The flash-point news this afternoon is the decision of the high court to allow a massive retirement of 90% of its members. So what, you may say? Justices are also allowed to retire of they want, no?
Not so fast.
Contrary to the US, when some one becomes Justice of the high court of Venezuela, TSJ, s/he is appointed for a number of years, not for life. Justices are also appointed upon a mere vote of the National Assembly, without, in theory, influence of the executive although we all know that in Venezuela 90% of the Justices were appointed after approved from Miraflores Palace.
In other words, the TSJ is allowing the National Assembly to replace all the Justices that must retire. In an interesting wording, the TSJ does not say that the Justices must retire, but allows the National Assembly to replace those that are ready to retire, effectively pushing out a justice once its replacement has been named. That is, if you still do not get it, the TSJ is telling the National Assembly that it can replace 90% of the judges before the September elections, and all for a full 9 year term (or less in some cases?).
As a consequence the coming National Assembly where chavismo is not expected to get a majority (as of today situation) will find in front a judicial system stacked in favor of Chavez that will be able to undo any law that Chavez does not like. This sets up the September election as a prelude to a major conflict of powers that could only be solved through either a dissolution of the Assembly and new elections, or calling a Constitutional Assembly to remove the new partisan Justices to be named. Because it will not be easy to remove the new partisan judges through the legal ways even if the new Assembly gets a 2/3 majority against Chavez, a very unlikely event.
In other words the Judicial Power of Venezuela has done today what can only be qualified of a political coup, to guarantee that no matter what the electoral result of September is, Chavez will control 4 out of the 5 powers until 2012 at least, disregarding the will of the people. Which the current TSJ has been doing all along, mind you! But at least there was the hope of a progressive substitution of the Justices completing their terms through the next legislature, a process that would have forced both sides to name semi decent judges since none of the sides would have the 2/3 majority to ramrod their choices.
The good side of the news is, I suppose, that chavismo is coming to grips with the idea that they are likely going to lose the parliamentary majority and for image purposes they will need to live with it for a while until they can dissolve it or have Chavez reelected in 2012 when he will be allowed once again to try a constitutional reform. So chavismo is building a legal armature that will minimize as much as possible the effect of an adverse parliament. Expect more measures.
PS: the TSJ decision of today is also rich of mercenary cynicism. There is a law project in the works that would limit the pay checks of high government public offices. By retiring now, even if they keep working, something that the Venezuelan law allows, unbelievably!, they will keep their today retirement paycheck amount no matter what the new control law says. The ruling can be read here.