¿Por qué?

Coming to 1.5 million billboards, one near you.
Coming to 1.5 million billboards, one near you.

Those looking at Venezuela’s hot mess from the outside can be excused for wondering: what’s the big deal?

Let’s recap: the opposition wants a temporary absence declared and for Diosdado Cabello to hold office for up to 180 days, in accordance with the Constitution. Chavismo wants no changes- Chávez is President, and Maduro is the caretaker. The opposition rightly says that Maduro cannot hold power after January 10th because he is no longer VicePresident, and if that happens it’s a coup.

I’m sure many foreigners -even our Venezuela-bashing pal Marco Aurelio García – are wondering what the big deal is. Maduro, Cabello, they’re all chavistas, right? Why does the opposition care so much? Why should we sweat over which chavista gets the sash? They probably couldn’t tell them apart in a police lineup (entertain that thought for a while…).

There are several potential answers to this question.

The one most being talked about is “because that’s what the Constitution says.” If we let this one go, goes the thinking, there is no telling what they will try to screw us with. Quite possibly we will see something along the lines of “the people exercise sovereignty, they elected Chávez, so the PSUV should rule forever.” The violation of constitutional rules is too important an issue to turn a blind eye to.

There is another, more tactical reason: if Cabello holds power, this puts the two strands within chavismo – inasmuch as they exist – in direct confrontation with each other. This theory holds that Cabello and Maduro are the heads of two clans that don’t really like each other, and are simply waiting for the chance to stab the other in the back.

I don’t really think either answer is satisfactory.

To me, the real reason is the incumbent advantage. As many have pointed out – Javier Corrales did so recently – Latin Americans almost always vote for the incumbent. If Maduro is the incumbent, and if people warm up to him, his election will be that much easier.

But if Maduro is out of a job, it will be harder for people to identify him with the gifts and populist geschenks they will be getting from His Excellency Interim Pres. Diosdado Cabello.  It would simply be awkward for Cabello to be handing out apartments or clothes washers with Maduro at his side. Imagine the people – who do they thank? Who do they suck up to?

That, from where I see things, is the crux of the matter. Maduro wants the glow of the Presidency to make him a better campaigner, and he is willing to screw the Constitution to get it.