My problem with Capriles’s more-Mercales ad


If you’ve ever studied Negotiation Theory, you already know the little fable:

There was once only one orange left in a kitchen and two prominent chefs were fighting over it.

“I need that orange !”

“Yes, but I need that orange as well !”

Time was running out and they both needed an orange to finish their particular recipes for the state dinner. They decided on a compromise: they grabbed one of the large kitchen knives that was lying around, split the orange in half, and each went to his corner to finish preparing his meal.

One chef squeezed the juice from the orange and poured it into the special sauce he was making. It wasn’t quite enough, but it would have to do. The other grated the peel and stirred the scrapings into the batter for his famous cake. He too didn’t have as much as he would have liked, but given the situation, what else could he have done ?

The story is told to exemplify the way positions can vary even when interests do not. Entrenched in their negotiating positions – “I want that orange!” – the chefs fail to see that their underlying interests are not actually in conflict at all.

Capriles’s latest ad promising to build more and more subsidized food shops (Mercales) brought that fable to mind. He’s failing to see that people’s interests – access to affordable, nutritious food – are not necessarily contingent on supporting an insane position on making Mercales proliferate.

Promising to protect the people by giving them more and more Mercales is like cutting the orange in half: you privilege a prefabricated and wrongheaded position over a clear eyed understanding of the interests that position is supposed to advance.

So I agree with Juan – the ad is a mistake. First off, because it feels craven. But mostly because it wastes an opportunity to stake out a policy position that’s genuinely consonant with people’s interests. “We can ensure that no Venezuelan goes hungry without feeding a  bureaucracy that lets hundreds of thousands of tons of food rot in our ports.” That should be his message.

Or, come to think of it, “when you have a good job, hunger never comes knocking on your family’s door.” That was his stump speech line in the primaries. It was real. It was true. It was zero bullshit…why trade it for this dog’s breakfast of a stance?!

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.


  1. “We can ensure that no Venezuelan goes hungry without feeding a bureaucracy that lets hundreds of thousands of tons of food rot in our ports.”

    That is the message. The political campaign needs to reach different groups. For some people the message means more jobs and economic opportunity; for others it means improving the current social programs.

  2. The Negotiation Theory fable reminded me of the Tragedy of the Commons. Basically, to reach a mean, several individual entities waste more resources than the advantage say mean will give them back.

  3. Well its true, he had a blunder. Sometimes I get sick ok the thought that populism is far away from being dealt with and that we have been turned onto a society of beggars. “Give me, give me because you have to give me!”

  4. Metadiscurso. Capriles está respondiendo en otro nive de análisis: no voy a desmontar las misiones. Cualquier anuncio de cambio a la forma específica de alguna de las misiones hace perder fuerza a ese mensaje. El, a estas alturas, quiere mostrar el compromiso de que continuará con las misiones (programas sociales). La forma y fórmula para solucionar el problema del acceso a los alimentos por los grupos vulnerables es otra cosa. El ha dicho también que los programas se evaluarán y revisaran. Pero para eso debe ganar y para ganar la gente debe creer que las políticas sociales continuarán.

  5. “when you have a good job, hunger never comes knocking on your family’s door.” That was his stump speech line in the primaries. It was real. It was true. It was zero bullshit…why trade it for this dog’s breakfast of a stance?!

    Sir, as we would say in maracaibo, “me callo la *eta”

  6. Applying your own oranges story to your position would explain that what you are asking of the ad is different to what Juan is asking of the ad and is different to what Capriles seems to be asking of the ad. The three chefs don’t seem to realize that all share the same interest.

    Juan’s case is about the juice of the orange. He specifically thinks the ad is meant to diffuse, but won’t succeed in diffusing, the fear tactics of chavez’s ads, at least that’s what Juan stated was his only point. The message that you wish Capriles to send is about the seeds of the orange and how to eliminate bureaucracy and achieve the same things that misiones achieve without necessarily using misiones. But Capriles is clearly trying to use the surface of the orange and send the message that directly counters chavez’s message: “No voy a eliminar las missions.” To be convincing, he’s one-upping chavez and even promising that they will be improved.

    So, you and Juan pulling at the orange ad in your two different directions doesn’t change the fact that the ad directly pulls towards convincing misionbenficiaries that the misiones are here to stay, and improved.

  7. I have to agree with Mr Gary Petis.
    Capriles needs to convince undecided voters, we are 25 days ahead of election day and he’s doing what he has to do.
    In my opinion he’s giving a clear political message beyond the populist tone.He will be our transition president, he’ll has to deal with the other four powers of the State, with the “nomenklatura”, at this point on the campaign the message is becoming plane and direct.
    In order to achieve transition he will have to negotiate transition and that means keeping the misiones, even increasing them in number or at least promising that he will.

    A good old dose of populism is needed specially when the chaverment is dedicating resources on dirty campaign, they seem to forget their beloved missions while insulting Capriles and he’s taking advantage of that.

    This ad might dislike us or even annoy us but we’re not playing “carritos” here..

  8. This argument is way too sophisticated for the unsophisticated/uneducated targets of the Capriles’ commercial. Rotten food has been publicized ad nauseum, but hasn’t resonated with the Pueblo, like Mercal pricing/accessibility do. Most Venezuelans don’t know what a “good job” is and have never had one. “Without Feeding a Bureaucracy”?–Tell this to the 2.5 million Central Government/hundreds of thousands of lower level regional/local government employees that are feeding themselves/their families thanks to “Bureaucracy” and see how it resonates. “To stake out a policy position that’s really consonant with peoples’ interests”, you first have to understand those people, then you have to understand their interests, and then you have to talk to them in the type of language they understand.

  9. Damn if you do, damn if you don’t. This prometedera has the potential to break the unity not too long after The Day After. In politics you care about the next bridge you’ll cross not the road ahead.

  10. THE problem IS and continúes To be that Venezuelans continue to ask what “their country can do for them” or in the local lingo, “cuanto hay pa’ eso?”?..

  11. Maybe because I’m not an economist, but I see that not so negative. Sure, it would be better not to have these subsidies, but I can see a progressive change in that taking some time. He could after the 100 days say, we will expand Mercales, but we need money to do that, would you accept we charge (progressively) for the gasoline, and this money go to the Mercales (and for schools and hospitals than)? That would at least make clear, there is no infinite money, decisions are to be made. And let the people vote on that maybe.
    Also maybe the local commerce can take the role of Mercal?
    And nobody has said to what level are the products going to be subsidized, 50%, 20%? I see a lot of possibilities on this, subsidizing only first need products, national production first…
    After controlling the inflation it would be easier to reduce/eliminate the subsidies.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here