In the fulness of time, we may come to appreciate that the biggest political story in Venezuela yesterday was not MUD’s decision to backpedal on the three deputies from Amazonas State. The biggest political story in Venezuela yesterday was Henry Ramos Allup’s revelation that he has opened a direct communication channel with the new vice-president, Aristóbulo Istúriz.

Ramos Allup didn’t explicitly link his decision to backtrack on the three Amazonas diputados to his talks with Aristóbulo, but a buen entendedor, pocas palabras. Post-Aristóbulo talks, Henry sketched a definition of the new National Assembly’s role that is notable for its circumspection: the new Assembly, he said, would “legislate, oversee and debate”.

That’s a far cry from than the comecandela rhetoric about regime-change-within-six-months that earned him Voluntad Popular’s support in his quest to become National Assembly president. You can’t help but wonder how the Henristóbulo bromance is playing in the López clan right now.

So which one is the real Henry, the antichavista firebrand of viral YouTube clips and VP hearts? Or the gladhandling pol who’ll cut a deal with Aristóbulo to safeguard his power?

Probably neither. Or both. Henry Ramos Allup is unencumbered by strong core beliefs that might get in the way of a quick tactical maneuver. That’s the whole reason he’s able to turn on a dime: he’s a tactical pol, the diametrical opposite of a conviction politician. This is a feature, not a bug. If you’re the kind of person whose stomach is turned by that kind of thing, you’re into antipolítica and you don’t know it.

But what about Aristóbulo? I actually know the guy personally – I used to pal around with him in the halcyon days of the mid-90s, when he was a pencil-thin, penniless former mayor of Caracas and Causa R organizer.

He was notable then largely for his brains. This isn’t something you can say about a lot of chavista regime higher-ups, but Istúriz is friggin’ smart. He gets macroeconomics, has a live interest in all things political. Exceptionally for a Venezuelan político, he’s relatively low ego, almost self-efacing at times, and happy to play second fiddle. And he’s famously funny, too.

Is he a bit of a far left loony on top of all that? You betcha. Still, he’s a chavista with a capacity to think outside the constricted shackles of SiBCI sloganeering, a guy with a tactical sense of his own and, in that sense, a rara avis in the upper echelons of chavismo. He was badly underutilized as Anzoátegui State governor, and bringing him into the vice-presidency strikes me as a rare, bold tactical move from Maduro – and an especially bold one if his marching orders are to liaise with the new AN majority.

Aristóbulo’s role is still to be fleshed out. Things change so quickly in Venezuela these days, it’s hard to stake out positions with any certainty. But already the difference between his approach and Diosdado’s seems wide enough to talk of a split.

While Diosdado and his loyalists at the Supreme Tribunal stake out maximalist terrain liable to back Maduro into an impossible corner, Aristóbulo seems busy working out an implicit modus vivendi with Ramos Allup’s National Assembly.

Diosdado’s maximalism threatened to put President Maduro in an impossible position: either turn up to give his State of the Union Speech in front of an Assembly his own Supreme Tribunal had basically just outlawed or facing the international isolation and domestic loss of legitimacy that would’ve come from simply ignoring the clear constitutional mandate to give his Memoria y Cuenta speech in the National Assembly no later than Friday. That was a lose-lose proposition for Maduro – finding some kind of arreglo that allowed him to avoid either of those positions was his best option.

Similarly, for Henry, the political costs of holding firm on the three Southern Deputies must have come to look exhorbitant. He looked likely to end up as the leader of a non-entitity locked in a constitutional war with the rest of the state, with no money, no real power and, potentially, no relevance either.

In short, just like Dorothy Kronick argued here just four days before the December 6th election, a la hora de las chiquiticas both chavismo and the opposition realized that a negotiated agreement – no matter how distasteful – served their interests better than all out confrontation.

Quico has written that, even if faced with an unambiguous choice between compromise and irrelevance, chavista politicians won’t negotiate—not in public, not in secret, not ever. They never have, and therefore they never will. But desperate times, desperate measures: mothers bench-press cars, climbers self-amputate with dull knives. An oppo supermajority would change PSUV incentives, and incentives, they tell me, shape behavior.

