Photo: Sputnik, retrieved.

The Capitol is still there, in the heart of downtown Caracas, sitting atop the Guzmán Blanco-era Palacio Federal Legislativo, which is also still there. And the hemiciclo —the chamber where deputies meet— is also still there, same as always.

Even more confusing, the people who were elected in 2015 to serve as legislators still gather in the hemiciclo several times a week. They still call one another diputado. They still make speeches and pass motions and opine on the country and its future.

But the National Assembly?

It’s not there.

It was shut down more than two years ago through a series of court decisions that withdrew not most of its powers but all of them.

The people who gather in the Palacio Federal Legislativo cannot pass laws. They cannot pass budgets. They do not enjoy parliamentary immunity. They cannot compel executive branch officials to testify before them. They cannot subpoena documents from the executive. They have no oversight powers of any kind. They cannot censure ministers. They have no budget. No salaries. No health insurance. They don’t even control the National Assembly’s TV Station.

What they have is…a building.

Or, well, access to a building, on days when the Constituyente isn’t in session.

The people who gather in the Palacio Federal Legislativo cannot pass laws. They cannot pass budgets. They do not enjoy parliamentary immunity.

Reading Colette Capriles’s essay here earlier this week, it struck me that she’s laboring under a carefully crafted misconception. Like almost everyone, she’s been taken in by an illusion the government has spent years painstakingly constructing.

She believes there’s a National Assembly.

That she does—that almost everyone does—demonstrates the government’s stunning success at an impossible task: shutting down a democratically elected branch of government without anybody noticing. Dismantling a cornerstone institution without even its members —especially its members— getting the memo.

The solution they came up with is, in its own amoral way, brilliant.

They avoided a blunt, 20th-century style Fujimorazo with tanks rolling down streets and lawmakers marched off to prisons. Instead, they identified the heart of the matter. Not the visible hardware of the Assembly, but it its invisible software: its powers and attributions. And, of course, its budget. What matters.

It’s an elegant solution, one that’s succeeded beyond chavismo’s wildest dreams. The opposition’s utter disorientation these last few years has everything to do with the impossible position the move leaves them in: they control a power, but have no power.

The disorientation this generates has prevented the opposition from coalescing in the way it surely would have if they’d sent in the tanks. It has sunk the opposition into a long series of abstract, fruitless debates, each driving a bigger wedge not just between them and their constituents, but between them and reality.

The opposition’s utter disorientation these last few years has owed everything to the otherworldly position of controlling a power yet having no power.

Just think of the at-the-time-incandescent-now-forgotten debate over having the Assembly declare that Maduro had abandoned his post? The endless bickering and politicking over who will become Speaker of the Assembly? The recondite fight these last few weeks over the metaphysical meaning of today’s date?

These things are not treatments for the delirium Maduro has induced: they are its symptoms.

The brain-scrambling exercise of trying to figure out what to do with this thing that looks-like-a-parliament-but-isn’t has absorbed a huge amount of the political opposition’s time and attention.

It has turned the relation between opposition parties and their followers toxic: voters are (rightly) disgusted with the National Assembly’s utter inability to make any kind of difference and (wrongly)minded to blame the victim of the 2016 powergrab.

The reality is that Venezuela doesn’t have a National Assembly, because it doesn’t have a duly elected body able to exercise the powers and attributions of a National Assembly.

If there’s one thing that the people who gather regularly at the Palacio Federal Legislativo could do to make a difference is to reconcile themselves with that fact. To face it, square in the face. To digest its implications, give up the pretense, level with their followers and organize to reverse it.

The alternative is denial. And delirium.

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49 COMMENTS

  1. What matters for the National Assembly is that in the eyes of the international community, it is still a legitimate body, which helps when denouncing chavismo abroad. It has been useful for further isolating chavismo.

    However, what you said is correct. The National Assembly has no power in the country. And it won’t have power unless a higher power (for example, the military) decides it does. Whether the Assembly does what Mrs. Capriles says, or what the radicals say, it won’t matter, because chavismo will simply laugh at its face.

