The long game is supra-constitutional

Outside, violence. Inside, hope.
Outside, violence. Inside, hope.

After having the privilege of spending some time listening to Henrique Capriles in Chile (more on that in future posts), I have a better understanding of what the strategy is. Or, at least, for what he thinks the strategy should be – whether or not he leads it is still very much up in the air.

Capriles was crystal clear in that the strategy requires patience – lots of it.

He believes the TSJ will rule against him, and will validate last April’s election. He also thinks the case will inevitably end up in multilateral institutions such as the Interamerican Court of Human Rights and the United Nations.

But he harbors little hope that this will be the solution. Venezuela’s enchufados will not leave via court order.

Capriles talked and talked about “growing the majority.” He obviously believes that, in order to change Venezuela, the opposition will have to continue growing – in popularity, and in elected positions. In his mind, continued participation in elections in order to consolidate growth is the only way to go. Presumably, the crumbling economy will be one of the ways in which the opposition will continue growing.

The end result of all of this … is a Constituent Assembly, but a particular kind of one.

He is gearing up for a Constituent Assembly that represents the newly consolidated majority in the country and removes all of the country’s institutions, presumably including the President. While he thinks it would be a mistake for a circumstantial majority to impose its Constitution on a minority, he is fine with the belief that the only way to change Venezuela is by changing its judges, electoral arbiters, comptrollers, and other elected officials.

In other words, we’re going to have to govern … like it’s nineteen ninety-nine.

Only then, he thinks, will we have a level playing field. Only then will we be able to put this nightmare behind us.

As for shortcuts, he clearly stated that “a military coup would be a tragedy, the worst thing that could happen to Venezuela.” “Look at Egypt,” he warned, “a lot of people were saying that we should hit the streets just like the Egyptians did, and look at the place now. Is Egypt a model?”

“Brazil,” he also said, “is not a good example either. In Brazil, the authorities listen to the people on the streets.” He stressed the case that while marching in Brazil leads to dialogue, in Venezuela it leads to target practice for government thugs.

Capriles is right in that street protests are not the way to change governments, but a means to an end. Street protests are a tactic, a way of forcing a change via other mechanisms. None of those mechanisms are called for in Venezuela.

No, the streets are not the goal. The Constitutional Assembly is.

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    • Part of this has to do with the Capriles team’s awful communicational strategy, but more on that in another post.

  1. I suppose this Constituent Assembly is suppose to materialize metaphysically, having been convened by an apparition of the Virgin Mary (or Maria Lionza).

    Listen, I agree with everything in this post, except characterizing this line of thought as “a strategy”. Without any clear line connecting the dots between where we are and where we want to be, it amounts to a wish.

    Either the line that connects those points cannot be talked about (and we can speculate as to why) or they’re not especially clear on what that line looks like.

    • There are several ways of convening a Constituent Assembly. They’re outlined in the Constitution. One of them is through the National Assembly. The other one is through popular petitions. I don’t see what the angry comment is all about, Quico.

    • Agree, I see Capriles political “strategy” highly disorganized and improvised, and there’s a record of him being that way. During his first presidential campaign he talked about progress, progress and progress… But he never bothered to explain what was actually his vision of progress.

      I remember when both Chavez and Capriles released their goverment plans, and the oposition, and many other venezuelans, joked about Chavez galactic plan; but I took the liberty to actually read both government plans, and what I found was that Chavez government plan, even though filled with winds of greatness and messianic aspirations, was actually a carefully constructed guide, with a step-by-step course of action of the future policies that his government would enact (whether it was true; or correct; or not), meanwhile Capriles plan was a childlish document, filled with demagogic promises and really superficial on how his government was going to tackle the problems that the venezuelan zoociety currently experiences. This convinced me even more on the improvisational characteristic of Capriles politics.

      All I’m saying is that my perception of Capriles is of a leader without a clear strategy, which is dangerous if you’re part of the oposition of a government that is clearly trying to subjugate all aspects of social and individual life.

      I hate this government as much as the average reader of this blog, but if we’re going to follow a leader against this government, the minimum requisite I have for such person, is to have a clear strategy and to act upon such as a statesman instead of as an adaptative politian.

