When I was in Caracas for 6D, there were just a few things everyone knew for sure: the sun rises in the east, chavismo was in big trouble, and Primero Justicia’s Julio Borges was going to be the next president of the National Assembly. With 33 of 112 deputies, Primero Justicia was the biggest party in the MUD coalition: without them, MUD didn’t even have a simple majority. Julio for A.N. chair was a tiro al suelo.

Now, less than a month later, the sun still rises in the east and chavismo is still in big trouble. That last one, though?…well, it’s funny

Displaying the kind of political fancy footwork he’s long been known for, AD’s 73-year old Secretary General, Henry Ramos Allup, has blown up the consensus that had congealed around Julio Borges’s bid for A.N. glory.

If you’re looking for a visual analogue to what Henry Ramos Allup has done to Primero Justicia in the last three weeks, I think this is the parallel to go for:

However much you want to say you loathe the guy, you can’t help but admire Henry’s chops.

How does he do it?

He did what you’d expect an astute tactical politician to do: he sized up his opponent’s weaknesses and charged at them. Hard.

If you’ve studied International Relations theory, what happened is easy enough to game out: PJ is the biggest party in the MUD caucus, so the smaller parties fear its hegemony. What Ramos has been doing is what the rulebook says you do in a case like this: organize a balancing coalition that allows smaller players to hold the rising hegemon in check.

The Opposition Caucus

Fraccion Parlamentaria MUD.001

Henry could probably afford to take Un Nuevo Tiempo for granted: the party seems to operate as the Zuliano branch of AD these days, sort of on the German CDU-CSU modelThe issue was always going to be Voluntad Popular: its 15 votes, together with AD-UNT’s 44 would take him to 59, 2 more than the magic number for a majority in the MUD Caucus.

In many ways, VP makes for an awkward ally for Henry: recruiting deputies from a young party created in explicit contrast to the ancien régime as foot soldiers for the aspirations of the oldest of the ancien régime dinosaurs is…tricky. One imagines when Gilber Caro, say, or Tamara Adrian, or even Freddy Guevara joined VP the last thing they imagined themselves doing was lining up to make Henry Ramos Allup the second most powerful political figure in Venezuela.

But Henry has been working Freddy for a long time. His support in claiming Maria Corina Machado’s scalp in Miranda 2 was instrumental in carving out an über-safe Assembly seat for Guevara. That’s the kind of favor HRA’s been doing for years…and calling back all month.

Henry has VP leverage far beyond Guevara himself. For one thing, the pique between Primero Justicia and VP’s founder, Leopoldo López, is old and bitter, and continually renewed through ongoing squabbles over things like #LaSalida. In a way, the whole reason for Voluntad Popular to exist is that there is a whole cohort of young opposition activists didn’t feel represented by PJ’s slow-track approach.

So how do you woo those who lack the patience for the slow-track? By promising them the fast track, of course. So, here’s Henry Ramos vowing to get rid of the government within six months. It’s an amazing reversal for a politician who had long affiliated himself precisely with the moderate camp inside MUD.

But maybe not so amazing. Turning on a dime is what really skilled tactical politicians are good at. It’s the whole reason for them to exist.

What’s shocking is the degree to which Julio and PJ appear to have been caught off-guard by Ramos Allup’s moce. They kept trying to reach a “consensus agreement” to make Julio A.N. chairman by consensus while Ramos Allup quietly went about the business of eating their lunch. Now they’re backed into a corner, negotiating the rules for MUD’s caucus (fracción parlamentaria) to hold a secret ballot on the A.N. chair: a move that seems unlikely to favor them at this point.

But easily the most baffling mistake the PJ camp has made came courtesy of Henrique Capriles. In that now infamous TalCual interview, Capriles said he didn’t want to beat a dead horse but then immediately took out his club and gave it a few more whacks, slamming #LaSalida as “one of the great national failures.”

It’s sort of like a defender making a loose pass back to his goalkeeper with an attacker marauding near by: if you do it against regular opposition, you might just get away with it, but if you do it with Lionel Messi anywhere near your 18 yard box, you’re going to pay. Capriles’s impolitic remark, once again rubbing the salidista VP’s faces in it, was all Ramos Allup needed to make a really concerted push for VP support.

