June 16, 2008

The Secret Parliament

Quico says: I'm sorry to stay stuck on the Intelligence Decree-Law fiasco, but the more I think about it the more I see it as the embodiment of everything that's fucked up about the hopelessly fucked up way we're governed. (Click here for background.)

The episode was absurd from the very start. It never really made sense for Chávez to request special powers to legislate by decree from a legislature where he enjoyed a 165 to 0 majority. Enabling laws make some (not much) sense in the context of competitive parliaments where certain key pieces of legislation need to be enacted in great haste to confront some looming crisis. In such cases, the normal process of legislative scrutiny - the thrust and parry of parliamentary debate - threaten to do lasting damage by slowing down state action when time is of the essence. (That, incidentally, is why the 1961 constitution limited enabling powers to financial matters.)

The Venezuelan situation in early 2007 could not have been more different. All that Enabling powers did was to render the legislative process entirely opaque: withdrawing it from a forum where 165 sycophants would follow Chávez's every whim slavishly and in public to a forum where an indeterminate number of sycophants would follow his every whim slavishly but behind closed doors.

The Intelligence Decree-Law fracas underscores that even from the point of view of the government's narrow political interests, this was idiotic. Had this text been debated in public, the outcry that's followed it would've taken place before the law came into force, allowing chavismo the time to "fix it" as part of the normal legislative process. That would've preserved some kind of plausible deniability for Miraflores, and avoided the clownish spectacle of the president effectively vetoing his own decree.

As it is, Chávez isn't even reading the decrees that he's signing into law, leaving himself wide open to the kind of own-goal his flunkies scored over the Intelligence Decree-Law.

Constitutionally, there isn't the slightest smidgen of doubt about where responsibility for this fiasco falls. But because it's politically impossible to blame the Fat Man in the Palace for anything that goes wrong (even when his name is - very literally - written all over it), chavistas are left in the hallucinogenic position of having to blame Miraflores staff for the SNAFU!

It's impossible to exaggerate how fucked up this blame-the-flunkies strategy is. The flunkies aren't elected. The flunkies have no authority of their own. The flunkies aren't accountable. Hell, we don't even know who the flunkies are: they act in secret!

But, under the chavista interpretation of enabling powers, they, in effect, run the country.

But lets concede the point. Let us give in to the rising tide of insanity and accept that Miraflores staff is responsible for the decrees their boss signs. Lets accept that this shadowy cabal of executive-branch lawmakers own some decisions that violated the constitution, that injured fundamental human rights, that undermined the revolution's credibility...where does the buck stop? Who gets fired? Or demoted? Or reprimanded?


As an opposition, we don't even know whose head to ask for, because we don't even know the actual names of the people we're told are responsible!

Chavismo has sprouted a secret parliament: the perfect complement to the shadowy, constitutionally non-existent Finance Ministry that now runs a multi-billion dollar parallel budget out of PDVSA. It's an insane way to run a country.

In the end, the Intelligence Decree-Law Affair underscores a terrifying reality. The Venezuelan state is gradually turning itself into a clandestine organization; eating itself from the inside out.