Looking for Brutus

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Power meets pajarito
Power meets pajarito

George Packer has written a brilliant piece on the rise of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel in the New Yorker. The article has many anecdotes and thought-provoking ideas, but one stuck with me.

When talking about how Merkel decided to cut ties with the legendary Helmut Kohl, her mentor, Packer says:

In November, 1999, the C.D.U. (Merkel’s and Kohl’s party) was engulfed by a campaign-finance scandal, with charges of undisclosed cash donations and secret bank accounts. Kohl and his successor as Party chairman, Wolfgang Schäuble, were both implicated, but Kohl was so revered that nobody in the Party dared to criticize him. Merkel, who had risen to secretary-general after the C.D.U.’s electoral defeat, saw opportunity. She telephoned Karl Feldmeyer. “I would like to give some comments to you in your newspaper,” she said.

“Do you know what you want to say?” Feldmeyer asked.

“I’ve written it down.”

Feldmeyer suggested that, instead of doing an interview, she publish an opinion piece. Five minutes later, a fax came through, and Feldmeyer read it with astonishment. Merkel, a relatively new figure in the C.D.U., was calling for the Party to break with its longtime leader. “The Party must learn to walk now and dare to engage in future battles with its political opponents without its old warhorse, as Kohl has often enjoyed calling himself,” Merkel wrote. “We who now have responsibility for the Party, and not so much Helmut Kohl, will decide how to approach the new era.” She published the piece without warning the tainted Schäuble, the Party chairman. In a gesture that mixed Protestant righteousness with ruthlessness, Kohl’s Mädchen was cutting herself off from her political father and gambling her career in a naked bid to supplant him. She succeeded. Within a few months, Merkel had been elected Party chairman. Kohl receded into history. “She put the knife in his back—and turned it twice,” Feldmeyer said. That was the moment when many Germans first became aware of Angela Merkel.

Years later, Michael Naumann sat next to Kohl at a dinner, and asked him, “Herr Kohl, what exactly does she want?”

“Power,” Kohl said, tersely. He told another friend that championing young Merkel had been the biggest mistake of his life.

That is how political ambition goes. One day you’re on top of the world, the next day you’ve hit turbulence, and in a few minutes, someone has betrayed you. Even a politician as skillful as Helmut Kohl didn’t see this coming.

It must be no fun being Nicolás Maduro. The economy is imploding, and juggling the demands of the different factions within chavismo is very difficult when oil is in the tank. His poll numbers are the pits, and he can’t afford a populist binge.

Someone, somewhere inside the PSUV must be thinking this is their moment. A leader with little legitimacy is driving the country into a ditch, and it’s the perfect time for someone new, someone with weight, to satisfy his or her parricidal urges. I can just hear them saying that they had no choice but to act in defense of the Eternal Commander’s legacy.

Who can it be, though? Some people I’ve spoken to believe the one guy this side of Diosdado Cabello that could challenge Maduro was murdered a few weeks ago. Is there anyone else? Well, that’s the thing about unlikely leaders such as Merkel – you never see them coming.

The PSUV is not short on ambitious politicians, but ambition shouldn’t be their only driver. Their entire political survival depends on righting this ship. As each day passes without Maduro showing any signs that he understands the conundrum, the chances that someone in his inner circle will betray him by calling for his resignation increases exponentially. Call me overly optimistic, but failure to do this could mean the PSUV is headed straight to irrelevance.

I know it’s hard to envision it, but I don’t think we’ve crossed the rubicon. Venezuela is not yet a country where a ruling clique can destroy the economy … and expect to get away with it. Somebody is bound to do something.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone.

1 COMMENT

  1. Sipping on some hot chocolate, the recliner with calf-rest in the upright position, popcorn within arms reach, and warm fuzzy slippers enveloping my toes and ankle, ….and just waiting around for that “Et tu Brute?” moment. It’s coming. You know it’s coming….

  2. If Venezuela were a parliamentary democracy there would have been a vote of no confidence in comrade Maduro long ago. Since Venezuela is not a parliamentary democracy it’s a mute question.

    Maduro could be sidelined as party leader, but could the PSUV survive that? Maduro was appointed by the great mummy himself. The party held its elections already and nothing much happened. Open dissenters are being purged or are conveniently dying.

    So, let’s say you are a chavista and you have a formidable retinue of bodyguards. How would you go about backstabbing the great donkey? A golpe? Group bike rides? Soup laced with mutagenic substances? Rabid iguanas?

      • In case you are wondering what Marea Socialista is all about:

        Marea Socialista (MS) is a Trotskyist grouping within the PSUV which declares its support for President Nicolas Maduro’s administration. However the organisation opposes what it argues is the restriction of debate by party leadership over the direction of the Bolivarian project, and warns against the presence of corruption and what it sees as “conciliation” with business groups in economic planning.

        from http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/10987
        They are the anti-solution solution to Venezuela’s crisis. Merkel they are not

        • “…grouping within the PSUV which declares its support for President Nicolas Maduro’s…”
          Bunch of butt lickers who are whining ’cause they lost their “teta”, and yet still keep butt licking hoping the “sacred cow” maburro would look at them.
          Damn, it’s sickening to see there are people willing to crawl so much in their stupid personality cult to keep their privileges, that’s why I think no chavista politician will ever serve for anything (In case somebody cares, I think they’re all below the MUD ones, yes, even the adecopeyanos are above the chavistas in that scale…)

    • Dear Sir, Points well taken and healtily feet-on-the-gound but it would do no harm to have a quick look at the difference between “mute” and “moot”.

  3. No one knows what will ensue, obviously; but I see the Venezuelan dictatorship as being very consolidated/stable by now. Politically speaking, things don’t tend to change much in either Cuba, or North Korea, or China, or Russia, do they?

    Germany is a full-democracy, what means that Helmut Khol couldn’t have sent “his men” to eliminate Merkel. Clearly, not the same case of Venezuela, and that inhibits a Venezuelan Merkel from coming out of the backstage and dethroning the king, as no one wants to be the next Robert Serra.

    I believe that Diosdado – with all the military support he has – could have the means to be that Merkel, uniting PSUV against Maduro, but I don’t see why he would do that. For power? Does he need even more than what he already has? It’s too risky, a lot to lose and not much to gain.

    Maybe hundreds of thousands in the streets asking for change and making the PSUV bigwigs uncertain about their future can prompt some internal change as the one suggested. But that’s unlikely to happen because even the opposition seems to be against mass protests and widespread civil disobedience; the so-hated and despised guarimbas.

  4. Sorry, although I see where you want to go with this, the comparison breaks down when we compare Maduro to Kohl. Kohl, whatever his faults, was a great politician and a leader of his party and his nation. He got where he was by paying his dues and by being elected… for real. Maduro was not so much elected as anointed. Any Chavista’s legitimacy stems not from proven capability but from their loyalty to Chavez. Anyone who attempts to usurp Maduro will be painted as disloyal to Chavez and thrown to the wolves.

  5. Comparing a neo-stalinist military dictatorship to one of the democratic leaderships of the West is a little bit of an overstretch, don’t you think?

  6. I am totally in awe that anybody can suggest that “the one guy this side of Diosdado Cabello that could challenge Maduro” was robert serra!! Coman mamey, man… Unless, of course, I am missing something here.

  7. “The PSUV is not short on ambitious politicians, but ambition shouldn’t be their only driver. Their entire political survival depends on righting this ship.”

    “Righting this ship?”

  8. You know, when the country burned earlier this year, I predicted a military coup.

    I actually thought that Sukhoi jets would bomb Miraflores, T-72 tanks would rumble through the streets of Caracas, and some jackbooted general in full dress would go on teleSUR saying how the military had to intervene in order to restore order and stability. (remember Egypt?)

    I’ve totally written off that possibility now. I was too naive. The military is the biggest profiteer from the clusterfuck that is Venezuela today. Look at all those men in uniform getting rich by smuggling everything they could possibly smuggle. Venezuelan soldiers are probably the last people who’d want to upend the existing ‘civil-military union’ arrangement.

    What is possible, however, is something reminiscent of what happened after Stalin’s death. Nikita Khrushchev took Lavrenti Beria, Stalin’s favored successor, by surprise and had him arrested and shot for treason. After that he denounced the personality cult of Stalin, and reformed the Soviet economy towards a more market-friendly one. Maybe that is a much more likely scenario than a coup d’etat.

  9. Just the suggestion that a Robert Serra or a Nicmer Evans could have aspired to be the next in line for the Venezuelan presidency reveals how low we have fallen in our expectations. Yes, any one of those two probably could have done a bit better job than a Maduro, who wouldnt?
    But this kind of serious analysis, in Caracas Chronicles is, in my view, pretty depressing.

    • “Some people I’ve spoken to believe the one guy this side of Diosdado Cabello that could challenge Maduro was murdered a few weeks ago.”

      Not my idea, but rather, informed people I spoke to in the past few weeks. At any rate, this is a moot point, he’s dead. And yes, we’ve fallen incredibly far.