What, exactly, Capriles was thinking we’ll never know. Maybe he just blundered. Maybe he has some hidden agenda against Julio. Maybe now that he’s not running for another term as Miranda Governor that PJ National Coordinator role has started to look good to him. Who knows?

What I do know is that when you give a caramelito like that to Henry Ramos Allup, you know the guy is going to pounce. And pounce he did.

Can Julio Borges still claw his way back into the A.N. chair? Of course he can. Would I bet on him? Not a chance.

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  1. What about his PR machine going to work? I believe it was 7D when journalists started mentioning him as “possible” president of the National Assembly. That can’t be a coincidence now, can it?

  2. No volverán?. Los viejitos volvieron. Ellos know about pacts, guisos, exile and play with candelita. Agárrate Godgiven que vienen con todo.

  3. Toro,

    Excellent analysis…and it is so sad we might get this dinosaur with such links to corruption.

    I really think PJ badly needs some communications coach. Isn’t there something like that in Venezuela?
    If that party really wants to get to power, it needs to realise rhetorical skills and general PR work to shoot your competitors are essentials.

  4. Strange. All our analyst have beem saying Tío Ramos would be president of the AN for months. I took it from granted in November.

  5. The other problem is that people expected Borges, as National Coordinator of PJ, to keep his party on the “unity to face 2016” track and he couldn’t. If he can’t keep Capriles from reopening the old wounds, how he can expect to lead a multi-party coalition in the Assembly? That TalCual interview pretty much undermined the belief on Borges’s capacity for leadership and his authority on his own party.

    In other words, the oppo doesn’t believe that Borges leads PJ anymore.

    And is not only Capriles. There’s also the Guanipa remarks that were right after the oppo victory and were criticized on this blog. Guanipa, BTW, instead of putting a statement of his own, that could be used against him, decided instead to slither and retweet the “glory to PJ” series of tweets of one of their own deputies. Borges did the appropiate “commitment to unity” noises after the blunder, but he can’t say: “Capriles’s remarks are his own and don’t represent PJ’s commitment to unity” because a)A good chunk of PJ did said that they were with Capriles after the blunder and he couldn’t stop that either and b)It pretty much kills any chance that Capriles gets to the Presidency.

    Is not merely a communications problem, it goes deeper than that.

  6. We don’t know who you’ve been speaking to Quico but, as far as 8 months ago the adecos were certain they’d have HRA up in the chair. I heard someone even say “We are back, baby! We are back!”.

    Us for once had a little moment of doubt when we heard that the MUD rulebook was very explicit on who is to occupy the chair. Then again HRA could care less for a manual.

    Personally, I think HRA is barking at the wrong tree. The MUD needs show a consensus face up there, one that gives hope of change. Let’s be clear the NA President needs to be a symbol (much like AEB was in 1945. In that scenario HRA should realize that he would do us all a favor in taking the whip role.

    If you are gonna play the Frank role, play it where it is needed most. Be the guy who can keep the entire crowd together.

  7. Creo el debate debería ser si salen de Maduro en 6 meses o lo dejan para el 2017. HRA, AD, VP y UNT parece que quieren lo primero (la famosa nueva Salida que despotrico HCR en su polémica entrevista); o esperar a salir de Maduro mas adelante. Cuando? no lo dicen. Pareciera que ese es el trasfondo en la elección al presidente de la AN. Entre estas dos posiciones, con cual estarías de acuerdo, sin importar si es un HRA o un JB

  8. As far as I know, people’s votes were for the MUD to win as one coalition and were not cast for any specific party in particular..they could have cared less which candidate belonged to what party as long as the MUD won. If one party getting the most votes in order to achieve the presidency of the National Assembly was the rule in “normal times,” these are not normal times and it should not apply for the 6D elections where most people did not know or gave a crap who the candidate was as long as it was a MUD candidate. And that was how the election was sold by the MUD to the people…one united front. All this aside, I think Ramos Allup’s hard line, take-no-bullshit attitude and parliamentary experience in wheeling and dealing is just what the new Assembly requires in these troubled times and not some pussy-footed politician like Borges.