    • Dear Quico:
      I’ve again written you about your skepticism over a new constitution, with two fundamental requirements you and your blog-mates must meet if you have any hope of avoiding another banana republic.
      The website suddenly erased it. So bear with me:
      1. If your crew of true patriots is not aboard the ship that sets the constitution’s rules, it will sink. Sign up or be left behind.
      2. Simple majorities are needed for making necessary decisons, but not for making rules. If the convention defines a rule-making “consensus” as “a simple majority”, it will harden today’s divisive politics into tomorrow’s divisive rules.
      (cont’d if needed)
      Cure for #2:
      At the convention, you must insist that the first vote defines “consensus” for accepting any constitutional provision. Do this by holdiing successive votes approving – AND APPLYING – progressively higher majorities until the convention no longer passes a higher consensus. I’m guessing it’s about 76% – but no one can say it ain’t fair.

      At that point, everyone has to get serious – even politicians.
      Do these two things, and you may have a future.

  2. The other thing about this misnamed “strategy” is that, of course, los rusos tambien juegan. You’re trying to Grow the opposition in a context where more and more the government’s preferred response is repression: ask Richard Mardo, he’ll tell you all about it. So now you’re trying to “grow the opposition” in a context of having no money, no media access, and many of your key assets spending more and more of their time and effort trying to stay out of jail.

    • Verga mijo, nadie dijo que sería fácil. Do you have a better idea? All the Richard Mardos in the world can go to jail, but when the time comes to punish the government, the time will come. They can´t put the entire opposition in jail, you know.

      • WIll the entire opposition go to jail? At least we should have thousands of us going to jail for anything to happen.

        We need in PJ’s headquarters, specially in the PR group more people who do NOT come from Caracas’ East, Northern Valencia or posh Maracaibo. We need in Caracas an engineer from El Tocuyo or a technician from Maturín also active in the planning, in the development of PR strategies.

        You can have Internet, even fast Internet and not the slowest on Earth, and not know how to look for things. We need to use the old proven method of distributing flyers across Venezuela’s bus terminals. You do NOT do it as PJ has done it in the past: they went with their bloody PJ baseball caps, with yellow shirts, very slowly walking around terminals they didn’t know well, almost crying for “hit me, hit me” (and Chavistas hit them). You have to distribute things fast and split. Just like in a flash mob. Just remember: Cubans might be tracking your messages.

        You need to have shadow ministers who speak clearly about specific domains: economics, security, education, etc.

        You need in every state to have a group of people providing some easily explainable numbers about what the regime is doing with our money: the government has spent the equivalent of XX billion bolívares in subsidising Chinese products instead of supporting Venezuelan farmers, the government thinks only Chinese can build houses or mine our gold, the government wasted Y billions in this and not in our hospital in NAME_OF_LOCAL_HOSPITAL

        Venezuelans need to know what is really happening outside their borders.
        Most people have never been abroad. Those who have been abroad are mostly people like us or Boliburgueses. Most people haven’t thought for a moment that

        * most of our neighbours don’t have the blackouts we have
        * that water in Colombia or Brazil is not as polluted as in all of Carabobo (did you Caraquenos know that almost NO Carabobeno drinks anything from the tap, even the poor? Water comes yellow and stinks and that has been so since at least 2007).
        * that Venezuela has BY FAR the highest murder rate of South America (you don’t need calculus to get what “murder rate” is, you need a simple explanation)
        etc, etc.

        The opposition needs to investigate the state of mind of the average Venezuelan.

        It should play very openly with the card: Cuban agents won’t intimidate us. People should not get use to them. Of course, we need to differentiate between Cubans and the Cuban agents. We need to speak more and more against the Castro “caste”, el gang de los Castro, los burgueses pseudorevolucionarios, etc.

        The opposition should give open speeches about the essence of real open debate, about pluralism, about sustainable (economic) development.

  3. In Peru, Capriles said, “countries have to turn their heads to see what happens in our nation,” because “Venezuela is a case study.” He slammed his point home when he described his country’s “institutional kidnappings of reporter’s alibis, and the tailored constitutional changes.”
    I’m glad Caprilles stated this in Peru, because, not if, but when Chavez’s disciple, President Humala, begins in fervent his reign of terror(Chavez illustrated how guillotines and Fidel’s firing squads are passe), Peruvians, by being forwarned, will hopefully recognize the consequences.

    While it is, mostly true, that every time Humala proposes anti-democratic and anti- business changes, he is checked, there will be a time when he won’t be.

