The Fracas in Caracas
After Election, Venezuela Paralyzed

Even as its economy implodes as oil prices tank, Venezuela’s government is paralyzed. The Wall Street Journal reports:

On Tuesday, the president of the assembly and an opposition leader, Henry Ramos, said the day’s session failed to reach a quorum, with neither side showing up, as a battle between the branches of the badly splintered government heats up.

A day earlier, the Supreme Court—packed with government allies—declared all acts by the assembly null and void because the opposition-dominated legislature had defied an order by the magistrates barring three opposition lawmakers from being sworn in. President Nicolás Maduro’s United Socialist Party had asked the court for a review of the results, asserting that there was vote-buying on the part of the opposition in the remote state of Amazonas, a claim the opposition denies.

As the two sides maneuvered, it appeared that ruling party lawmakers would stay away from the assembly as Mr. Maduro tried to mute its role in governance. Indeed, the government is now trying to decide where the president would give his state-of-the-union address on Friday, a speech that until now has always been delivered in the assembly.

“We’re not going to make the quorum for the opposition,” Diosdado Cabello, a ruling party lawmaker and the former president of the assembly, told reporters.

As to the court rulings against the opposition, the opposition itself rejects its legitimacy:

The government’s critics say the Supreme Court lacks legitimacy because the lame-duck parliament last month violated constitutional norms by packing it with 13 Socialist-allied judges. The governor of Amazonas, Liborio Guarulla, who is opposed to Mr. Maduro, said the evidence presented by the government of irregularities on election day was bogus.

“We’re going to show how this has all just been a setup, that they are illegal recordings, editing, fake names and all of that,” he told reporters. “The situation of repression and lies has continued.”

This paralysis may be designed to give the National Communal Parliament, an extra-legal body convened by Cabello after the election loss and housed in the same building as the normal Congress, some legitimacy—or at least to make it the only legislature in town that can actually meet under its own rules.

The reality is that Venezuela’s socialist government will not yield to anything but force. Even then the country is so divided that some people seem to be ready for civil war to defend the Chavez project. It is hard to see a peaceful and smooth way forward.

The U.S. has long enjoyed the luxury of not having major crisis spots in its immediate neighborhood. That could be changing as Venezuela continues the slide toward catastrophe. Policymakers in Washington should probably start boning up on their Spanish.

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