For much of the last five weeks, Dorothy’s prediction looked like a bit of a blunder and I got to gloat a little bit, having finally gotten a forecast right. One way of interpreting what happened yesterday is that Dorothy’s basic insight staged a dramatic, come-from-behind comeback to strip me of the one little shard of I-told-you-so I thought I’d managed to salvage from the smouldering wreckage of my 2015 forecasteering. 

How stable and lasting this Aristóbulo-Henry entente cordiale will be is anyone’s guess. I may very well be reading far too much between the lines of what happened yesterday. Both are tough, smart tactical pols who’ll discard any agreement they’ve come to the second they judge it’s outlived its usefulness.

But what yesterday’s drama seems to indicate clearly is that Diosdado’s power to dictate PSUV’s tactical response to the constitutional crisis is seriously in doubt now. His know-nothing maximalism appears to have a real competitor inside the chavista halls of power now.

If Henry is smart, he’ll find ways to exploit that split, deepening it and mining it as a source of political power. And if the way of doing that is solidifying a modus vivendi with Aristóbulo…well, then expect to see a whole lot more of that in the days to come.

53 COMMENTS

  1. Hope these two guys can turn around things for Venezuela. It has always bothered me Aristobulo’s “lamesuelas” attitude within chavismo, being himself the turning point in opening the doors to chavismo when he won Caracas’ mayoship. I remember too wel him being outside CNE’s door at midnight fighting for every vote.

  2. I don’t see any negotiating here, I see a clear defeat of the MUDs. The government got what they wanted as always.

    Also, I don’t think Allup single handedly made the Amazonas deputies resign, I think they made that choice based on not leaving the Assembly powerless.

    Francisco, I almost always agree with you but in my opinion you’re wrong here.

  3. Compare Aristobulo to Arreaza , Aristobulo is a professional politician same as HRA ,Arreaza is a riguid arrogant doctrinaire fanatic with absolutely no political skills , I think there was a reason why Maduro replaced Arreaza for Aristobulo , he understands that times have changed and Aristobulo can be more useful than Arreaza in dealing with the situation , as an old time professional pol he can handle public messaging better and interact with HRA in a more practical way. Seem to remember that HRA himself said something to the effect that Aristobulo’s appointment was welcome because he was someone whom one could talk too. !!

    • Let’s not give Aristobulo too much credit; his only seemingly noteworthy achievement has been eluding the US Justice Department.

  4. Why should the opposition cut the government a backroom deal? Does a two thirds majority, i.e. mandate from the public, mean nothing? The three contested deputies won their elections because the CNE said as much. We all have to put on our big boy pants and make our demands; there is no turning back. Let the TSJ shutdown the government and they’ll see what remains of their constituency erode into an oblivion. Imagine the GNB surrounding the capitol while MUD deputies attempt to go to work towards tangible progress. This was never going to have a happy ending. Seems like we’re the ones huyendo hacia adelante, all in the span of seven days.

  5. Public support for the opposition is one thing but we don’t have guns. That much has been made abundantly clear. No one with leverage will intervene on the opposition’s behalf (but they will use it for the government). This is why they had to back pedal.
    Sticking by our moral grounds and the comfort of being right would have been the equivalent of not showing up to the 2005 parliamentary elections, we would have given up any resemblance of power granted to the opposition by the votes on 6D. We’re indeed powerless now as the government has gotten its way and will likely continue to do so, but at the very least we’re not completely irrelevant.

  6. Creo que era mejor quedarse sin asamblea unos meses y observar desde las gradas la explosión social que viene (el petróleo a $20 y pico no alcanza ni para robar). Ahora le toca a la oposición compartir la culpa. Una jugada política muy estúpida la de Ramos A, comparable al boicot del 2005

  7. So, the Oppo, while finally climbing the steep cliff to relevance, took out a dull knife, amputated one of their good arms, and began falling back into the abyss….

