Five Surprising Facts About the Post-Chavez Era

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These two haven't killed each other, and 4 other surprising facts about the Maduro Era
These two haven’t killed each other, and 4 other surprising facts about the Maduro Era

Some things, we expected: in a dozen interviews in the days after Chávez died, I kept repeating that Maduro wouldn’t have any of the three key assets – money, charisma, and personal authority over the movement – that allowed Chávez to rule without recourse to generalized repression, and so a Maduro presidency was likely to prove far more authoritarian than Chávez’s.

That, in broad outline, is the story of the last six months.

But not everything’s gone as I expected. Here are five things that I’m genuinely surprised by.

jorge_giordani_3
“You can have your economic policy any color you want, as long as it’s red…”

1-Giordani’s Staying Power

Planning Minister Jorge Giordani’s brand of Utopian Marxism has been so deliriously damaging to the Venezuelan economy, and is so plainly unsustainable as the nation lurches towards a Balance-of-Payments crisis, I’d long taken it for granted that his days in the Maduro cabinet would be brief. Like Rafael Isea’s, Giordani’s tenure seemed to rest solely on his personal link with Chávez, right?

Wrong!

While Giordani has certainly been knocked down a peg by losing the Finance portfolio, he appears well dug into his Planning Ministry foxhole.

The remarkable thing is that he manages to hang on even without quite being a faction-head, and without (AFAIK) a testaferro empire of his own. Perhaps he’s become a kind of totem for an extremist faction whose support Maduro can’t afford to lose just yet.

What’s amazing is that El Monje seems to retain a de facto veto over major economic policy decisions, and has fought an amazingly successful rearguard action to keep basic sanity at bay in terms of exchange rate policy. So next time you go do the store and can’t find half the things on your shopping list, just take a moment to remind the world of Mr. Giordani’s mummy-dearest.

BFF
BFF

2-The Cabello-Maduro Rift Seems Manageable

Maybe Diosdado is playing the long game, but the much heralded Cabello-Maduro rift remains more buya than cabuya, more bark than bite. At any rate, predictions that the rift would set off a major governability crisis within months of Chávez’s passing have not come to bear. I may be in a minority here, but to me that points to a government that’s much more stable than ever seemed possible at the start of 2013.

hegemonia-comunicacional-600

3-More Communicational Hegemony, Not as Many Arrests

Globovision, Cadena Capriles, the regional TV stations and papers, Nolia, now even Aporrea…the scale of the onslaught on any sign of potential media dissent has been startling. What we’ve seen isn’t a continuation of Chávez’s very slow gradualism in dialing back media freedoms. We’ve seen a very acute acceleration of the Communicational Hegemony agenda.

At the same time, no new A-List opposition figures have gone to jail, even Richard Mardo is out and about, and while the intimidation tone has never been harsher, we’re not seeing a round-’em-up-and-lock’em-up strategy at play.

I expected media repression and actual jailings to go hand-in-hand, but no.

Eudomartovar630
“I’m assured this graph means something of some sort…”

4-Monetary Policy Even Worse Than We’d Feared

This goes together with Giordani’s ongoing prominence. I’d have guessed that the economic shitstorm looming over the government would push for basic pragmatism at the Central Bank, but no! Pragmatism starts with choosing BCV heads who have some notion of what needs to be done. Instead, the government has plumbed dramatic new lows in terms of Central Bank chief selection.

Neither Edmée nor Eudomar seem to grasp even the rough basics of the relationship between the money supply, inflation, price controls and shortages (a.k.a., their job). And so money supply keeps growing, insanely, as prices stay pegged, leading to a toxic spiral of out of control inflation and ever bigger shortages. Like Homer Simpson at the controls of a nuclear power plant, these guys don’t seem to understand enough about the systems they’re in charge of to grasp that they’re making it worse.

It’s mystifying really. The BCV is undoubtedly the front line in the Economic War, the place where the most important policies that have led to massive shortages and inflation are most directly influenced. If Diosdado and Maduro can’t see they need minimally competent people there, they’re just entirely beyond hope, aren’t they?

5-No message of hope left at all in official discourse (se les olvidó por completo vender el sueño)

The Chávez Mystique rested on the combination of fire-and-brimstone rhetoric with a constant, deftly delivered sales pitch. Chavismo ran on his ability to conjure up images of a desirable, fairer, better, ‘prettier’ future, only prevented by the ongoing villainy of an opposing faction of baddies. Yes, as the years went by the fire-and-brimstone:revolución-bonita balance tended to shift further and further in favor of the former, but the latter never entirely faded from view.

Under Maduro, the attempt to balance all the fear with a little bit of hope seems to have been completely abandoned. Maduro’s utter lack of personal charm has been matched over the last year with the kind of perma-scowl that really leaves no room at all for a “vengan a mí que tengo flor” agenda. It’s all-paranoid-conspiracy-all-the-time with this guy.

Which is another way to say, any attempt to reach out to the non-zealot part of the chavista base seems to have been ditched.

