Sacudón Chronicles: The Big Shakedown

Rafael-Ramirez-vicepresidente-del-Area-Economica-PDVSA-Venezuela-06162014-4-800x533So what do we take away from last night’s Sacudón? First, as Kanako put it to me, that Rafael Ramírez’s power turned out to be the political equivalent of the bolivar’s value: at the same time enormous and basically nil.

Oil minister, PDVSA chief, vice-president in charge of the economy: on paper, Rafael Ramírez had all the power he could’ve wanted. Officially, his power over the economy was at Bs.6.30/$. But when it came down to it, he couldn’t even implement the policies he’d already been cleared to announce. Seems that, around the cabinet table, his power was trading at the black market rate.

This, to me, is the real take-away from last night: the crazy opacity of the policy-process in the post-Chávez Era. There’s simply no telling what the government will do next. Official announcements are no guide to likely next actions. Official titles reveal next to nothing about the relative power of different players. An outsider has no way to look into the black-box that is the chavista policy-process at all. The scale of uncertainty this creates is enormous. 

While Chávez was around, the policy process was, in its own way, transparent: you tuned in on Sunday mornings at 10 a.m. and, ta-daaaa, there was your policy process. Autocracy is its own form of predictability.

In the post-Chávez era, all such certainties are out the window. Who vetoed the “Plan Ramírez”? Why? What were the terms of the bureaucratic battle that ended up with him being shoved sideways to Casa Amarilla? Who was on whose side? Who demanded what? Who watched Maduro’s speech last night with a smile on his face and who with a frown? We have virtually no insight into any of these questions, because the policy-process has now tumbled to Kremlinesque levels of opacity.

What’s clear is that there isn’t a winning coalition in this enormously murky system for a minimally competently administered set of economic reforms.

Here, Omar’s return to Distortioland is a huge boon, because the guy still manages to write about these issues with uncommon lucidity.

Is a “currency-unification-cum-devaluation” still likely? Probably, though perhaps  less so than 24 hours ago. Is that likely to bring macro-stability? No, not really.