  8. I don’t like the deal either but if there was a deal I really really hope Leopoldo Lopez and all the other political prisoners were part of it.

    Strategically speaking the opposition needs to maintain a strong position until the gubernatorial elections at the end of this year where another electoral triumph would set the tone.

    It is too early to tell but if it is true that Aristóbulo’s influence rises and Diosdado’s diminishes that would be great news.

  9. No vale, chico!

    I myself predicted this before the elections in these comments sections. That both sides would ramp up hatred while beginning to negotiate.

    You have to understand, we venezuelans may be loud mouthed, but we are also eminently reasonable.

    Nobody in our fair land (at least over the age of 23, and even then…) likes to fight apocaliptic battles. We like uncertainty of future less than dishonor.

    Madurostroika?

    Drink whisky, not blood!

  10. What bothers me is that on the surface it looks like the entire negotiating element Aristóbulo had, was actually the maximalist strategy Diosdado got set up. So rather than a split, it looks more like an extremely successful good cop-bad cop routine that actually disarmed the (kind of doubtful) opposition’s nuclear option and therefore (some of) its leverage.

    Now it sure sounds like Chavismo could keep playing the same game over and over to erode the AN power until it’s just a show.

    So we’ll have to trust what they did for now, if this is indeed a negotiated back down, I hope they actually got something good out of it, like the execution of the anmesty law and not just a show of memoria y cuenta, or their right to exist.

    • Just having an open channel of comunication is a great victory. Negociation 101.

      The MUD high command must have one phrase going over and over in their minds: it’s the economy, stupid!

  11. I’m not convinced that even Diosdado wants to end up a Mad Max type in a post-apocalyptic Venezuela! It is plausible to me that the regime is acutely aware of the economic meltdown under way, and a drowning man is not going to refuse a lifeline, even one thrown by the opposition. Maduro clearly has run out of options. Keeping power isn’t a solution to this crisis. He may be curious enough to try finding out what plans the opposition portends to mitigate this crisis. The worst outcome for Chavismo would be for the MUD to be the heroes that save the country from economic collapse!

  12. I wouldn’t read too much into this because it seems to me that this back channel stuff has a short shelf life.

    This may be simply communication to get them to Friday’s presentation by Maduro, and then back to the usual fireworks.

    The threat of Maduro being declared absent by not going to the AN to deliver his “State of the Mess We’re In” speech was probably too much of a risk to take.

    The “3 Amazonico’s” move was probably a “good faith” move, but a calculated one that did not take much away from the MUD. If it comes down to new elections in Amazonas the MUD may just win 4 seats, not three. Worst case we’re in 3/5ths territory, best case we’re still in 2/3rds (109/164) land. I would have preferred the MUD to fight for the 3 Amazonicos, but gotta trust the one that brung us to the dance, still.

    Almagro sent Maduro a 7 page letter yesterday playing the Democratic Charter card, again, thereby maintaining the pressure from outside on the regime.

    What happens today in the AN will be interesting to watch and will tell us a lot about Friday…….

    • An excellent analysis. I would further stress the importance of that Almagro document. If the ‘Democratic Charter’ card is played, Venezuela’s entire financial house-of-cards would be in jeopardy. No future loans, no lines of credit being extended (if there are any right now), a pariah state. All taking place at the wrong time.

      • No doubt.

        Thank God this is not Insulza we’re dealing with!

        Almagro has shown, so far, that he understands how the copper is beaten.

  13. “Francisco, I almost always agree with you but in my opinion you’re wrong here.”

    Funny, I happen to be at the opposite end. I had to re-read this piece, as I could not believe I was agreeing 100% with Quico. But I am.

