By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- Since Friday Venezuela has two competing Supreme Courts, as befits a deeply divided country.
One of the Supreme Courts was appointed by the opposition-held National Assembly Friday; the other in late 2015, by the outgoing National Assembly, violating the rules and packing it with members loyal to President Nicolas Maduro.
“We denounced that only minutes ago the SEBIN detained newly sworn justice by the AN, Angel Zerpa Aponte”, the National Assembly tweeted Saturday night.
Zerpa teaches law at the Universidad Catolica Andres Bello, a private university in Western Caracas that is considered to be a hotbed of anti-Maduro thought and activity.
Colombian all-news TV station NTN24 (which Maduro has banned in Venezuela) tweeted that other justices are expected to be arrested. Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles also tweeted that he expected more arrests of justices by the SEBIN. The Maduro Supreme Court wrote earlier in the week that they would be arresting anyone who the National Assembly named as a Justice.
Angel Aponte, Supreme Court justice for the Supreme Court designated Friday, was arrested Saturday night by Sebin, the national intelligence service, on orders by Maikel Moreno, the president of the Maduro Supreme Court designated in 2015 and who served time in jail on murder charges in the 1980s.
And while such developments may sound end-of-times apocalyptic to people in the U.S. or Europe, in Venezuela they are seen as just the latest chapter in a Constitutional crisis that started in late 2015 when the governing regime lost the National Assembly in a landslide.
Throughout 2016 and into 2017, the Supreme Court issued ruling after ruling making unconstitutional anything the National Assembly passed and attempting to curtail the Assembly's power and functions. When in late March 2017 the Supreme Court tried to usurp the very functions of the National Assembly, even the then Maduro-friendly Attorney General cried foul. Attorney General Luisa Ortega, until then a faithful “chavista”, denounced a breach in Constitutional order and sided with the National Assembly against Maduro and his Supreme Court.
Things then began to deteriorate: the opposition started a series of protests aimed at denounced “the ongoing coup” by Maduro and the Supreme Court against the Assembly. The protests, which began in earnest April 1st 2017, have so far resulted in 122 demonstrators and security forces killed, according to local NGO “Control Ciudadano”, although the Attorney General says only 100 persons have been killed in the context of protests.
More than 4,000 demonstrators have been arrested with hundreds being tried before military courts.
The Supreme Court has not issued a single decision contrary to government interest, not even heard a single case against Maduro, throwing every allegation out before the first hearing, including challenges brought by Attorney General Ortega.
Chief Justice Moreno and seven other justices in the pro-Maduro Supreme Court are now Specially Designated Nationals sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury.