Image: Sofia Jaimes Barreto
What the ANC is supposed to be
It’s not a National Constituent Assembly to begin with, but a parallel Parliament with an illegitimate origin. A National Constituent Assembly is a political, constitutional institution recognized in the Constitution of 1999. Its purpose is to transform the state through a process in which a new Constitution is created. The Venezuelan state was born precisely from a constituent process that began in April 19th, 1810 and ended with the enactment of the Constitution on December 21st, 1811.
But, long story short, beyond all the noise and fanfare for the transformation and creation of the state and the republic: a constituent assembly is an institution democratically elected in charge of writing a Constitution.
Why is the current ANC illegal?
The short answer: it was summoned and elected violating the current Constitution.
The long answer: the Constitution of 1999 establishes that “the people” are the holders of the “original constituent power” and can call for a National Constituent Assembly with “the goal of transforming the state, creating a new judiciary order and writing a new Constitution.”
It’s hard to remember, because too much has happened in the last 20 years, but this” original constituent power” was a pretty controversial concept at the time. The Supreme Court jumped through hoops to give Hugo Chávez his new Constitution. But what this means, in our context, is that the people had to decide if they called for a constituent process or not, which could only be done through a referendum.
The ANC that wrote the current Constitution was convoked under these rules, in 1999, and that Carta Magna was approved in a referendum in December that year, right during Vargas State tragedy. That’s why, even though that process has been strongly questioned, as the document itself, the Constitution that resulted from that ANC is accepted in Venezuela and abroad as legitimate.
In this case (2017), however, there was no referendum. On the contrary, Nicolás Maduro “called for” the constituent process directly, with decree 2830 on May 1st, 2017, without asking the people if they wanted to have an ANC or not. Also, no opposition parties ran in the ANC deputies election and they denounced the electoral system as unconstitutional and fraudulent. Even Smartmatic, the company that had provided the service for the National Electoral Council (CNE) in many elections, warned about inconsistencies by at least one million votes in that election.
Because of this, the opposition considers every decision made by the ANC as unconstitutional.
What has the ANC done?
Two years after its installation, the ANC hasn’t presented the country with a formal project for a Constitution, that would’ve been its main mission if it had been called and elected according to the Constitution of 1999.
Quite the contrary, it has issued decrees to hunt down National Assembly deputies, it revoked the election of Zulia’s governor, and it installed what they called a Commission for Truth that has only been useful for political persecution. It has also approved “constitutional laws” in political matters like the Anti-Hate Law, and regarding the economy —like the law of foreign investment or a recent law that taxes large estates.
The ANC has been a constant guillotine over opposition leaders’ heads. In the last few months, it decided to “strip the parliamentary immunity” of several deputies, to begin a process of judicial persecution and push them to exile or jail and, in consequence, it has quashed the necessary quorum to approve decisions in the National Assembly.
What does it do for Maduro?
It helps mask decisions made in Miraflores or Fuerte Tiuna with a shade of legitimacy, before having them executed through the TSJ and the ANC as collegiate decisions—voted on by a majority.
This facade would only work, naturally, on Maduro loyalists and the states that recognize the regime and the ANC’s legality, and there aren’t many of those. The countries that recognize Guaidó as caretaker president do so because they believe that the National Assembly is the only legitimate Parliament in Venezuela, and it’s presided by Guaidó since January 2019. The ANC is an echo of the decisions that are made to control the population and are taken by the dominant tribes of the alliance formed around Nicolás Maduro. The ANC’s punitive nature is so evident, as an institution for legitimizing repressive actions, that Maduro recently ordered the ANC to proceed in a counterattack against the U.S sanctions.
This way, the ANC doesn’t resemble the Venezuelan ANC of 1999—which was clearly dominated by chavismo but it upheld its duty of creating a new Constitution—as much as it resembles the Supreme Soviet of the USSR or the Cuban National Assembly, institutions that were created to affiliate minor leaders and to work as echo chambers for the decisions already made in the tight spheres of autocratic power.
Regarding the specific case of Maduro’s ANC, it was created as a parallel parliament, following the logic of creating “protectors” of a state when chavismo loses a regional election. Since the AN obtained an opposition majority in the parliamentary elections of 2015, the regime built its own congress, which in fact was one of the fundamental steps to becoming a dictatorship.
The ANC has one additional function: providing Diosdado Cabello, and let’s remember that without his support Maduro wouldn’t be there still, with his own space to exercise his power, particularly designed to execute his role of persecuting every possible enemy of the Bolivarian Revolution. But currently it seems as if Diosdado needs a little more room for himself, now that he’s started reconquering power by purging the Armed Forces and the opposition after the events of April 30th.