pen?


        Thank you, I have no further questions for this witness.

    • La principal diferencia entre Gilbert Caro y el pran de pranes la basura Maikel Moreno es que Caro PAGÓ su deuda con la sociedad calándose su condena completa, mientras que Moreno NUNCA PAGÓ POR SUS ASESINATOS.

      Está impune desde 1987, a menos que, como buen hipócrita rojo, creas que el asesinato prescribe en algún momento porque la persona revive o reencarna o algo así:


      “… Maikel José Moreno Pérez asesinó a un hombre en 1987…”

      30 años debió pudrirse en una celda esa plaga malnacida, pero tú sales a defenderlo, como todo buen chavista.

      Definitivamente los chavistas siempre hacen el ridículo y pasan pena cuando abren el pico.

  5. Great post. Very informative and entertaining. I can’t imagine, though, this theory of the dumb intern to be possible. In light of the fact that Cabello immediately reported ii and celebrated it. His team of thugs must have been behind this idiotic and masochistic ruling. Additionally, the entire TSJ must have alerted Cabello and others about the perils and stupidity of this measure.

    My pet theory is that Cabello and his misinformed team of corrupt retards forced the TSJ to annul the AN, the Venezuelan way:

    – ” Mira chico, ya estoy harto de esos burguesitos y de esa asemblea”. Me los cancelas ya, y agarran ustedes en el tribunal todos los poderes legislativos”.

    – “Ah, pero Sr. Cabello, eso es muy peligroso, ehh anti-consticional, vale”

    – ” No me importa esa vaina. Pasa la resolcion ya mismo, y no se habla mahh del caso, chico. “.

    – “Como Ud. diga, Sr. Cabello”.

    On a high horse, drunk with power and eager for more, Cabello lost his marbles. Over-inflated Egos can lead to madness, it often happens with rulers, historically, everywhere. Cabello wanted more power, more glory, to rival Maduro’s faction with the Legislative powers. He also must have wanted to show-off, and piss-off all opponent deputies. “Me pasas esa vaina y listo, coño, que se jodan esos pendejos de la asemblea!”

    After the massive reaction I can imagine Cabello telling his stupid gang: “Coño chico, vale, como que la cague, no??

    • I suscribe to this theory, with the exception of Cabello ever admitting to having screwed things up. He must have had a “por ahora” moment rather.

      • No, he said, “Cono, como lo cagaron, Vale!” No one in Venezuela is ever responsible for anything, much less ADMITS his/her responsibility….

    • Todavía puedo imaginar a capodado echando espuma por la boca de la amargura y odio que lo caracteriza, ese tipo de pana que está enfermo y de psiquiátrico.

  6. The loan or bond purchase is on the works , part of the problem of being a Pdvsa partner in a joint venture is that even if they make money you cant collect it until the mayority shareholder ( by law Pdvsa) approves the distribution of dividends which can take forever , so even if on the books the partner has money coming to him in practice he has to wait a long long time to get it……on the other hand the oil produced by the mixed company by law has to be sold to Pdvsa who may take a long long time to pay its price Just getting Pdvsa to release the money is a gain for the Partner ……!! so I guess that before Rosnef gets more involved in Pdvsa joint ventures it may want the law changed so that it can make sure that it gets the money coming to it because it can force the distribution of dividends by reducing Pdvsa shareholding to a level where it cant prevent the distribution of dividends or where the price for the oil sold to Pdvsa is paid on time ….

    One thing people dont ever mentions is that Rosnef is a Pdvsa competitor in the world markets so that it may be as interested in in its venezuelan oil fields producing more oil as in having them produce less oil ……also to be remembered is that there are sanctions imposed against russian companies which hamper its transactions worldwide, and that can apply to Pdvsa is they engage in certain transactions with a sanctioned company!! the room for conjecture as to how exactly the transaction will be structured is very broad ……but one thing is certain Rosnef will get its pound of flesh .

    Oh plumb forgot Pdvsa is routing much of its income from oil sales thru russian banks because they no longer trust banks located in western countries were they can be seized or attached by their creditors , so if ever Pdvsa is in a dispute with Rosnef the latter will have big Pdvsa money deposits in mother russia which they can seize and attach to protect their interests…!!

    • Using Bloomberg as a source for VZ debt payments, it appears that there will be another 5-6 billion Dollars due in 2017.
      Oil production is still declining. The oil price is not going to have any sustained rally as long as US shale producers continues to increase production. Taking only the lift and administrative costs into account that is around $11 per barrel to produce the oil. This bring the realized money from oil to about $35 per barrel. I am being optimistic. There must be some other expenses and some capital expenditures even though maintenance has been deferred to the point that the oil infrastructure is deteriorating.
      This only leaves about $2 billion per month in oil revenue. I am using $35 per barrel X 2 million barrels per day X 30 days.
      This leaves $20 billion to pay for imports. About $2.00 per day per person.
      It is over. At the end of 2016 I believe that it was reported that VZ foreign reserves were at $11 billion.
      These numbers are before taking into account the oil that China takes as debt payment.
      I do not see how the government is going to be able to import the necessities.
      Oil accounts for almost all of the VZ exports and that is the governments only way to obtain Dollars. Almost all consumer goods need to be imported.
      How does the government survive past 2017? Where is the money going to come from for food and medicine?
      To Hell with paying the interest on the bonds. Venezuela is simply going to be broke.
      I’m sure that I am missing things like remittances from people abroad to individual Venezuelans, people selling silver or gold, people accessing bank accounts that are out of the country etc.. There needs to be tens of billions of Dollars worth of these examples to make any real difference.

  7. I’ve never heard of a country in which the judges don’t read the final draft of their decisions and just let interns tack stuff on…maybe they are dumb enough to do that by themselves.

