The Pseudo-TSJ Debacle Reveals Lack of Leadership and Strategy

The trial against Maduro by the TSJ in exile is a justice trainwreck – it’s technically not a ruling, because they are not the Supreme Tribunal. It speaks volumes about the lack of leadership and strategy within the opposition.

Photo: El Nacional

The events surrounding the request from the “legitimate TSJ” for the National Assembly (AN) to authorize the trial against Maduro is a symptom of the current leadership crisis ailing our society.

First, let’s try to understand what this legitimate TSJ or TSJ in exile is.

In December, 2015, the outgoing chavista-controlled National Assembly appointed 13 main justices and 20 deputy justices. The process to appoint these justices was carried out in flagrant violation of the Constitution, the Framework Law of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice and the National Assembly’s Rules of Procedure.

In July, 2017, the current National Assembly decided to revoke the appointments of these justices and appointed their own 13 main and 20 deputy justices, replacing those those who were revoked. This detail is especially relevant: the National Assembly didn’t appoint a parallel TSJ, much less in exile, they appointed the justices so that they would take office along with the existing TSJ that we all know, headquartered at Av. Baralt in Caracas.

The Constitutional Chamber, through ruling N° 545 dated July 20, 2017, nullified the appointment of these justices and accused them of “usurpation of authority.”

Practically all of the AN-appointed justices managed to leave the country. In a ceremony held at the offices of the Organization of American States (OAS) in October, 2017, these justices named themselves the TSJ in exile. The 20 deputy justices became main justices in order to “complete” the amount demanded by the Framework Law of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, 32 justices.

Since then, the TSJ in exile has issued several “rulings”. The most recent of them declares that there are sufficient merits to open a trial against Nicolás Maduro for acts of corruption.

In view of a “ruling” that’s not a ruling, issued by a “Tribunal” that’s not a Tribunal, we all embraced a discussion that would’ve been deemed ridiculous a few months ago.

According to article 266.2 of the Constitution, once the TSJ declares that there are sufficient merits to prosecute the president, the National Assembly must “approve” the trial, as part of the political control that the AN exercises over the TSJ.

And that’s what the TSJ in exile asked the AN to do: authorize the “trial” against Maduro. Exiled Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega Díaz requested this TSJ in exile to start this trial, but she’s also been responsible for human rights violations for years.

Even though most lawmakers agreed to reject this “approval”, they unanimously decided to authorize the preliminary hearing on merits.

In view of a “ruling” that’s not a ruling, issued by a “Tribunal” that’s not a Tribunal, we all ended up immersed in a discussion that would’ve been deemed ridiculous a few months ago.

It’s easy to conclude that the TSJ in exile can’t issue rulings demanding any action from the National Assembly. However, the pressure of public opinion persuaded many AN lawmakers that they had to authorize this, so they changed their minds.

It’s absurd to create false expectations for citizens regarding a “trial” that lacks even the simplest political or judicial foundation. Does this mean that our political strategy is now in the hands of Luisa Ortega and this TSJ in exile? What will be the next thing this pseudo-TSJ will ask of the National Assembly? Appointing a parallel government?

Beyond the judicial debate on whether this TSJ in exile can prosecute Maduro or not, I think that what happened is an alarming symptom of the lack of political leadership in our society. We don’t have references on how to fight the regime. After so many failures and disappointments, it’s obvious that neither the leadership, nor the public opinion, nor common citizens have any clue on how we can protect ourselves. After the coming “election” on May 20, when repression is likely to get worse, we’ll be defenseless as a society.

Beneath the cantinflada of the TSJ in exile, there’s something deeper and quite serious that we must realize: we’ve never been this exhausted, hopeless and weak to resist this regime.

Andrés Becerra

Andrés Becerra is the pseudonym of a Venezuelan lawyer interested in politics.