Fun Mental Exercise of the Day

Jaime es como tú*
*by “tú” we mean “Hugo”
  • How would Venezuela be different if the constitution had allowed Jaime Lusinchi to be re-elected president in 1988?
  • If instead of leaving a new administration without a penny in reserves, forcing a new team to own the arithmetically unavoidable, socially explosive adjustment, the old adeco nomenklatura had had to face the music?
  • What if it’d been Manuel Azpúrua going cap-in-hand to the IMF for a rescue package? Matos Azocar negotiating gas price rises with the bus-driver unions? José Angel Ciliberto ordering the army to put down riots?
  • What lessons would our body politic have learned, collectively, that it didn’t learn because this didn’t happen?
  • How would our collective memory be different? What if what had passed into conventional wisdom was the memory of the same government that made the crash inevitable then having to pick up the pieces?


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  1. So, this is the position Hugo will be if he wins the election in October.

    I think this non-80’s 80’s analogy works itself out like this:
    1. Jaime would have ordered Azpúrua to negotiate with the IMF, but not right away. It would have happened about 6 months after winning the election when the full impact of near default of the government debt would have half-destroyed the economy.
    2. Matos Azócar would have negotiated a structured agreement to raise gas prices, which would have in turn authorized bus drivers to raise bus ticket prices sparking massive riots, again about 6 months after the beginning of the term.
    3. Ciliberto is at least partially responsible for some egregious human-rights abuses committed by entities like CEJAP, et al. during the Lusinchi admministration, so I am sure he would have had no qualms to act to quell riots.
    4. Our body politic would have probably absorbed nothing.
    5. The only thing i can think of, is that the 1992 coup would have happened in early 1990 instead because the explosive combination of the IMF package, gas riots and immediate suppression plus Ms. Ibañez in Miraflores would have allowed the coupsters to act with more haste.

    It cannot be stressed enough that despite all bad things said about CAP around 1992, he was elected in 1988 with a sizable majority. A lot of people believed erroneously, that CAP would turn Venezuela back to the days of the Venezuela Saudita of the 70’s. It took some time for people to realize that CAP’s 1988 program was quite different than what they anticipated.

    So, would Hugo negotiate with the IMF? Would Giordani negotiate with the bus-driver unions?
    Would Al-Aissami order the Army/FANB to put down riots?

    I think Hugo, if he won, would further mortgage oil reserves to China and Russia instead of negotiating with the IMF. Giordani would accuse bus drivers of being apatridas, etc. for not agreeing to his terms. And the consequent riots would be manipulaciones de la CIA, therefore, as they have showed before, they would stop those riots with a very heavy hand and complete disregard for human rights. They would be aided in this effort by heavy self censorship on the part of the media.

    • “I think Hugo, if he won, would further mortgage oil reserves to China and Russia instead of negotiating with the IMF.”

      The interesting thing is that the likelihood is that at that point, China and Russia would start behaving like the IMF!

      Faced with sending billions to bail out a flailing, broke government facing a massive balance of payments problem, you think China and Russia aren’t going to impose conditions? Of course they are…and those conditions are going to involve shifting wealth from the population to the government – whether you call that devaluation, or gas-price rises, or privatization, or whatever – because it’s the government they’d be lending to…

      • Compared to the eurozone the chnaces of Venezuela going broke are zero. The external debt is just too low in terms of GDP and…….I know, what if the oil price collapses back to 10 dollars? Yet another what if which, politically is all you have to hold on to. “Hope is vain eternal” or just wishful thinking.

        It’s more likely that Venezuela would do an Iceland or an Argentina is things got as bad as YOU want them to be.

    • If Chavez wins in October, he will expropiate the entire public transportation sector and put it under his control IMHO. The gas rationing will go national, because Chavismo will never publicily accept any mistakes and it’s the ultimate method of control and coercion.

      • You know, a friend of mine has always said that is not that the Venezuelan government is large or small, it is just about the right size but totally misplaced. It is dealing with milk and steel production instead of dealing with public transportation.

        Venezuela is one of the few places I know where public transportation is so organic, private and extremely fragmented. Public transportation is one of those things that the government should do! Steel in the other hand, is not.