  14. A few points on Aristobulo.
    1. “Underutilized in Anzoategui”, BS, I am from Anzoategui, he is even more useful than tarek. The only difference is that Aristobulo doesn’t plaster his pictures everywhere. Tarek thinks he is a fashion model.
    2. I once had a conversation with an old chavista that had an indian cooperative, he knew him well, the expression he used was “ese es un negro de los malos”.
    3. Ask the people that work in Plaza Mayor in Lecheria, they can tell you how he is ruining them. The reason is that when students were protesting nearby and were attacked by state police, they hid in Plaza Mayor.
    So please don’t give me that crap from the 90s.

      • When they say he was underutilized, they mean in his political skills, not as an administrator. Aristobulo has always been a smart power broker but a sub-par executive. They were playing his weaknesses,now his strengths.

  15. But let’s think about Aristobulo. He resigned as governor shortly after the elections in a public mea culpa way, i.e. a slight to Maduro and he is back VP?

    Option 1: Chavismo appreciates the political chops of Aristobulo and is aware of the need it has for him. Sensible thinking out of Chavismo is so out of character!

    Option 2: The murky arbiter, the military, imposed Aristobulo on Maduro indeed for his political chops and somewhat respectability.

    As for the backpedaling of the deputies, I agree that they realized that it was a breaking point that would ‘trancar el juego’, so tactically you retreat and find another way or another time.

    Raul yesterday called it a chess game. I think it as jujitsu match, as long as there is movement there is a possibility of winning, opportunities pop up unexpectedly. However if you both are paralyzed in place it is an unresolvable stalemate.

  16. This “rapprochement” was somewhat predictable. But calling it merely a “Henristóbulo bromance” is just a funny understatement.

    Knowing the history of Vzlan politics, 4 highly corrupt decades of ad/copey.., it is just a matter of time until new, shady alliances are formed, new Guisos are cooked, after-hours, over a few whijkiistoj.. Henry Derwick Allup is no innocent boy scout. Not to mention Aristobulo, Cabello’s thugs, the 50 Chavista deputies. Do we think the 112 new Muddy politicians are impeccable, incorruptible saints?

    If so, we haven’t paid any attention to Venezuelan politics in the past 57 years. Most of what’s really going on right now is “por debajo de la mesa”. Chavistas talking to Mudistas, shady, juicy negotiations. Chavistas know they will have to share the Coroto now with the new, famished politicians on the block. “Chico, ven aca, vamos a entendernos vale, por el bien de Vzla, (y de tu cuenta bancaria)”

    PDVSA Boli-Thugs, the Narco-Lords, the filthy Military, they all have lots of interests, tons of cash, and a lot to lose. They risk jail and to lose their fortunes. Can’t disappear in the Caribbean.

    In return for such generosity, the Muddy new and very old politicians will offer silence, “ah, yo no se vale, no vi nada”, will offer a truce and no future judicial prosecution to many Chavista criminals. Plus of course, to let them continue to steal in certain areas.. Bribes, Guisos, forgiveness, new friendships with the former enemies, a veritable MUD-Mess, Chavista Light. It’s Venezuela, after all, do we forget? It all happens over whijkicitos, usually late night, in private.

  17. “The court’s latest decision means that a number of decisions already taken by the assembly are null and void – including Allup’s unilateral decision to remove portraits of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and national liberation hero Simon Bolivar from the congressional chambers.” (http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/11813) HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA ha ha ha ha ha!!!!

  18. I remember reading a poll where Aristobulo figured among the most popular figures among the Chavista base , much higher than DDC (who by the way is now neither a Minister nor a National Assembly leader) and Arreaza who barely figured at the bottom of the heap. In the event Maduro is replaced , Aristobulo is much more liked figure than DDC or Arreaza could ever be……

    He may be crooked but he is also personally simpatico and humble ( heard from people who knew him from the past) , much easier to like than humourless stoned featured Arreaza or barking dog DDC.

    If you figure that you are going to have to play politics in the coming months because of the crisis situation and shift in institutional alignments Aristobulo is much more useful than the other two.

    He also has the right skin colour for lots of people to sympathise with him ……

  19. All in all though, HRA said earlier he wasn’t showing his cards. The opposition was moving quickly in a single direction of defiance and showing their Assembly muscle.