  2. When during apertheid Nelson Mandela was put in a prison shorn of the capcity to exercise any kind of political or civil right or liberty for all practical purposes he ceased to be an acting political leader , isolated from the rest of the world he was in factual terms a ‘non entity’, and yet somehow he remained the representativeof and symbol of all the hopes and goals of the black people of southafrica also converted into non entities by the apertheid regime .The paradox is that while deprived of any power or authority to act in the public realm he never ceased to exist and exercise a powerful influence in the minds of millions of south africans also shorn of their rights as human beings. In time themovement of people whom he inspired to continue considering themselves as real human beings entitled to live in exercise of their full ciil and political rights won their legitimate place as members of south african society. The nullification of the National Assembly as an entity capable of exercising the power and authority granted to it by the constitution is also the nullification of every venezuelan that voted for it …….those people have not died , they continue to exist , as the oppressed subjects of an oppresive regime , and while they exist there is the menace to the regime that at some point they will remove it from power and restore themselves to enjoying all the privileges of citizenship in a free country , an imprisoned and isolated Mandela did not cease to exist or to hold a strong presence in the minds of people ……maybe we could think of the National Assembly in the same mannner…..

    • This is exactly my point, though.

      That might have happened if the government had gone and made a blunder like send some tanks to take over the Palacio Federal Legislativo and imprisoned AN deputies. It won’t happen, though, because the gov’t brilliantly forestalled the possibility.

      Imagine if Mandela, instead of being put in jail, had gone around declaring that he was the rightful president of South Africa and issuing decrees that had no power and nobody followed. He’d have turned into a joke pretty quickly, don’t you think?

      • Got you !! it is different , they havent made the NA into the victim of an ostensible phisical act of abuse , they may yet do it now however , at least Diosdado is threatening to shut down the AN if it doenst back track its ‘support’ of the Lima Group declarations ….!!

      • Wanted martyrs and heros??!!

        Hay que ser cojonudo. Even Leopoldo piped down. I suspect they told him that there was no Ramo Verde for him in the future but a beloved wealthy man’s wake.

  3. “It [the National Assembly] was shut down more than two years ago through a series of court decisions that withdrew not most of its powers but all of them.”

    ——————-

    I’m very interested in finding any web pages concerning each and everyone of these decisions that the illegally appointed TSJ used to cancel the powers of the AN.

    If anyone can point out to me any such web pages, I would greatly appreciate it. It can be anything, from an article on the web page of a newspaper mentioning one of these court decisions, to some blog where someone already collected this information.

    I know that in principle I should be able to google this stuff, but I don’t want to miss anything, so wathever you can point out to me would be really helpful.

    • In fact, if the writers here at Caracas Chronicles could write an article with a timeline enumerating all the instances where the TSJ ended up neutering the National Assembly, it would really help us all to better appreciate the gradual process by which the TSJ annihilated the AN.

  4. As long as Maduro and Diosdado and Delcy ramble on and on and on about the emasculated NA, then it is relevant. It was the last relatively “honest” thing done by Chavismo, and it bothers the shit out of them.

    The next election, if there will ever be one, will be just like the most recent ones. All Chavismo. And then, they won’t have to make the fuss anymore.

    Don’t worry about the NA. They are relevant so long as the Chavistas keep making a fuss about them. If they weren’t relevant, they wouldn’t even mention them, even in passing.

  5. I am baffled that you post this now as if it was anything new. Chavez would show the Constitution at the same time he was ignoring it. They love to keep the form but do whatever they want.

    Or are you just waking up to it now?

  6. Powerless perhaps but important yes. The AN can not affirmatively make changes hut it has an important function. Only it can approve some of these oil deals and if I remember correctly only it can approve debt issuances. This is leverage which the Chavistas could only remove with a legitimate AN election victory.

    • No, it doesnt.

      The current partners of Venezuela care not one bit about any of that. By the power given to Maduro by them, he can sell whatever oil he wants and get whatever debt he wants.

      If you think otherwise you will be corrected by a Chinese or Russian made AFV full of soldiers with Russian or Chinese firearms.