  8. Emiliana, my family is comprised of both Ven. nationals and quai-Latino gringos so riffing the Spanglish is el corazón of the chingadera. I gots a fistfull of fancy degrees in “the English” but Spanglish is often más entretenido, verdad?

    But seriously, if as Bill says, the Ruskies can basically garnish any Ven. earnings by looting their Russian held bank accounts, this might provide Maduro a little more life blood (botín) but it sounds a bit like a mob loan, so the vigorish must be high.

    The real question is: What can anyone, anywhere actually do to try and stop Maduro from auctioning off the whole goddam country, including its future, just to keep the revolution in play. Jackass can’t even pay down the present maturities and here he’s begging for more loans from a Homerically corrupt regime.

    Sure wish I still didn’t have family living in Caracas.

      • Just because its the Russians in the paperwork it doesn’t mean that Diosdado is not behind the grab for PetroPiar … it would be the perfect deal for him as long as he can keep control of the payments … an then he just bough La Faja for pennies on the dollar.

  9. I think we are missing something here. I believe Diosdadonor someone in the know plays the Venny bond roller coaster on the way down and on the way up. They have all the variables and control all the announcements, that is why there MUST be a mess up.

  10. “What can anyone, anywhere actually do to try and stop Maduro from auctioning off the whole goddam country, including its future, just to keep the revolution in play. ”

    Just keep stating, over and over, loudly and affirmatively, that Odious Debt will never be repaid. Leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that you will invoke this ancient and well-accepted doctrine.

    He can still sell present assets, but he can’t sell the future if no one believes they’ll be repaid.

      • Foreign debt defaults aren’t new in the world, and the V. bonds are continually discounted in free markets to meet reasonable expectations. Really, the marvel of free markets.

        But the national assets pledged are a different story, and I think you’re right about that. Aside from the obvious pun, those are not liquid on open markets (not traded, so they can’t be discounted past the initial agreement). Maybe I’m no following closely enough to understand the nature of the mining pledges, but if I’ve read correctly, those mining rights were outright sold for a lump sum, or the extractions were conceded as payments. They have one owner, and that owner typically would have personnel and equipment on the ground, mining to recover their payment costs. If those pledges can subsequently be treated as Odious Debt (i.e. the pledges deprive the country of revenues from their own mining assets), then maybe that’s an “out”, e.g. “The court of international settlements ruled that in lieu of gold extraction V. must pay $XXX amount in reparations”. Repudiate that along with the bond debt.

        The little I’ve read on this is that, from one end of free market capitalism to the opposite end of socialism: a) the U.S. doesn’t nationalize it’s oil (it taxes income of private companies); b) the Saudi’s did nationalize, but left the management in place and as much as created a separate world for them within their own culture; but c) Venezuela nationalized, and replaced the management with their own personnel. I still think what Venezuela did there was a big mistake. And it was followed by the continuation of a disastrous socialism which “nationalized” Venezuela’s own private companies! That all could be reversed. The private companies could be returned to their owners, to the extent possible. And the oil could be reversed back to a royalties model.

        Venezuela, prior to “nationalization”, always owned whatever oil was discovered, and charged a fee for extraction, just selling it by the barrel, really. The situation now is that Maduro has pledged the actual oil itself, at point of delivery, and has in fact relinquished ownership in exchange for cash payments made in advance. Call it nationalization in reverse. Now foreign interests own it. Citgo is an example of that.

        My head’s spinning … I hope my humble analysis isn’t too far off, and I don’t look at this tomorrow and think “OMG … I don’t believe I posted that! Delete! Delete!”

  11. “I’m sure the guy’s been fired by now” where have you heen the last 18 years? Chavistas don’t fire incompetents, those are the most loyal. They fire traitors.

  12. I think both China and the Russians are being played for fools by the Venezuelans. And they are playing Venezuela for a fool too.

    Venezuela can pledge national assets as collateral for loans from China/Russia all day long. They do this because they know when push comes to shove. both China and Russia won’t be able to do a damn thing to collect in Venezuela itself.

    Venezuela can say “Come and take it”, and what are they going to do? Send in repo men? Send in military assets to seize it? Nope. VZ know that the US won’t tolerate Russian or Chinese troops deployed in South America.

    However, Venezuela is also being foolish. They aren’t going to earn hard money unless they can ship their product (oil) on ships to customers. And that is Venezuela’s weakness. Both China and Russia could legitimately claim and seize ships of Venezuela oil after they leave port.

    But I don’t think that Maduro has thought that far ahead. Has is going to paint Venezuela in to a corner. And no matter what, he will loose in the end.

  13. I wonder what Francisco Rodríguez would say about all this from his way of reasoning. Something like “Since the ultimate goal was to pay the debt and save the patria, shitting on the Constitution is just a minor issue (or an “impasse”), maybe?

  14. All of this skulduggery and forked-tongue bullshit and stealing and graft and all the rest really gives meaning to the term, “Devil’s Excrement.”

  15. I buy all of it except for DCR screwing NMM. This is more finely crafted and coordinated IMO. Isn’t Luisa Ortega in DCRs camp?

  16. What I really like about your article is that it taps so well the core of the mess that el chavismo is internally. How unprepared they are.How they don’t even bother to read in detail their own decrees. Exploding refineries don’t seem to be enough for conveying the point that even for their own sake, they need more than blind loyalty and money to run the country without things blowing in their face.

    The other thing I like about your theory is that you actually read the document thoroughly, which puts the whole thing in context.

  17. “Luisa, You play the good cop if the Imperio goes bananas, ok? In the worst case, we just step back, and we’ll tell the kuffars ‘you see, there is actually a division of powers in Venezuela!’.”


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