    The government makes its plans to annul the Assembly obvious. The opposition keeps being defiant until the very last minute (see even Calzadilla’s response yesterday that they’ll stay being 112). And then, and then…what, a backpedal? Does this mean the opposition never had a strategy all along? They were just pushing to see if the government actually did what they said they would do? And then back off???

    Are they even united?

    The biggest loss in this whole thing seems to be that the Opposition has no long-term strategy, they are not moves ahead of the chess game, and they are not even as strong as they thought they were.

    I hope I’m wrong but it’s been a disheartening few days.

  20. Only once have I ever seen or run across Aristobulo. It was an overnite flight arriving 5:35am at Maiquetia back in early 2011. I specifically remember this because his luggage and that of his companion was first off the baggage carousel and the rest of us peons had to wait almost another hour for the first of our bags to appear. I was pisssed and asked the airline what gives and they replied that the GNB had ordered them to dig out all of the bags or Aristobulo and send them up first and this resulted in all the other passengers’ bags being spread all over the place resulting in the delay.

    • All of them have this “bitter new rich” mentality, something like: “I spent my whole life being treated like a nobody, like a poor bastard driving a bus, or serving tables, now you all are going to respect me, you wanting or not, now it’s my turn because I’m powerful!” Any psychologist/psychiatrist will easily notice that behind the Maduros, Cabellos, Chavez, Morales, Correas etc, there is a great traumatic experience of rejection when in youth that made them prone to be part in this. “You won’t humiliate me anymore!” could be all these similar regimes’ slogan. Socialism/Bolivarianism/Communism, whatever the name you want for the variation of the same thing, is really the ideology of the sore loser.

  21. If this had happened to the Chavistas they would have never backpedaled. The current disastrous economic situation is a perfect example of this, obviously they should have backpedaled a long time ago. Often you have to kick the soccer ball backwards so you have a clear chance of a goal.

  22. “That’s a far cry from than the comecandela rhetoric about regime-change-within-six-months that earned him Voluntad Popular’s support in his quest to become National Assembly president.”

    But Voluntad Popular’s support for HRA wasn’t true support — they weren’t necessarily buying what he was selling, they just wanted to stop Primero Justicia from gaining further visibility. They don’t consider HRA a threat at the presidential level — full stop.

    In your terminology — they can deal with a tactical pol, but they don’t want a conviction pol and his allies to be elevated.

    HRA is too compromised to stand as the oppposition’s leading visible figure. VP’s “support” for him is a serious moral failure.

  23. Another tactic would be for the AN to pass a bill that the Chavista’s would be fearful of opposing.
    For example, a National Right to Nutrition Law that government budgets must prioritize providing adequate food to all persons in Venezuela and make rationing food illegal. National defense purchases can only be made if all persons in Venezuela have adequate nutrition.

    The image of Chavismo is low right now but if they deny people the right to good nutrition so Russian jets can be purchased then Chavismo would disappear overnight. Make sure the three disenfranchised deputies vote on it. The Chavista government would be very vengeful to object and the TSJ ruling is voided.

    In any event, the 2/3 majority should only be needed when Chavista positions in the government are challenged.

    • An easy method would be giving more demagogical speeches than chaburros themselves, take for example the “spontanous protest” where colectivos attacked MUD congressmen and journalists throwing tomatoes to them.

      Yes, freakin’ tomatoes, you know how much a kilo of that thing costs these days? From 700 to 1200 bolívares, sort of like TEN PERCENT OF YOUR WHOLE MONTH INCOME, THREE DAYS OF WORK just to “protest”? Yeah, sure, man.

      Having a voice there, I could ask for a turn to claim “There are no dollars for the productive sector to import the essential supplies to continue working, thanks to that control system our blazing new vice-president says it’s a wonderful PO-LI-TI-CAL-MEA-SU-RE, but there are dollars to import tomatoes for a ridiculous bunch of whiners! Behold the offer of chavizmo, the plan de la patria in action, people!”