        • Yet, these guys will screw it up just like anything else. Stay tuned, because I got some stuff on that pretty soon…

        • A long time ago the Venezuelan government used to care for a well-structured public transportation system. Unfortunately, I’m talking about the time when trains and streetcars ruled cities. Now you can easily find out how many decades we’ve been foolishly holding automobiles as the ultimate solution for transportation.

  2. If I had won the lottery and been a dashingly handsome fella with a tendency to early-morning derring-do and had had black beans and a piping hot arepa for breakfast at “El Budare” (on the Av. Rio De Janeiro), the world would be a different place altogether.

  3. My take: you have been reading the polls, which led you to look for the silver lining.
    Disclaimer: you all know I’m neither a chavista nor a troll.

    • To be sure CC has always been wary of opposition chances. This is just the silver lining, but what the OP misses, imo, is that frankly Cuba lasted as long as it has without natural wealth, Chavismo can do far more, albeit while increasing oppression, but what can you do.

  4. That is a beautiful “what if” Quico… the point is that Venezuela’s old Constitution not allowing for presidential reelection was not a sign of Democratic Spirit and the Abhorrence of Continuismo, as some defensores de lo indefendible would say, but a way to avoid paying the price of bad government. We went like proper sheep, every five years, to cast our votes in an election -later on they sweetened the pie by even allowing us to choose our state governors and city mayors, YAY!- but after we cast that vote, we had no more saying in the running of Government. We did not even get to punish the bad rulers for doing a horrible job, because there was no reelection to do that in. And Congress was mainly elected by representación proporcional, meaning most of us had no idea who represented us in Congress and could not call them out for voting in favor or against this or that law… There was also no referendum of any kind in which the will of the people could be heard.

    Those mechanisms are all part of the new Constitution. The Constituyente, however, did not go far enough and kept the representación proporcional thing, meaning a big chunk of Congressmen and women are still only bound to the party that put them on the list, not to the voters. And there is no referendo revocatorio for congressmen…

    • To your comment I can only say what Churchill said better:
      “Democracy is the worst form of government, if you exclude all the others”.

      It is an imperfect system. I agree with you that revocatorios are a great tool. In practice they are difficult to implement.

      I can get on board with one reelection, if the terms are short. But not having term limits is batshit crazy.

      • Rodrigo … You are right, Representative Democracy is “faute de mieux” the best system of Government. But what I am saying here is that more is needed, not less. The current Constitution did not get nearly far enough, because let’s remember, Luis Miquilena, a proper Good Ole Boy of Venezuelan politics, was Chavez’s main political mentor at the time. So Congress was not made fully nominal and there were no revocatorios for some key elected officials. And you are right, they are supremely difficult to implement. What I said is that the Constituyente did not go far enough in REALLY empowering the people. Can you imagine if every elected officer had to publish his decision record for all to see, online, and everyone on that official’s constituency had his e-mail/twitter/facebook/and entry in the Camara de Diputados/Alcaldía/Presidencia? If you have to readily answer for your actions as an elected official to the people, not to the party, because remaining in power for another term depends on it, well, “otro gallo cantaría, chico”.

    • “We did not even get to punish the bad rulers for doing a horrible job, because there was no reelection to do that in.” But the things is that in Venezuela there was not a straight relation between popularity and quality of government, Lusinchi (probably the worst pre-1998 President) was very popular at the end of his term and would probably had been if he were allowed to run. In a country like Venezuela, were the economy and the sense of well being of the population rests largely in the price of oil and not good government, reelection as a punishment would not had made much of a difference before 1998.

        • By the way regarding the other comment, proportional representation is an electoral principle used in many countries around the world to protect minorities. Of course is not perfect a, but is not to blame for most of the things that happened before 1998. Without it minority parties will never have had any representation in Congress before 98 and Chavismo would have achieved a crushing majority in all parliamentary elections before 2010.

          • I mean woud have achieved a crushing majority without the need of the opposition committing seppuku.

          • Is not a simple as that, if you don’t have proportional representation in a multiparty system, a party that gets a minority of the vote can win the seat and all of the other parties that represent the majority of the electorate. Even in the case that a party gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the people in the minority have a right to be represented in the Parliament so there is someone there defending their interests. The “will of the people” is a broad and malleable term that can be defined in many ways either to support o criticize proportional representation or other electoral principles of which neither one is perfect. Of course that proportional representation has drawbacks, but many countries that use it don’t end up like Venezuela.