1 COMMENT

  1. I think (1.) Giordani is the proverbial canary in the coal mine: as soon as a real transition appears to take place, he will be the first to go. Why? Because, the long-game I’ve argued previously that (2) Cabello is playing is to effectively force the blame on to Maduro and his ideological allies for a major shift in internal policies. That snake in the grass can easily afford to bide his time since he continues to line his erstwhile pockets. The hegemony (3) is concerning, but gets little press, no pun intended, outside of Venezuela and this, too, plays into the (2) strategy by Cabello as it only will strengthen his hand down the road when he plays savior to the Chavista legacy, whatever that may be. As long as the peg is in place, (4) monetary policy will never be effective, but I think at this point, they are in policy finger cuffs, and to paraphrase Dante, lost in a dark wood which leads to the whole directionless of governmental messaging (5) since they don’t see a way out. A float would be the right action, but lead to short-term chaos and financial disruption, which they do not want at this point and which would only accelerate a disruption of amistad (2), even if Maduro had the political will to enforce it. A gradual unwind is unworkable as inflation already offsets and slow gains, and besides this would be a further sign of economic sabotaje, right? So what’s a policy maker to do?

    There’s a reasonably good article on this from the 9/26 Economist if you haven’t already seen it.

  2. I always saw point 2 as highly overrated. I’m sure Diodado prefers getting filthy rich somewhat behind the scenes rather than being the man in front.

  3. I have also always thought Diosdado prefers to get richer and richer. I simply can’t see him giving speeches (not that Maduro is any good at that, but it’s not Diosdado’s style).

    Right now he is in Russia, holding talks about more weapons for Venezuela (we have already a debt of 4.4 billion dollars and a total, with that incurred loan, of 11 billion dollars invested in Russian weapons since 2004).
    He is also trying to get some deal about training and technology for more intelligence gathering.

  4. – Regarding 1 & 4: For me is like a time-bomb. Some of us are paying attention to the ticking clock while others are “escaping” from the looting reality.
    – Regarding 2: Survival mechanism?
    – Regarding 3: Probably related with the blackmailing of people at the AN.
    – Regarding 5: “No exista tal cosa como el Chavismo sin Chavez” Diosdado Cabello. Circa, 2006

  5. Quico
    Sounds like Maduro took point 5 to heart.

    ODH Grupo Consultor ‏@ODHgc 36min

    Pdte. Maduro: “Yo le hago un llamado a toda Venezuela. Yo soy el Presidente de todos los venezolano, nosotros actuamos con amor”. (VTV)

  6. Part of Giordani’s staying power is that when he is down, he spends an inordinate amount of time “jalando bolas” while everyone is working. Uson had a story about Giordani waiting for six hours to talk to Chavez, whil Uson could not wait that long because he had work to do. He sai that anytime Giordani wanted something, he would do exactly that.

  7. To the outside world Chavistas must present an united front , no rifts , no divisions , no doubts. specially since they are surrounded by heavy economic and political storms on all fronts. Inside the circle they are bristling with differences of all sorts, those differences however cannot be sorted out because that would mean engaging in strong inner confrontations that break that fragile unity they are so dependent on to survive . Maduro doesnt have the leadership to make the different factions follow his orders and must attempt to live with all of them at the same time . thus he cannot address many problems that the govt is facing in a decisive manner . the whole decision making process is stuck . If Merentes wants one thing and Giordani objects then nothing gets done . Also because Maduro doesnt have the authority that Chavez once had some formerly very meek factions are asserting positions which protect them from the continuing mayhem , e.g. Pdvsa who heretofore took all the burdens that Chavez heaped on it while neglecting its operational front is very likely saying ‘enough’ , more money must be spent on allowing Pdvsa to have productive future even if that mean that certain lovey dovey programs have to suffer and be sacrificed. The only thing keeping things together is Chinese money and this is only possible to the extent production is maintained

  8. NUMERO 6! The opposition still believes that they will win “the next” elections. And that they will cash that check!

    That is baffling to me… no comprendo…

  9. about point 5, they always act like lambs in the few days before elections, the moment they win they come back to saying that everyone who disagree with their policies should leave the country.

    The thing that particularily surprised me was that since the last parlamentary election there have been no siginificant talanquera jump from psuv to opposition, seems like the anti-salto-de-talanquera law did its purpose, in fact the contrary have ocurred with all these opposition die hards that transformed into chavists sheep leaving them at the gates of yet another enabling law. I underestimated them.

  10. I think Maduro and Diosdado realize that it would be very unproductive for them to go at each other. They both know that individually they have serious limitations compared to Chavez and know their survival in power lies in playing as a team. That is their common objective. Also,as many have said Diosdado does not particularly want to play the role of head of state, he prefers to be the real power behind the throne and is comfortable sharing power with Maduro who he does not perceive as a threat to him.
    They have a perfectly symbiotic relationship.

    So, they are not going to self destruct by quarreling.
    Can they maintain a cohesive structure of power? Probably not as much as Chavez did. There are going to be more punctual cases of dissension. But as long as money flows and the structure seems stable enough the members of the political power structure will continue to support them. They have no alternative after all, they are in the same boat together.
    Will that support extend to the base? the people? As long as money flows and the structure seems stable enough….well,you know the rest. Except that they do have an alternative, if things are not going well for them, they can get angry, dissent, protest and choose a different option. When that happens there is going to be a conflict between what the people want and what those in power want. That’s when things will get interesting. The key is in the phrase: “if things are not going well for them”.

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