    • A better job than Maduro? In what sense? I don’t know…perhaps Evans would but Serra? He was more cunning than Maduro, but he definitely was evil.
      So low have we come.

  10. I guess Angela Merkel was not the only big thing Helmut Kohl didn’t see coming.

    Really interesting piece. Just when you think George Packer is just another extremely good writer on America and the middle east, you discover the guy speaks fluent German and hangs out with Berlin movie directors…

  11. To this outsider, the puppeteers of Venezuela see Cuba as being their role model, which is one reason why nepotism still counts. The USA has long been fertile ground for nepotism — Adamses, Roosevelts, Bushes, Clintons. As measured by prime ministers, UK nepotism is dead — nobody since Salisbury and Balfour, aka Bob’s your uncle. Churchill’s father came close but his health undid him. Right now the existing regime in the UK is undergoing significant change.

    The partisan hysteria in Washington boosts the strength of the existing regime by masking the essential similarity between the two major parties: namely, they both want deficit spending and growing sovereign debt. Democrats buy votes by granting largesse to the great unwashed, and Republicans buy votes by ensuring that the defense establishment and its myriad tentacles get pork. Thus together the two parties cover the waterfront, making it hard for anybody to bring change.

    The puppeteers in Venezuela still have room to weaken the economy further before they rival the destruction that the Castros have visited upon Cuba.

    Nepotism is flourishing in Venezuela and in the USA — the outlook is bleak.

    • Let’s not confuse nepotism with campaign economics! It’s a simple matter that voters don’t like to vote for candidates they know nothing about! Getting known is a huge task especially when running against a minion of opponents. Chavez’s failed coup d’é·tat got him known.

  12. Judging by the comments, people seem to have missed the point of this piece more than usual, I guess congrats?

    Anyways, I was one of those who believed Robert Serra would have eventually become president, perhaps around 2031… Today the only person other than Diosdado that I see challenging for the throne of PSUV, who may have the backing of the military and has some street cred with card-carrying ñángaras, that seems to be pre-approved by the Cuban overlords and has enough klout with the Boligarchy, is the pajizo vice-president Jorge Arreaza.

    • “…Robert Serra would have eventually become president…”
      When the chavista CÑE is counting the votes with the mantra “machine kills votes”, even roque valero or william ojudas might be president…

      • Eh, I am not one of those that support Sala de Totalización conspiracies; of course that elections in Venezuela are VERY unclean, but the trampa is done in the months and hours ahead and in such massive scale that PSUV has actually won the majority of votes and has not yet needed to play the vote-switching card (not to say they would be above doing so if needed).

        Anyways, I think Robert Serra would have become president because he was a particularly popular figure within chavismo, charismatic enough to connect with the grassroots electorate, smart enough to make political alliances with the right people, and ambitious enough to do whatever was necessary to make it to the top of the chavista food chain.

        • Don’t worry about the conspiracies, after all I can’t tell 100% they’re rigged ’cause I don’t have the proof in hand (And neither does the MUDa, or if they have them, they don’t want to show them)

          On the other hand, I agree with the reasoniing about why big mouth would have become a leader within chavismo’s base, considering they voted three (four, five? I lost count…) times for the wax doll and even they voted for garbages like pimentón, maburro and pedro carroña, I see that chavista base actually likes is not someone who’ll do something about Venezuela’s problems, they just want someone as shitty as they can be to torment and harrass the other part of the country, and big mouth was as annoying and insufferable as the wax doll himself.

  13. Juan,

    Kohl was on his way out, with or without Merkel. Kohl was defeated by now Putin-fan Russia-lobbyist Schröder. I remember quite clearly the time. For me there was no way Kohl was to return from that. People were already tired of him. Of course, Merkel became sure to throw enough soil in the grave but it was more so that Kohl’s other pupils would not succeed him. Her work, it seems to me, was more or less on politically eliminating all possible contestants who could come from Kohl’s entourage.

  14. A great bio of Merkel in the New Yorker, and relevant to Emiliana’s post:
    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/12/01/quiet-german?intcid=mod-most-popular

    An excerpt:
    “Rainer Eppelmann, a courageous dissident clergyman under Communism, who got to know Merkel soon after the fall of the Wall, refuses to criticize her. “I don’t judge the ninety-five per cent,” he told me. “Most of them were whisperers. They never said what they thought, what they felt, what they were afraid of. Even today, we’re not completely aware what this did to people.” He added, “In order to be true to your hopes, your ambitions, your beliefs, your dreams, you had to be a hero twenty-four hours a day. And nobody can do this.”

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