      • But that is a different flaw, not a political system one but one of a more ideological leaning… Venezuela decided about half a century ago that it would try to give its people a life of luxury by means of the oil riches, instead of gradually improve the economy’s competitiveness while saving a part of that money for a rainy day AND using the rest to build infrastructure… But we cannot in good conscience pin that on the current administration, it is just following a long standing tradition of Paternalismo de Estado.

  5. I think perhaps if we had reached that collapse, we would’ve learned the lessons. I think the guys under CAP really took a bullet there and avoided a major collapse, but prevented us from learning how bad things can be if you don’t have a responsible management of the economy. I think that is something we still need to learn. That the government is not a supporter of the people but the other way around.

    If would have led to the collapse of AD and COPEI as their leadership of the time was so encroached in their cogollos and cogollitos that they would had never see it coming.

    Like Pepe I think the coup would had come earlier, but given its leadership and their lack of balls, it would had failed anyway. Thankfully.

    I would think like something like what Argentina experienced is what could have a happened. A sudden collapse of the party system and we would have gone through 3 presidents in a month.

    Sadly, this means that no reform of the electoral system would’ve occurred and no direct elections of governors and mayor would’ve had happened. Can you imagine what would be of Venezuela today if we had who we have as president and he appointed governors and mayors? I am sure that reform really upsets Hugo.

  6. too many’ what ifs’ and not enough we dids’
    what happened was exactly what had to happen….it’s more important to see why this is so

  7. I sorta remember his copouts –
    Lusinchi, Jaime:
    Trataba de ser simpático
    con sus declaraciones,
    y un día cuando el país hervía
    en medio de protestas
    estudiantiles declaró aquello:
    “los muchachos quieren divertirse”.

  8. Gas rationing – great idea considering that obesity is becoming a huge public health problem in Venezuela. Make people leave their vehicles at home. Lots more chips please and reduce the amount of gas you can buy from 42 liters twice a week to just 20. This would alos help the environment and stop all gasoline imports from our own refineries in the US.

    • Arturo, you’d be funny if you weren’t scary:
      Venezuela needs to stop subsidizing gas and make people pay a fair price for it, not rationing it so you can say gas has not gone up under Chavez.

    • and, obesity in Venezuela being the driver for gas rationing? I haven’t seen logic this twisted since, since, oh well since the last cadena.

    • Go figure! I thought it was all about stopping the gas smuggling from Venezuela to Colombia! But you’re probably into something, because EVERYBODY knows that the guys running the gas smuggling business are not the pimpineros, but some big fishes inside the Guardia Nacional.
      So, it´s not about the government trying to save some cash and protecting his friends inside the GN, but about environmental and health care issues. Pure genius… not!

    • When Russia pulled the plug on Cuba, and left them to their own devices back in the early nineties, they ran quickly ran out of hard currency and didn’t have any money to import oil and gasoline, leaving people without any form of motorized transportation as well as farms without oil to operate their equipment. So, Castro bought a million bicycles from China, on credit, and distributed them to the Cubans. When he did this, he told them it was because they had grown too fat, and needed the exercise. I guess it worked. When I got there in the late nineties, the Cubans were very skinny…

      True story…

  9. I believe that Venezuelans, in general, simply do not want to learn from the problems of the country. They care about themselves and generally prefer to “fish in turbulent waters” because from time to time somebody hook and reel in a monster guiso.

    So, what would have changed if this or that happened or not? who knows Quico, but I am sure that lots of people would be wishing for “it” to happen again, so they could set up their own corruption webs to see if they are the ones reeling in the current monster guisos.

    So, in short, I think that Venezuelans, in general, have learned that if you want to be rich, you better lean and cuddle with the government, because the government pockets are disproportionally bigger than private pockets, the law has a price, and nobody cares that much. The biggest saying in Venezuela these days is “If I wouldn’t do it, somebody else would, so what the hell”.

  10. Supposing immediate reelection had been possible, Lusinchi would never have sought it in 1988 because he would never have been president in 1983. The reason is the man who craved for the presidency the most in recent decades: Rafael Caldera. Caldera would’ve been able to stop CAP to become president and, since he ran conservative policies, he wouldn’t have massively indebted the country as the real president did; therefore, Viernes Negro wouldn’t have happened and no deep crisis would have led us to where we currently are.