      All you are saying is the same good and normal and rational stuff we all want the country to be in – but it isnt. The AN has no power whatsoever. None at all. Its only function now would be to keep some legitimacy for the future, when/if somehow the country can get rid of these guys, and that may not even be for long.

      I really wish there is a peaceful way out of this, but whatever way it is, is not going to be because the normal democratic institutions have still any power to stop them. The country, peacefully or not, has to oust the current actual power. Without that, there are no spaces to defend, no institutions that can give any path forward, nothing.

      All the AN is now is, at best, when you have somebody with some kind of pull or fire or just dignity, a place for future political prisoners to identify themselves so the authorities get to know who is going to be kidnapped next.

  7. I liked the Mandela example but I will throw out another.

    The most enduring authority where I live, and in a number of democratic counties, is completely symbolic on a daily basis, and does nothing of practical significance. And yet she remains an important organizing principle, and may even be called upon to act in the event of a crisis.

    I just throw that out as an example -of many- of how, even though an authority does not do things, it does not cease to exist and can be a potentially powerful organizing principle, or symbol, and eventually play an important practical role.

    Venezuela still has these elected representatives who do reflect the will of the people: the AN. That is potentially no small thing, particularly in the event that things completely fall apart. My point is simply, they and the institution they embody does not cease to exist by virtue of it having been illegitimately stripped of its consitutional powers; of it not exercising them. It ceases to exist by losing (or abandoning) what still seems to me to be a strong claim to legitimate authority.

      • I was wondering who “she” was supposed to be. Hadn’t considered the UK Queen. I guess she’s on their money, so why not.

        Her Title, Per Wikipedia:
        Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom, Canada and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith

        • You wanna hear something more ridiculous?

          Prince Phillip (one L Philip?) is officially named head of the Canadian military forces.

          Maybe just the Navy…don’t remember…because I was too busy laughing my ass off.

        • Maybe you can use the Wikipedia to explain to Ira how, not being a resident of a certain neighborhood in Montreal, it is impossible for me to vote for the current Canadian Prime Minister.

          • I only recently started paying attention to Canada again because Trudeau is such a buffoon.

            Before him, it was the McKenzie Brothers.

  8. Its like the debate about what is happening today. Is a “power void”? It is an “usurpation of power”?

    In normal circumstances that would be a discussion to have, because what it is would determine what would befall the people doing it.

    In the current circumstances is just empty air. It doesnt matter. Its like discussing if I’m being stabbed or slashed by the maniac that is on top of me with a knife. What I need is somebody to take the knife away from him, not to discuss the finer points of fighting with bladed weapons.

  9. “Reading Colette Capriles’s essay here earlier this week, it struck me that she’s laboring under a carefully crafted misconception. Like almost everyone, she’s been taken in by an illusion the government has spent years painstakingly constructing.

    She believes there’s a National Assembly.”

    Kinda ballsy to cast shade on Colette Capriles Quico when you yourself, until quite recently, were telling us that the elections were fair. Remember, “we have the actas”.

      • Quico is now just another pendejo sin frontera. He’s part of the problem.

        He’s usually the odd man out avoiding consensus. He supported Falcon because his buddy was senior advisor.
        So it is about Quico. Nothing wrong with that but WTF is he running this comeflor blog? He decided to make a career and business out of this unlike the vast majority of his countrymen and women in Canada who have Moved On.

    • “We have the actas”.

      Heh heh heh….

      Ms. Capriles and the political class she identifies with are still stuck in a mindset that somehow expects the malandros facing them will respect the usual rules of politics. They may do so here and there just to keep them off balance, but by and large the only thing you can expect malandros to act as, is well, as malandros.

      The regime took a look at the AN in 2016 and decided to treat them like unruly teenagers and sent them to their rooms, only to let them out to punish them and send them back. And in all this, not one Venezolano went and stood next to them, and I mean literally. They sure could have used crowds around the AN in massive numbers to bolster them at times, but no one showed up. Not easy, I know, but might have made a difference.