    But then Peruvians only have to look to Venezuela, as Capriles has now stated, to recognize what is happening, and how it will end up.

  4. A new constitution… to put things back??

    Perhaps the srearegic answer is in the selling points, and maybe the anti-chavista movement should be looking for a synthesis of the country’s ideologies instead of a return to one that provoked such a violent reaction. Wasn’t the blue one like 90% of the vote?! That’s a referendum number right there.

      • “While he thinks it would be a mistake for a circumstantial majority to impose its Constitution on a minority, he is fine with the belief that the only way to change Venezuela is by changing its judges, electoral arbiters, comptrollers, and other elected officials.”

        Boy did I read that wrong… Still, when so many people are in love with the idea of a revolution, I would be weary of anything backwards-moving. Maybe this is a good chance to get some trully inclusive legislation made, inclusive as in all sectors are invited to mold legislation.

      • So, let’s put up a Constituent Assembly to remove Chavismo from the entire State apparatus and keep the Constitution intact. Oxymoron notwithstanding, we’ve got to recall Chavismo needed six more years to become a hegemony after they resorted to the same foul recourse.

        We’re so bereft of good ideas lately. We’re so missing the point.

  5. P.S., the only way a representative democracy allows for a synthesis is through having a voted representation of each interest. Maybe you exclude the chavista interests, but that still leaves a lot that isn’t pre-1999 friendly.

    • I doubt Capriles wants to return to a status quo ante. And good for him.

      As for how to promote a transition given the highly contested vested interests involved? History doesn’t help, but he seems to be making his own path.

  6. J.C. … A few days ago you posted “I hate politics”, or something to that effect. Anything due to Capriles’ visit?

  7. Capriles is correct when he talks about “growing the majority,” but does he have a strategy detailing exactly how he’s going to accomplish this? Because simply participating in elections may not necessarily be the best approach.

    The opposition, in my opinion, needs an effective ideological makeover and must begin developing candidates who are effectively center-left. Chavez has dragged the entire political spectrum to the left and has transformed historically poor and marginalized communities into a vibrant constituency. Without their support, which would require more than just moderate chavistas, I don’t see how the “majority” that Capriles speaks of would grow without a serious economic crisis (wanting this to happen is a bit unpatriotic and inhumane, imo) and/or ideological “conversation.”

    • Would it have been unpatriotic or inhumane for the incipient mammals to point out the incomming asteroid that would wipe out the (red) dinosaurs?

    • Reality Check.

      Capriles talked and talked about “growing the majority.”

      Hinterlaces announced last Friday that a study conducted in July found that the favorable opinion that Venezuelans have of the opposition fell 19 points with respect to the same study conducted in the month of June.

      * Political identity and political parties. 45% of respondents identified, to some extent, with the national government and 31% identify with the Opposition. (While Venezuelans 1 in 4 (25%) did not identify with any.)

      * Opinion of parties. The UNFAVORABLE OPINION of the parties of the opposition increased from 39% (June 2013) to 56%, i.e. support for the opposition fell 17 points. As regards FAVORABLE OPINION, the PSUV has 48% while the opposition has only 31%.

      * Government Management. Rising from 47% (June 2013), 56% of Venezuelans graded as POSITIVE President Maduro’s management, while 40% rate it as “fair to poor” (14%) and “bad-bad ‘(26%).

      Good luck with that Constituent Assembly!

  8. Given that the regime controlls (in theory) the military, plus the Bolivarian militia (aka thugs), an uprising has only a very tiny chance of success at this point – and it would be very bloody for sure.

    The situation resembles Zimbabwe more and more, unfortunately.

  9. Come on guys, most of the readers of this blog would agree that riots, coups and similar forms of rebellion are the wrong way to go, but it worries me to see that the options presented here deal mainly with the rational, logic-based aspect of the problem: if the standard of living worsens, people vote against the government. While I don’t deny that is a major factor, I think we should address the elephant in the room: Hugo Chávez didn’t run, nor did he keep his power, by appealing to reason and logic, but by exploiting the emotions of many Venezuelans.