  9. Henry is not just a dinosaur: He represents a party that touts democracy while acts like Stalin (this is the thickest and recurrent contradiction of MUD in general and the source of their inability to take enough votes from ‘chavismo’). Ramos has a long list of policy failures (elections of 2005, its dubious loyalty to CAP , have argued for clemency for Chavez , etc , etc , etc …) and yet it turns out that this is the best option we have? I don’t know why, but I think that even Chita San Vicente would be a better choice .

  10. Apparently Henry convinced everyone before the election that Venezuela needed a zorro viejo and not a julio boring borges. As Chavez said: the show must go on.

  11. No dije que Ramos Allup fuera un Mandela ni tampoco el mejor ejemplo de un político, más bien me parece un payaso. Sin embargo, para esta Asamblea en particular hace falta alguien que no se quede callado ante las marramucias de los chavistas y que sea más irónico y sarcástico que el mismo Diosdado Cabello y sepa ponerlo en su sitio a él y a toda la cuerda de sicofantes que lo único que saben hacer es repetir el dogma comunista, ad nauseam. Si logran que la TV de la Asamblea vuelva a ser “pública,” deberemos tener unos buenos shows con este tipo presidiendo. Con lo fregado que va a estar el país, hará falta algo de diversión.

  12. The AD-VP alliance could make things interesting in the future, when MUD might need to chose a presidential candidate by consensus. If there’s a presidential election before 2019, it will be called with no more than 1-2 months in advance. There won’t be time for a MUD primary, just like when Chávez died.

    Until this week I thought that scenario favoured Capriles, as he’s by far the strongest presidential contender from the moderate wing of MUD. PJ+AD+UNT+Falcón make up most of MUD, by any measure you want to use (their 79 AN deputies, mayors, votes in past elections, etc). The LaSalida wing of MUD, VP+Vente+Ledezma, had no shot of imposing his candidate, Leopoldo.

    But if AD-UNT support Leopoldo, then Capriles has no shot. I still can’t picture AD-UNT supporting Leopoldo for president, but crazier things have happened. We have just seen people who where calling HRA a collaborationist and boliburgues only weeks ago, support his candidacy for AN president and paint him as a statesman!

    However, every party represents not only a group of voters and politicians, but also interests groups: financiers, media, bankers, businesses, etc. I can’t see AD and HRA, and the interests behind them, helping bring to power the interests behind VP and Vente. HRA must know they won’t play nice with him, and with the interests he represents, once they are in Miraflores.

  13. There are many things about Ramos Allup I dont particularly like , but one thing that I find in him and which this ‘result’ bears out is that he is an effective scrappy professional political pro , specially moving inside small close door circles. !!

  14. Entiendo que Nagel y Toro tienen un mancrush con Borges y se los respeto. Tienen todo el derecho a amarlo. Pero Borges no es el hombre adecuado para el trabajo.

    Aunque por razones de imagen HRA no es una opción ideal (espantará a ni-nis e indecisos en un venidero RR), la verdad es que a Borges no le veo ni el caracter ni la malicia (burdel político) para hacer el trabajo.

    Sin importar lo que crean Borges, Capriles y el resto de los optimistas, la AN no se ganó gracias al discurso de amor y paz ni las promesas de reconciliación. Se ganó porque Maduro no sólo ha puesto la cag…, sino que también nos ha embarrado a todos. El discurso hippie de Borges no va a convencer a Maduro, Diosdado, Jorgito o a los malandros armados de no echarnos la burra al monte o echarnos unos tiros. Para lo que viene nos hacen falta perros bravos, no perros falderos.

    Ojo, no estoy hablando de confrontación, sino de pararse firme ante las amenazas. El perro bravo no tiene que morder, sólo tiene que ladrar fuerte para hacer la amenaza creíble. La imagen del hombre fuerte sigue vigente en nuestra política, por lo que eso tiene su valor. Obviamente Borges no es creible en ese papel.