  10. I can’t help but wonder, if the AN had given up and voted to dissolve itself say, a month ago, would the Lima Group still have refused to recognize Maduro as President?

    And if the Maduro regime tries to peddle debt that matures in twenty years, and the AN reminds the world the same afternoon that it alone has the constitutional authority to issue debt, would anyone other than Vinny Trader be dumb enough to buy it?

    • Vinny Trader: “Venezuela will not default on bond payments, because default is even worse than making the payments”

      Venezuela: “Sorry, tapped out. No payments for you”

      Vinny Trader: “but, but, but …

  11. I will never forget Quico’s post election comments, MRubio. Much of the democratic world has declared that election fraudulent and I think Quico has sort of confessed error subsequently. Venezuelans will have to work together, left and right, to forge a new Venezuela. Hopefully it will be a true compromise. But I think Maduro will be ousted in 2019 and hopefully his successor will heal the country. If the left can trust the markets and not squash economic growth under the mantle of fairness and if the right can accept reasonable regulation to help the poor, mostly in education in my opinion, then Venezuela can have a shot but only if it separates the oil gush from politics, which may be too big of a step emotionally for our friends on the left. Venezuela should be a case study for economists and politicians for years to come.

  12. Mr Crispin, I’ve given up trying to predict when the Maduro regime will fall. When it does though, I’m not at all certain things will get better. Things may if fact be much worse, at least for a while as there is no guarantee we’ll get a successor interested in healing the country.

    Chavismo has set up an extensive spying network, a neighborhood watch so to speak, in a country where there already are no secrets. I can’t say I’ve seen it used to its full extent, at least not here locally anyway, but I know it’s operational as I was personally the target of it many years ago.

    To paraphrase the title of one of my favorite movies, Venezuela is no country for old men. And yet here I stupidly sit.

    • Hi M Rubio…..that is one of my favorite movies too! I have an uneasy feeling that when Maduro goes down the country may end up looking something like Somalia with local warlords ruling over little fiefdoms. I know you are committed to “sticking it out” but I also hold out hope that at some point you you might rethink that decision. Whatever you decide I wish you, Marc, Bill, and all the others that remain in country the very best outcome possible. Vaya con Dios!!

    • No country for old men.

      The author of that line was William Butler Yeats.

      The title of that line is Cormac McCarthy’s novel, on which the movie was based.

    • The regime is not going to fall anytime soon. Please get that in your heads (Quico).

      The alliances forged are extremely powerful oK?

      Venezuela as you knew or know it, is history. BRV is an outlier and rogue state. Iran will become the new weapons supplier. Yes, they still need weapon systems.

  13. Hi Marc….I guess I finally got over my “mad” about the …well, you know. Lol. Hope you and your family are doing ok. The news coming out of Vz just seems to grow bleaker by the day. I have no idea how you guys are able to cope with the deteriorating conditions. Take care of yourself!

  14. Agree with Quico but partially because the NA still have some function, but rather symbolic /legal / diplomatic to play.
    This is what USA Defense Secretary Pompeo twittet today:

    Secretary Pompeo
    ‏”The National Assembly carries the flame of democracy on behalf of #Venezuela through these dark days of the #Maduro dictatorship. We applaud its efforts to recover stolen funds for the Venezuelan people. Thank you for your leadership, @jguaido.”

    Hopefully they seriously try this time to organize and consolidate the opposition together with the legitimate TSJ to come with a more realistic plan.
    The Venezuelan situation HAS NOT diplomatic / peaceful solution.

  15. When Gomez toppled Castro he inmmediately set in motion the wheels of justice to make Castro accountable for having a well known general shot by firing squad without any due process , thus he built a legal platform upon which to afirm his legitimacy as ruler , The election of a NA controlled by the opposition made the building of a legal platform by the regime impossible , they had to bare their face and show themselves as the tyrants they are , thats whats made their international situation so impossible , they cannot claim any kind of legitimacy precisely because the NA even if powerless to stop the regimes abuses for all of the world represents the truly legitimate govt of venezuela , they cannot erase that……and thats now and in future an important factor in the struggle that will follow against the regime . If the govt forcibly dissolves the NA it wil be doing their enemies a favour , the justification for ousting them from power .

