EspañolIt’s no secret that the executive branch runs Venezuela single-handedly since Hugo Chávez’s constitutional reform in 1999. Since that time, Venezuelan courts have followed Chávez’s instructions or those of his successor, Nicolás Maduro, each and every time they reach a decision.
For years, the world witnessed how Venezuela’s electoral authorities took partial measures and committed outright fraud. In criminal law cases, Chávez regularly ordered an individual’s arrest on television, after which judges at his beck and call proceeded to fulfill the strongman’s wishes without due process. The Supreme Court would then confirm the judges’ decision, on certain occasions culminating their sessions with the official Chavista cry of “Fatherland, Socialism or Death. We shall triumph!”
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All legal outrages committed under Chávez and Maduro have been ratified by the Attorney General’s office, which is currently headed by Luisa Ortega. It was Ortega, in fact, who directed all trials which led to the sentencing of Venezuela’s political prisoners, from former presidential candidate Leopoldo López to Antonio Ledezma, former mayor of the Caracas metropolitan area. Ortega even carried out a politically motivated trial against judge María de Lourdes Afiuni, who was jailed because she freed a defendant against whom there was no evidence of wrongdoing, but whom Chávez wanted imprisoned.
It is against this backdrop that Luisa Ortega and Nicolás Maduro have staged their latest version of political theatre, the play beginning just hours before a crucial meeting of the Organization of American States’ (OAS) general assembly. The script runs as follows:
On March 29, Venezuela’s Supreme Court, justifying its tyranny with Soviet-Cuban newspeak, annulled the legislative faculties of the National Assembly, Venezuela’s congress, and usurped its power.
The decision was meant to allow the Maduro regime to negotiate loans abroad without previous parliamentary approval. It also sought to allow the government, under heavy pressure due to the steady fall in oil production as a result of the socialists’ destruction of the state-owned oil company, PDVSA, to once again operate alongside foreign firms as majority shareholders. This is deliberately outlawed under legislation which the then Chavista controlled National Assembly approved nearly a decade ago.
The Supreme Court’s takeover of the National Assembly’s functions was the last blow against any remaining semblance of constitutional democracy in Venezuela. It was delivered since Maduro is desperate to obtain funds as he faces imminent foreign debt payments. Venezuela’s financial problems became more severe in the previous weeks as the United States Treasury Department froze approximately USD $3 billion from several bank accounts controlled by Maduro’s vice-president, Tarek El-Aissami, who is accused of leading a global drug trafficking network. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro confirmed the USD $3 billion amount seized from El-Aissami.
In his rush to find money and with characteristic mediocrity, Maduro failed to consider the international community’s reaction to the coup de grâce he delivered to Venezuela’s constitutional order. Once government after government condemned the Supreme Court’s arbitrary takeover of legislative powers, Maduro reacted as the Castros taught both him and Chávez: with temper tantrums and insults against those who pointed out how Venezuelan constitutional democracy is under assault.
The lupine Maduro then changed his course and tried on some sheep’s clothing, adopting a tactic often employed by Chávez. On March 31, Maduro stated that the judicial branch in Venezuela is independent and that he was unaware of the Supreme Court’s decision before it was announced. To any Venezuelan reasonably well acquainted with national politics this claim would cause hilarity were it not so abominably false.
In the following act, Attorney General Luisa Ortega, a lapdog of the Chavista regime who has personally jailed all of Venezuela’s political prisoners, stated during an event televised on the main state-owned network that the Supreme Court’s decision is unconstitutional. The judges and bureaucrats attending the event— each and every one a Chavista crony and firm believer in the Revolution— cheered in unison, showing the results of their training in Havana.
Immediately, the members of Venezuela’s loyal opposition congratulateg Attorney General Ortega for her bravery and praised her as a staunch defender of democracy, forgetting the fact that she put Leopoldo López, Venezuela’s leading opposition politician, behind bars.
In the evening, Maduro, while presiding a televised Council of National Defense, declared that he exhorts the Supreme Court to “revise” the decision in which it assumes all legislative faculties.
This macabre piece of political stagecraft starring Nicolás Maduro and Luisa Ortega is directed toward the OAS. “OAS ambassadors and representatives,” the message goes, “as you can see, there is clearly a separation of powers in Venezuela. Checks and balances are working properly. As you can see, the Attorney General stood up to the Supreme Court. As you can see, President Maduro defended the constitution, working within the framework of the Council of National Defense in order to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision.”
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The play is so well designed that, immediately, CNN (“Venezuelan attorney general breaks with Maduro, slams supreme court”) and the BBC (“Supreme court backtracks on power bid”) become the regime’s publicists— free of charge— as they announced to the world that Venezuela had restored constitutional democracy because the Supreme Court’s decision will be revised.
Minutes later, the Supreme Court issues a revised decision as its president puts forth absurd and incoherent explanations. Nevertheless, the court kept in place a state of emergency and maintained its own legislative authority in matters pertaining to oil deals with foreign firms.
Today, on April 3, at the OAS headquarters in Washington DC, we will catch a glimpse of the supporting actors who have yet to appear: the ambassadors of Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, and perhaps Colombia, who will simply praise the Supreme Court’s revision of its original sentence instead of demanding immediate elections in Venezuela. The show will have finished and Maduro will likely have won the prize he seeks: to buy himself time, always more time.