    Dejen que HRA haga el trabajo de policía malo y que Borges – cuando llegue el momento – haga de policía bueno.

    En cuanto a las desafortunadas declaraciones de Capriles, bueno… Capriles está empeñado en destruir con la boca lo que hace con las manos. Su trabajo en Miranda tiene mérito, pero hasta el sol de hoy no he escuchado la primera entrevista decente de él. Y eso que TODAS las entrevistas que he visto de él han sido con medios que lo tratan de ayudar. No quiero imaginarme a Capriles sólo frente a un periodista serio, menos con un medio del gobierno. Honestamente, no puedo creer que después de 15 años metido en política nadie se haya tomado la molestia de sugerirle algo que lo ayude a no ser tan torpe cuando se dirige a los medios…

  15. (1) why treat La Salida vs Electoral Route as trivial, as a “squabble”? As in jeez, why won’t these guys just shut up about the best way to fight an authoritarian regime?

    Why is the failure (on its own terms) of La Salida, which led to numerous deaths/jailings/injuries, considered so trivial?

    The differing approaches continue to say tons and tons about their respective advocates’ understanding of Venezuela (and ni-ni’s), maturity, pragmatism, and values….this is a conversation that should be elevated, not buried.

    (2) Notice your assumption about Voluntad Popular — they might have been reasonable, you imply, but Capriles hurt their feelings (gasp!) on the radio, and so of course, OF COURSE, they are going to go with the dinosaur, no matter that it confirms 17 years of regime propaganda that the Chavistas are all that stand between Venezuela and The Return of The Adecos.

    How could we possibly expect more?

    It’s the telenovelization of politics — the stage-managed arrest, the blond globe-trotting wife, the bomb-throwing rhetoric. Making sure there are enough witnesses, recruiting and training candidates, holding together a coalition…God, it’s all so boring…will someone go wait on line for me to buy the popcorn?

    • Oh but Lucia, who told you you weren’t watching a sopa opera? I mean, it’s Venezuela for Christ sake… It will always feel like a telenovela (even more if you learn how the characters are connected to one another). Just go grab some popcorns and wait for the next episode.

    • The dirty little secret here is that the perception of Julio as a principled politician is kind of hurting him here. There’s this diffuse sense that if you’re going to try to deal with a bunch of utter thugs you’re better off falling into line behind a guy who’s a bit of a thug himself. That when you sit down to cut the extremely dicey series of deals that will be needed to pull off a political transition that’s at least relatively orderly, principles threaten to hobble you much more than they help you.

      • Then again, you don’t get where Julio is — in contention for AN chair, head of biggest oppo party — without having some serious skills. He didn’t just float in….

      • And…furthermore…isn’t this a copy of the same argument we’ve seen over and over? Hey, look who we’re dealing with, don’t bring me that by-the-book follow-the-Constitutional ethical stuff! We need to take to the streets….we need to throw stuff…we need to…we need to…we need to…

        Are we different from them, or not? This illiberalism is in defense of…?

        It’s like thinking Conde de Guacharo would be a good response to Chavez….

        It’s just not how you beat the bad guys.

      • “….the extremely dicey series of deals that will be needed to pull off a political transition that’s at least relatively orderly….”

        Hah! You think that the people that want HR NOW want that? Is the oppo base, they want a bunch of boligarchs in prision.

        I do too, I just don’t trust Allup to do so. Though most people on the lines are so fed up that they rather charge the colectivo lines in front of the Assembly themselves. Beats dying of starvation, lack of medicines or in a robbery.

  16. RR that hard-line, take no bullshit attitude belongs in the NA, true, but not in the President’s seat. We are trying to bring back civility and democracy, trying to show that Venezuela can truly change, HRA is not the person to assume that role.

    HRA is an old fox, he manages his party like a personal gang, he has, single-handedly, stopped his party’s renewal over and over again. Either you are with him or against him. So, he knows how to hold power, yes, but to what cost? He could perfectly assume a power-behind-the-throne role, where he would be more effective keeping the coalition together. Instead, as President of the NA, HRA’s maneuvers will be out in the open for everyone to see, and everyone to criticize, costing the opposition valuable political capital.