    To me, Chávez was above all a conjurer of feelings and most of his supporters were less convinced of the good of socialism and more in love with the guy. Let’s not forget that the main concern about Capriles in the beginning was precisely his lack of charisma when speaking to the masses and that he only took off when he started his campaign of visiting every little village, arousing the locals, kissing old ladies, wearing silly hats and all that nonsense. That’s what made him strong as a candidate and that’s what will eventually make him president if he’s smart. I’m not saying raising international awareness and defining a constitutional path to undo the wrongs of the reds is a bad thing, but we should never forget that the average Venezuelan couldn’t care less about these things. The average Venezuelan doesn’t know a thing about monetary policy, macroeconomic indicators, energy generation, constitutional law or any of the subjects discussed here frequently. What he does care about a lot is having someone strong to follow, someone he can cheer to. All this discussion about the facts and the numbers is fine and dandy, but if Capriles doesn’t go back to “patear calle” while wearing the most ridiculous hat he can find, the reds will keep winning.

    • Alejandro’s is an excellent point , Politics has four abodes , The Temple , the Circus , The Market Square, and The Workshop. Temple : Where the Great Holy Ideals and Principles are enshrined and worshiped , the Pol as high priest of a Hallowed Cult , The Circus , where the gladiator cum actor struts his stuff and bellows a narrative that excites the crowd by challenging and fighting an odious adversary , the Market Place where he cuts the deals and compromises and cunningly makes the pacts and promises that allow him to attract other pols to his cause and finally the Workshop where he silently designs the great strategic outline of what he will do to attain rule and use it in pursuit of certain vital goals . Its the circus that matters in winning elections , the market place that gives him the heft to get other pols to work with him ( and which disgusts Juan so much) and the Workshop which is what appeals to those who see politics as a program of well though out logical policies to be pursued in order to reach a particular set of goals .

    • I think Alejandro makes a good point, but I don’t think that’s the whole story. First of all, the honeymoon with Chavismo according to Alejandro is still strong. However, the election results show a major swing away, and the repressive actions of the government are clearly aimed at slowing down that erosion. Second of all, the decisions vis-a-vis the economy are clearly increasingly desperate and only crazed loyalists could believe that businesses can sell their goods below cost. It seems to me that the addiction to the Chavismo fantasy is like any other addiction. At first it gets you high, and the oil money and easy credit keeps loyalists fat, happy, and stupid. But after a while, it begins to wear down the health of the addict, and they need to find a way out. That’s where I think the Capriles plan can work. It provides a avenue for recovery for the disaffected who see no way forward with Chavismo.

  10. In 1996 Alfaro Usero was the king of Venezuela…four years later, nobody hear anything about him anymore . In politics a year is almost a century and nobody can predict what is going to happens. I agree with what Capriles is doing and I really like him because the guy has “guebos”. Last October everybody was criticizing him for loosing against Chavez . On February, Everybody was telling him that he was going to have his ass wiped and that he was a “pendejo ” for running against the son of the “great one “. He may not accomplish anything in the end ,but at least he is trying harder that the majority of “habladores de …”

  11. I don’t see how the Chavernment can be displaced without extralegal force.

    It controls the executive, the judiciary, the police, the military, the money, and the mass media. It will not allow an election that could displace it (unless they screw up, as the Sandinistas did, and grossly underestimate oppo support).

    The analogy to Solidarnosc fails. The Communist government of Poland was imposed by outside force, and survived only because it was backed by the threat of Soviet arms. When that threat was removed, the Communists gave up without fighting.

    The Chavernment was put in power by Venezuelans, and lots of them still support it. A lot of the mass of low-information citizens have becomed disillusioned; many loved Chavez personally and he is gone. But for the oppo to displace the Chavernment, they need firm commitment from a clear majority of citizens. That low-information mass is discontented, but few of them think that the oppo would be better than the Chavernment: “they’re all crooks”.

    The Chavernment’s media hegemony keeps its failures hidden. People know things are bad, but not how bad, in how many different ways, in how many different places.

    Meanwhile, its power hegemony squeezes the oppo. Media, money, intimidation, harassment, and vote fraud suppress oppo efforts to win elected positions. When they do, the Chavernment has stripped their powers. The oppo has no “backbone” – no central HQ, no mass organization.

    For the oppo to win – all oppo groups must unite in a single organization, which must recruit and organize down to the citizen level, as the Chavernment does. If Juan Q. Public is pro-Chavernment, he will be recruited into the Bolivarian Circles, and/or the PSUV; the motorizados draw from that pool. There are thousands of full-time agents to operate the system.