    • Only problem, Bill, is that even now that they are “revealed to the world” as pirates there’s always somewhere a pirate can get harbor.

      For these it’s Russia, China and the other unmentionables. As long as they do business with Venezuela there’s no stopping the party.

    • Lucky Joe, another pendejo sin frontera: this is in the hands of the locals. It’s now open season.

      While the regime is not going anywhere on its own, the locals can always change the course of history.

      Someone will have to rise to the occassion

    • Pizarro basically believes he can “hacer politica” with the Chavistas, who would kill him, or send him to El Helicoide smiling, but that something like that would be impossible with a ‘fascist’ like Bolsonaro?
      How clueless is this guy. Bolsonaro is a democrat, he supports freedom, even to criticise him.

      In Pizarro’s defense, the interview is more like a Gestapo agent interrogating a Jew circa 1943 than an actual interview, we don’t know if he’s saying all he thinks, but are those the brave guys who would “free” Venezuela?

      Thank God we have other options. The US government sanctioning any Chavista associate for life — we know how they love Disney –, and the EU and Latin America doing the same will be enough for the regime to fall. Soon they won’t even have where to escape to.

      Expect more high-profile defections in the coming days, because soon will be too late.
      And Plan B will be activated. And just the THREAT of plan B will be overkill. If that drone alone did all that mess, imagine tomahawks falling and all the borders sieged by the military.

      Maduro is done anyway. My bet is 6 months max. And no, none of that would be happening without the Bolsonaro-Trump partnership. You guys will still build an statue for each in Carcass, sorry, Caracas, when the liberation occurs.

  16. So whilst Maduro has created this fantasy the World has forgotten the horror that is ‘merely existing in Venezuela’. Inflation North of 1,300,000%, oil production at less than 1.5 Million bopd. Manufacturing and food production defunct, illegal mining poisoning the river system around Canaima. Millions of citizens have left. So very tragic, my heart breaks for the people. 😟

    • Very understated. The primary source of high mercury levels in the lower caribbean basin is Venezuela. It’s so bad that the UN and related bodies have begun sampling and testing the island populations for mercury.

  17. Maduro has tried to negotiate (buy) his way out with the U.S. time and time again. They tried FOUR times:

    Shannon-Zapatero, Gorrin-Ballard, Corker-McCarry-Lacava, Habboush-Rodriguez (Citgo-NSC / Potus inagural).

  18. I am surprised to agree with Quico wholesomely. I guess it is because he has changed minds again as of late.
    The whole potamkin apparatus that the whole public administration in Venezuela has become has been the design of the Cuban masters for over 20 years now.

    Systematically, unfit and abrasive characters have been promoted to head positions to undermine spirit of corps and model corruption and loss of purpose throughout.

    This recipe is repeated in every institution, and while the hardware remains (patrullas, edificios, etc.) their operation is a charade to keep the regime’s apparatik in jobs with salaries and under control.

    Everyone in the payroll is an extra in the big play/ production. Even the Diputados of the AN are active or worse, passive pawns in this simulation.

    Its good to know influencers like Quico Toro are finally calling the spade a spade.

  19. “The reality is that Venezuela doesn’t have a National Assembly, because it doesn’t have a duly elected body able to exercise the powers and attributions of a National Assembly.”

    Yeah, but the fundamental issue is that 90% of the remaining population hardly understands any of this. Go to any supermarket or street in any town and ask a simple question: ” What is Venezuela’s National Assembly”, or “what are the main 3 powers in any democracy” or what is “separation of powers”?

    They just don’t have a clue. It’s called lack of education, sorry to say. And that’s why the thugs, criminals in power get away with whatever crap they come up with. Because “el pueblo” is beyond ignorant and uneducated. Not their fault. But Chavistas know that. Heck, they got away with an illiterate bus driver as President for almost 7 years, and will probably keep using him. The root of the problem, as always, is ignorance – incredible ignorance – and immense corruption.

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