The Misadventures of Maduro, the Enabled


Yon Goicoechea Lara, Venezuelan politician and lawyer, winner of the 2008 Milton Friedman Prize


This week, we Venezuelans are undusting our worst memories. The looting promoted by Maduro has forced us to face the spectre of Caracazo of 1989. 24 years later, oil 'rentism' is once again taking its toll. With an annual inflation approaching 54% in 2013, basic food shortages and of international reserves that would not even cover a week's imports, Venezuela is plunging into chaos.  

The difficulty here is predicting what the political consequences of the collapse will be. Generally, when democratic countries default, citizens may change their presidents. But dictators are somewhat reluctant when it comes to leaving. Hence they seek to shield their powers in order to achieve through fear and force what they could not otherwise obtain. Nicolás Maduro knows that if does not radicalise the revolution his government will collapse. He has therefore requested an enabling law providing him with the agility to make structural changes without people having time to analyse them.  

In the past, Hugo Chavez used legislative delegations to remove basic pillars of Venezuelan democracy. For example, he de-professionalised the Armed Forces, creating the "Bolivarian, anti-imperialist and revolutionary militia", which had the responsibility to "take care of and supervise" electoral processes in the country.  In response, many sectors of society sought out justice to annul the decree-laws issued by the "Supreme Commander", but to no avail.  In 2010, the prestigious constitutionalist Jesús María Casal and a group of MPs filed a motion for annulment before the Supreme Court which, to date, has not been processed. There are other similar precedents.  

The enabling law we are discussing today was originally marketed as a means of fighting corruption. With regard to its communication effectiveness, that justification was not successful, so the government advisers decided to focus the campaign on the so-called "economic war".  The purpose of the law is so broad that the president would be able to change the penal code, the law on political parties, the Central Bank Act or the administrative and political composition of the State.  Anything that serves to "confront the economic war of the bourgeoisie against the people" is allowed.  But there is no reason to worry, it is no use to rack your brain over it, even if there were clear boundaries there would be no Court to submit them to. Those who have understood it better are the comedians of the well-known portal "El Chigüire Bipolar" which headlined: "President who does whatever he wants will keep doing whatever he wants."

According to Article 203 of the Venezuelan Constitution, the enabling act requires three-fifths of parliament for approval.  After a very Venezuelan "crossover jump" of three MPs who were initially opponents but now vote with the PSUV, the government stood only one MP away of the required majority: the infamous MP 99.

As an anecdote, it's worth noting that all kinds of speculation regarding the identity of so miserable a wretch could be heard in the bars of Caracas. I say miserable because it is difficult to remember anyone who has received so many curses, spells and hexes in the whole history of mankind as the substitute MP Carlos Flores, poor rich Chavist! Yes, MP 99 ended up being a substitute because when the government decided that no more votes could be bought, it decided to dismiss MP Maria Aranguren, of whom Flores was her second, from Parliament. Stripping him of his immunity was easy, you just needed a Supreme Court elected by an absolutely Chavist Parliament (the opposition was not present in the previous term). Of 32 judges, 32 have declared themselves to be revolutionaries.  

Maduro has already advanced some of the ordinances that he will dictate with his new powers.  The centralisation of all imports of the country, the restriction of private financing of political parties (in Venezuela there is no public funding), the occupation of businesses whose profit margins are higher than what the government considers reasonable, among other measures, could be implemented during the first half of December. In all probability, after the municipal elections of December 8.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, unless the revolution is struck by lightning, the country will continue its course towards infeasibility. After the December looting we will have New Year shortages, the dollar at one hundred and empty pockets, so typical of our Venezuelan Januaries.  And what will happen if the Chinese keep their word of not funding more inordinate government spending? What will become of Chavism without Chavez and without check-book? The enabling law does not answer these questions, because the law in Venezuela is not a deciding factor. Law died of decline years ago, no judge was able to save it. What we were left with was a divided and impoverished armed force, a paramilitary armed corps to defend the revolution and a people who, when hungry, goes out and eats whoever they find.