    But suppose Juan is opposed to the Chavernment, what does he do? There needs to be an obvious way for him to join up formally. That will grow the numbers.

    The oppo is barred from airwaves and cable, and internet is no substitute. The oppo needs to establish its own info channels – phone trees, neighborhood meetings, newsletters – that reach the oppo mass, keeping them accurately informed of conditions. The Internet can be a key part of this, but just putting up web pages is not enough – the info must be pushed.

    For this the oppo needs to recruit and organize a force of activists, represented in every neighborhood, linked to area, state, and national HQs. They canvass the neighborhood, locating and recruiting oppo citizens, distributing oppo information, watching for chavista abuses, and providing support to chavernment victims (e.g. mobilizing a crowd to support a complainant against intimidation, maybe bringing in a lawyer).

    IOW, the oppo needs to become an organized body, with as many people as possible formally associated, and a command structure reaching down to neighborhoods.

    Until that is done, the oppo will never be able to put enough pressure on the Chavernment to make them give up power.

    • As a reminder to all, Sumate tried this way back in the early 2000’s, Organizing the citizenry to oversee (contraloria social) chaverment abuses in elections and other matters.
      Spokespersons , media support, and organization.

      As a proof this way works it became enemy of the state # uno, Some figures have survived publicly and many continue to work for their ideals behind the limelight, regretfully, the regime was successful in branding it as mala junta, and it made it impossible/very costly for interested parties to sponsor, fund, associate and volunteer in its efforts.

      I agree with RR and others (Kepler, others) organizing grass roots efforts is the way to go. It is also the most complex to achieve, IMO most Venezuelans interested in politics, are after un carguito!, they become motivated by electioneering alone, and have little character for more ideological or patriotic enterprises.

      Case in point, the legal basis for the CNE rectores is long overdue, New Rectores (3 out of 5) should have been elected by now. No mention of this play is present in the public sphere…. Now they float this new constituyente idea…. Mucho camison pa petra!

  12. Capriles’ startegy doesn’t make sense to me. Everything he wants to do with the Constituent Assembly (CA) has to go through the CNE: counting and approving signatures, voting for whether people want to invoke the CA, and finally voting for the Constituyentes. With this CNE we will never win. You cannot defeat dictatorship through elections. If this government does not fall due to popular protests, then it will remain there for decades. Capriles’ strategy will not work.

  13. I like the idea of not changing the Constitution. It seems like we always need to change the Constitution to start things anew. Not to reinvent ourselves again this time around may well be the change we need.

  14. I don’t think you can compare Venezuela to Egypt, so it certainly does not serve as a model. In fact there is no model when you are near the political bottom of the barrel – Zimbabwe? Look at power sharing in that country. Brazil, maybe Russia? We wish! Ecuador? Hmm, actually not a bad choice in comparison. Venezuela is so weird, I really don’t think looking out really helps.

  15. Wonderful comments, all. The Future Hopefully-Not-Too-Long Game likely will depend less on rational political planning, more on today-unforseeable economic/social/military events….,

  16. “Capriles is correct when he talks about “growing the majority,” but does he have a strategy detailing exactly how he’s going to accomplish this? ”

    Well I’m glad the commenters here have such high standards when it comes to political action. Part of the reason we can call Capriles’ goal a “strategy” is that the bar was set so very low. Nobody asked such operational details from Polesel, Poleo, Arria, etc…

    “For the oppo to win – all oppo groups must unite in a single organization, which must recruit and organize down to the citizen level”

    Wow! It’s almost like you haven’t been paying attention to the opposition *at all*!

  17. I am very concerned about the aftermath in Egypt, Libya, and so forth. Change is another stressor in an already chaotic political and economic environment. Or, in other words, haste makes waste. Capriles seems to be taking an incremental approach in consensus building. Meanwhile, Chavismo is already battling more problems than they (or even Capriles) could possibly handle. The likely outcome is that Chavismo will eventually lose credibility, and disaffected loyalists will need to find an alternative to follow. If an when Capriles gains power. his political alliances will probably include a wide spectrum of different interests. Perhaps, the only common interest will be to end the Chavismo disaster.
    I’m thinking that the most efficient way to reduce the political polarization and gridlock is at the vary time people lose faith with Chavismo and are searching for a new path to the future. I suspect this is what Capriles is thinking.


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