      • Yay and nay. Yes does parties have failed renewing their leaderships, but it’s because they haven’t faced an internal opposition (except for LL in PJ). AD on the other hand has had its lines cut one after the other since the early 2000s, and UNT, VP and PJ have all fed from it. Timoteo-Coronil Hartmann in the early 2000s taking with them all the party’s intelligentsia to UNT; Marquina in 2006 who was kicked out in the most embarrassing way when the party was hoping for a coup, first migrating to UNT and then to PJ; Angel Medina – Juan Requesens who both flew to PJ with the few young people who remained in the party (VP also received some of this crowd); and most recently Abrusci’s resignation who was then replaced by Ivlev Silva who, sooner or later, will end up like the rest in another party.

  17. La vaina ta ladi en la oficina. Vamos a tener que hacer grupos de lectores en diferentes ciidades pa caernos a palos. Anyone in London?

  18. I will admit my prejudices against Ramos Allup. They stem primarily from his association with everything that wrong with Venezuela that allowed Chavez to come to power in the first place. However, if he gets the job done, in the end, I won’t care. He “turned on a dime” because that is the direction the wind is blowing. Fine. Just get the job done, and all is forgiven. However, if he forgets about what got him there…

  19. Brilliant article. The problem for PJ is that a plurality is not a majority. Sure, being the biggest party has its perks, but that doesn’t help when you are the biggest but only at 30-something percent. You can’t act like the adult in the room calling the shots when if you don’t do anything to cooperate with others.

    As for Capriles, I’ve been saying it for quite some time, but he needs to get better advisors ASAP.

  20. As expected. The winds have shifted and you strike while the iron is hot, not wait until it cools down.

    Ramos Allup is wolf who waits patiently and bids his time until the weak are in perfect position. A master at the political game. Controlling the rhythm of every action around him.

    This pretty much solidifies that Capriles won’t be the MUD candidate for the presidency. I doubted he was ever going to be picked since who in his right-mind nominate the guy who let the elections be robbed. (even if it isn’t true, that is what the majority of opposition voters believe).

    Capriles would probably be excellent or at the least decent at governing and Borges would do a fine job as the AN president. They just don’t have the strength or the political dexterity to face down the regimen.

    PJ’s soft-hand approach needs to change.

    LL would rather die then let the elections be stolen from him.

    You may not agree with LL or Ramos Allup, but strength is respected, while Capriles and Borges try to sing kumbaya.

  21. It’s no directly related to the entry, most about the comment section of this articlle, but I continue to surprise myself over the amount of people looking after the “Caudillo”, civil or not, the guy that needs to “poner orden en la pea con autoridad”, let alone the martyr.

    Apparently, we don’t know better than the authoritarian or the strong guy, even if that guy is a woman (in which case she has guaramo), wherever your political compass points for you, it doesn’t matter.

    I don’t know, it seems that was the problem in the first place so… i sincerely don’t know how to take it.

  22. I don’t think that Ramos Allup’s change of mind about whether or not to get rid of the government is not necessarily part of a tactic. Some could argue that it has been clear since a long time but after this election it’s definitely clear that the country as a whole wants a radical change and if Maduro and company stand in the way, they must be removed.

    And I wasn’t so sure Borges was going to be president. To me, the field was wide open after 6D so Ramos Allup being president has always been an option.

  23. Magical post. I count myself as one of Ramos Allup hatters, but I was starting to think he was not a bad choice. The old fox had bamboozled me with the array of tricks he had displayed since 6D. I remember watching his interview with Vladimir Villegas, being kind of sad of how both of them (Villegas and HRA) were playing the silly cat-and-mouse game so typical of pre-Chávez political talk shows; however, Villegas decided to read a horrible audience question about Tamara Adrián (who the hell screens tweets and emails in that show?!) and HRA was appropriate in his response, not condescending yet firm, the kind of answer I have been waiting for from our politicians for decades. After reading this post, I now fantasize of Allunderwood finishing his answer, turning to camera, looking straight into the lens, breaking the fourth wall and telling the audience “did you like that? That’s how an old fox gets a young political party on his side.” I was such a fool, thanks for opening my eyes.