    • I’m not so sure, Caldera was never a particularly popular politician, he won de chiripa in 68. When he faced Lusinchi in 1983 in a debate many were surprised that Lusinchi came out better in the debate and he lost the elections. CAP was always a very popular and charismatic guy and won in 1973 by a two digit difference, not so sure that Caldera could’ve beat him, probably not.

      • CAP got those numbers not only with his charisma but also by the fact that COPEI had nominated its lamest candidate ever: Lorenzo Fernandez.

        • But COPEI was never a party of the masses nor Caldera was a very popular leader, they won narrowly in 1968 because of the split of Luis Beltrán Prieto Figueroa who founded the MEP (and if you support the idea (I do) that Presidential elections should have second rounds, Barrios would have won as he and the other center-left parties got over 70% of the total vote) and in 1978 because AD nominated Piñerúa Ordaz. I’m not an adeco, but it cannot be denied that the truly popular party before 1998 was AD and COPEI wins in Presidential elections were more circumstantial.

  11. Some very interesting comments.  Adecos surely thought they would be in power with CAP once elected only to realize that he was not going to govern with them.  

    The 1961 Constitution contained within it the trojan virus that would ultimately destroy it:  the ability for expresidents tu run after waiting a period.   The friction between the political parties and the return of the expresidents to power destroyed and debilitated COPEI and AD, respectively.   Without stable political parties democracies are weak.  The destruction and decay of the two major parties is a huge reason of the mess we are in.

    For our culture, I don´t think it is a good idea to have any form of re’election.  No somos suizos…  The temptation to use the power of the state for political purposes has always been hard to refuse not just for Chavistas. Running against the state is just not fair.  

    I like the idea of Revocatorios  giving people the power to replace a government they do not like.  However, I find them disruptive.  I don´t think it is a good idea to have people in government running for office simultaneously.  A Revocatorio forces that condition and instead of governing the authority needs to run a campaign to remain in office.  Running a campaign is a full time effort, which distracts them from their day to day job, which is already pretty difficult!  

    I say no re election ever and short terms.  Let the institution be more important than the presidente de turno

    • I think you’re missing a key point. The model of democracy set up in Venezuela in 1958 began showing cracks sooner than expected. It needed reforms and adjustments to survive. Some influential politicians had sensed it before the 1983 economic crash but procrastination had widely prevailed, and their pressure was responsible for the swift creation of a presidential commission to reform the State (COPRE) after the aforesaid event.

      It won’t hurt to remind that COPRE underperformed. Procrastination would still prevail.

      Five years of economic crisis was enough to stop looking forward for better politicians and society turned its head back to revive tried, better times, hence the outcome of the next three presidential elections (1988, 1993, 1998). So, you see, presidential reelection in Venezuela under the 1961 constitution was just a means to begin walking that path.

  12. If there would have been reelection in the puntofijismo era. (terms should have been 4 instead of 5 years) I think we would be better off in the long run. Because first of all we wouldn’t be reelecting CAP or Caldera. Therefore, allowing new leadership to arise. Also, those 5 years terms with no inmediate reelection should have been wiser in no “corner la arrogant” and instead taking reasonable good public politics that would have been good for the country.

    Francisco, I think it is a nice and fun mental exercise, and wothwhile but what is the point of wondering about what if.

    By the way, I was born in 1983. So I have little to say, just what seems to make sense.

  13. The venezuelian society has not tocado fondo yet.

    Hopefully it does and it does well! meaning we suffer a lot of pain and have the chance for some real learnings…. Otherwise as someone said above, Chavismo will be akin to Peronismo, a named disease in the societal boby that will linger on, now days called socializmo, izquierda, etc….

    Nadie aprende en cabeza ajena, oil revenues have provided a buffer and a burbuja for the country. Chavismo’s ultimate achievement of ruining down PDVSA in their insatiable saqueo, will allow for this hard times to follow.

    On the other hand, these ill-gotten wealth is going to stick around and make it really hard for the new establishement to govern and to teach the right lessons form the upcoming deluge.

    Just as old corrupt adecopeyanos morphed into “respectable” bussiness owners and had their kids grow up in colegios del este, the current chavistas, are doing the same. At the end of the day in venezuela no one cares where your money came from, as log as you got some!


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