      • The Oppo has to take the gloves off, not “cohabitate”. An example: today, when discussing the Gran Mision Vivienda ownership bill in the AN, Borges said he had the REAL exact numbers of viviendas built to date by Chavismo, but did not specify, to which the ex-Vivienda Minister/PSUV delegates screamed millions, and Cilia, when interviewed the other day, claimed 500m to be built each year for the next 4 years. The Oppo has to talk in terms the Pueblo can understand–e.g., 500m/yr. is more than 1.5/da.-impossible in Venezuela in the best of times, even more so with very little cement, cabillas, et. al., available, and this, for anyone who has ever tried to build even the most modest shack in Venezuela, is easily understandable by the Pueblo.

  24. According to Juan Nagel:

    “On December 6th last year, the opposition won close to 60% of the vote in the legislative election, and secured 112 deputies out of a possible 167. This marked the first time in seventeen years that the opposition controlled one of the branches of government. It is noteworthy that the opposition’s total was 112 seats – not 111, mind you, but 112 – because 112 happens to be the magic number that gives you a two-thirds supermajority in the legislature. A two-thirds supermajority has broad powers to change legislation, and even call a Constitutional Convention.”

    But it depends on how they do the math, based on 163 or 167. Remains to be $een.

    • I do sometimes delete posts for incitement of violence or for grossly intemperate language, though, including this one…

  25. I think you are overthinking this. I think the three deputies just “chickened out” and they didn’t want to go to jail, which with a TSJ that does not respect constitution it was quite possible. Might seems “real politiks” to you but for me, we have been victims of chavism abuse of power again. Good luck maintaining the majority cause that’s the next goal of Venezuelan injustice.

  26. Can somebody help clarify something for me.

    1) How many of the PSUV still in the National Assembly are old friends with Henri Falcon?

    2) Are there any that could be persuaded to make up the 112 if the prospects for the PSUV look grim enough?

    3) Would Henri be happy to be the man to make the approaches to get them to switch to the MUD based on his previous switch?

  27. Heh, kinda weird to read so many comments praising aristñobulo’s “political skills” as a “better operator” or “somebody who you can talk to”, when he’s actually one of the worst bastards this regime has.

    Don’t forget the tiny pearls he dropped in the past, all in the most mocking tone possible, such as the exchange control, the bane and 90% cause of Venezuela’s economic crisis, is a political measure (So people’s getting starving and are poor as fuck only because a political measure of the regime); or the equally grievous “yeah, we’re brainwashing children, so what?!”; or the less known “We’re just getting to the governorships to ‘esfaratarlas’ and stick communal state to all!”

    Not counting the moronic amount of what he’s stolen too, but hey, much better than the idiot arreaza.

  28. Profesional Pols always engage in a bit of bravado and play acting to appear favourably in the screen of peoples attention , this loud public figure however leaves way for a much more practical person when dealing with a situation where there is both something to be lost or gained depending on how its gamed .

    It is naive to think of pols as only acting in the plane of their public apperances and statements , there is a part of their jobs which is done covertly behind closed doors making bargains and reaching understandings with other of their own tribe.

    If you read the biographies of truly talented pols (FDR or LBJ for example) youll see the divide betweem the show they give to the public and the private practical man of affairs …….doenst mean they become good when acting privately , only that they realize that their occupation requires them to act on these two planes ……in different ways.!!

  29. “Henry Ramos Allup is unencumbered by strong core beliefs that might get in the way of a quick tactical maneuver. That’s the whole reason he’s able to turn on a dime: he’s a tactical pol, the diametrical opposite of a conviction politician. This is a feature, not a bug. If you’re the kind of person whose stomach is turned by that kind of thing, you’re into antipolítica and you don’t know it.”

    I do not agree at all with that statement. With a population completely uninformed, victim of incredible violence and economic hardship; with so much money that makes so many interests, both internal and external, clash; and an absolute lack of any type of democratic institutions; if you are not a “conviction politician”, dear friend, you are just taking part of the reparto of whatever is left of this poor country.

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