    The term “legacy” has been devalued (like so many things in Venezuela) by the chavista connotation, but in this case it could be a good thing. At 73, HRA has to value this as his last opportunity of leaving a mark. He’s clearly sharp, and not really concerned with what all of us think about him. Perhaps he recognizes that this Congress might not last long, that he has to take advantage of the moment. Perhaps there is a little bit of principle mixed with pragmatism. It might not all be old politics manipulation.

    In any case, it looks like we have been waiting for our Mandela, but “esto es lo que hay.”

  24. This is downright depressing… Nicmer Evans and a few others at Aporrea have been calling it for a year now. How HRA had been at the center of an muddled agreement with the government, let’s not forget that besides the face of AD this guy’s personal links with chavismo are more than questionnable. And then a bunch of hotheads at MUD are willing to play this right into the government’s hand – just because Capriles was stupid enough to be calling la salida a failure (which it was, just that no one needed reminding) and VP are too self-absorbed to see past their hurt feelings. And here was I hoping that at last the disgraceful bunch of politicians we call our leaders were finally seeing the bigger picture. So our chances lie either with a bunch of morons (PJ), narcicistic pricks (VP, Ma Corina and the like), AD (no description needed) or chavismo. That’s just wonderful.

    • Sigh… Does someone actually believe that chavistas will just implode and magically disappear overnight?

      I’m not talking about the chavista masses. I’m talking about chavista leaders. Those guys will not go down without a fight. They are even willing to bring down the country down to hell with them, because they know that as soon as they lose power, they’ll end up in jail.

      The best thing we will be able to get is a deal. We offer some of them a get out of jail card, and perhaps, just perhaps, they will let us fix this clusterf*ck.

      Heresy? Perhaps for the hardliners, but that’s happened before. After WWII, most of the Nazis went unpunished and some of them even kept their positions in government. And honestly, I cannot picture anything worse than working with former Nazis…

      HRA seems shady enough to work out a deal like that. Borges seems to be too naïve and soft to get the work done.

  25. Excelente articulo para dividir! justo en vísperas de la lucha política más importante de los últimos años en Venezuela. ¿Que tan importante será quien ocupe la presidencia de la AN?, ¿es que acaso las decisiones las tomará una sola persona?, ¿acaso ha parecido en los últimos años que la toma de decisiones en la oposición es monolítica? más allá de los detalles del artículo creo que hay un tema general que se pasó por alto y que aquí parece ser manipulado con intenciones partidistas… ¡Los votos del 6D exigen una nueva forma de liderazgo más responsable! no necesariamente nuevas caras, sino nuevas estrategias, más realistas. Cansado de oír lo que Julio Borges repite constantemente sobre el “capitalismo de Estado” y sobre como los venezolanos exigen cambios, me parece que como abogado y político no tiene lo necesario para ser presidente de la AN en este momento, es muy “agua tibia” por así decirlo, sin tomar en cuenta que desde hace años se escucha el rumor de que Julio Borges es una especie de doble agente político en nuestro país… Está claro a quien perjudica este articulo y no es ni a Julio Borges ni a Henrry Ramos Allup, es: a los venezolanos en general, que vieron hace casi un mes como se caían las teorías conspiratorias y recobraron la esperanza de poder convertir a nuestro país en un espacio plural (entiéndase no un espacio antichavista, sino, plural!). Pensemos por un momento: ¿acaso la opinión de 5 millones no vale? ¿acaso el debate se gana con números y no con argumentos?, opino que debemos reflexionar un poco más acerca de lo que esta pasando política y socialmente en nuestro país antes de apresurarnos a querer dividir la torta cuando en verdad ¡ni siquiera esta puesta sobre la mesa!. Los diputados no han llegado a sentarse la primera vez en el hemiciclo y ya hay quien apuesta a la fragmentación. ¿a quién le conviene esto? ¿no será por casualidad al rival político que si es monolítico y dedocrático?


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