Good news: Maduro will grin-and-bear-it through his Memoria y Cuenta

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After a couple of days of uncertainty, today at 5:00 pm Nicolás Maduro is scheduled to give his Memoria y Cuenta —the criollo version of the State of the Union address— before the National Assembly. Maybe this does not seem such a big deal next to “disincorporated” deputies, the chance of an institutional clash, or the possible cohabitation. But it is a sign to note.

Maduro is not used to talking in front of audiences he hasn’t handpicked. His public appearances are virtually always in controlled spaces with hand-picked crowds, and even in those settings he is not known for his ability to respond well to criticism. This lady from Los Teques could tell you about it, and this other lady from Aragua, or this other one from Macarao.

Of course, talking to a hostile audience is never easy, but Nicolás is going to have to endure it. He’s going to stand in an opposition packed room, recognizing the “Asamblea Nacional Burguesa” the people (as in el pueblo) voted for. He’s going to do it because he has to. And that’s awesome.

Even if it is uncomfortable, even if you might look bad for not having a good answer to a hard question, and even if every TSJ decision is biased in your favor, if you are the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela you have to go to the Asamblea Nacional within the first 10 days of its installation and explain what you did last year in office. That’s what article 237 of the Constitution says.

Living in the country with the poorest rule of law in the world, we all know our constitution is better understood as a series of “shoulds” than “shalls”: suggestion to be followed when convenient — if you are the government, of course. So, to see the President following the law in a circumstance he probably didn’t want to, is just the kind of unfamiliar, feel good departure this new Assembly promises. It means our Executive Branch still needs to comply with some formalities, and as long as that’s the case, the game is on.

To be sure, today’s not some gigantic sign of institutional vitality. Maybe Maduro wants his followers to know he stands by his actions (even though his actions lead us to chronic scarcity, the highest inflation in the world, and a rise in poverty).  Maybe there was some negotiation amongst fractions. Maybe there is some important (economic?) announcement to make – a gal can dream, right? Maybe there’s a show planned. The list goes on.

But the thing is, even though they have violated the Constitution before, and probably will keep at it, this time they are complying. Skipping the Memoria y Cuenta —or giving a chimba version of it before the judicial power— was another step into that infinite darkness that lies just beyond the horizon, once the regime has stopped caring about appearances entirely.

In the end, the reasons for him to go give his address is simple. Politics.

Politics!

The government is finally being forced to engage in politics. Something they’ve spent 17 years avoiding. They have zero experience here. Maybe that’s why they had to fish Aristóbulo out of Anzoátegui – there weren’t any chavistas left in Caracas who even remembered what politics is like. 

So, let’s just relax, enjoy the show, and hope for many more moments of one branch of power being seriously scrutinized, as we may be opening the door to another little something we haven’t seen in a long time: Accountability.

Can you imagine it? Can you?

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Economist and Consultant in Economics and Public Policy at ODH Grupo Consultor in Caracas. Barbara is the co-author, with Richard Obuchi and Anabella Abadi, of "Gestión en Rojo" published by IESA. She loves everything related to oil and energy (except for corruption, pollution and inefficiency). Fan of Fargo, GoT and House of Cards.

43 COMMENTS

  1. The questions the NA could ask him would quickly reduce anyone to sobbing and tears. Maduro doesn’t strike me as someone who could effectively dodge or answer such questions at all. I hope the NA does this and more – effectively a Walk of Shame from the least season of GOT 🙂

  2. I loved this article. A fresh reminder of how politics should look like – which we ‘el pueblo’ have also forgotten about.

  3. They have no respect for the Constitution it self , nor for any Legal Institutions which they view as subordinate to the Grand Agenda of the Revolution and their Glorious Revolutionary Will to be used and manipulated as it suits their interests. But they do believe in the need to keep up a semblance of appearances and in the importance of using every ocasion to display Showy spectacles of their fervour and dedication to pretentious hoity toity (largely farsical) ideals.

    Maduro goes to the NA in the expectations that only he will speak , give a defiant , self serving message of how great the regime has performed despite the oppos malignant and devious sabotage and demand that the NA grant him some rethorically vague and grand assortment of Powers to fight the crisis or take the blame for obstructing the government in its pursuit of the country’s salvation !!

    Histrionism substitutes for reason in their way of acting , thats what Chavez taught them and they dont know any better……

  4. “The government is finally being forced to engage in politics. (…) there weren’t any chavistas left in Caracas who even remembered what politics is like.”

    Can someone pass the memo for the STJ too? I guess they haven’t received the update yet.

    thanks.

  5. “Sin Memoria Y Cuentos”, as many have referred to this spectacle beginning with Chavez. The economic situation in Venezuela has gone from very bad to dire, this after talking recently to many members of “El Pueblo”. A Caracazo-type explosion could easily be imminent, and this the military would like to avoid at all costs. My initial impression of an AN sell-out on Amazonas is now being tempered by the almost-hypnotizing spectacle of Globovision’s daily transmitting of the AN debates, where highly-lucid/well-informed Oppo speakers are presenting/passing eminently well-reasoned/constructive bills, being answered/opposed by Revolutionary faulty reasoning/ hogwash; all of this would have been impossible if the Oppo had insisted on maintaining the seating of the Amazonas” deputies. Any change in the 6.30 exchange rate by Maduro today, while necessary, with its ensuing increased prices for the Pueblo, in a normal country (yes, I know, Venezuela up to now, with the exception of 6D, has defied the definition of “normal”) would be the straw that breaks the Pueblo’s back….

  6. Is Maduro forced to answer a number of questions after his speech, or can he just get the hell out of there in a hurry, like his wife, Cabello and the Chavistas just did a few day ago?

    I suspect he’ll just give a quick, irate and malicious speech, praising the mision vivienda trillions of mansions for el pueblo, the retirement pensions, the inamovildad laboral, and a few other bogus proyectos populacheros.

    He will also attack the new MUD AN, as a threat to all the Great Chavismo Accomplishments, that the Burguesitos Ultraderechitas won’t let him activate the new, amazing economic measures which would easily propel Vzla into unsurpassed growth and phenomenal prosperity.

    A few more words about the Economic Wars, the Pelucones, the Imperialists, and he’s out of there, como corcho’e’limonada. Or as they say in the windy Llanos, “eso dura menos que peo en chinchorro”..

  7. I really doubt Maduro will be questioned today. He’ll go, give an absurd, asinine speech, and walk home. There will be tension and the PSUV will shout things as usual. But that idiot will not be taking questions unless whoever is babysitting him falls asleep.

    • The Opposition has a democratic mandate for change. They have the overwhelming support of the majority of the public. The Chavistas are trying to ignore that, but it isn’t just going to “go away”. In the end, if the will of the public is thwarted unconstitutionally, they will have a moral and legal right to stop recognizing the authority of the government and rebel in a manner that will be recognized as legitimate by the international community and that the military will be impotent to stop. That is the “endgame”.

      • There are two things I’m skeptic about from your comment, 1. I don’t fully believe the opposition really have “overwhelming support”, I’d say chavismo doesn’t have support, which has translated to people voting for them, but in reality people don’t really support the opposition, they just don’t support the regime but they don’t really trust the opposition leaders enough for the sentiment to be called “support”. And 2. After all we’ve seen, I find it really really hard to believe that there’s a rebellious way to overthrow this government, not with the level of repression they’ll certainly use again if matters come to it.

        So my question remains, what tangible element does the opposition have to bargain? And what happens if the government doesn’t engage in politics? I mean, do they really have to? They haven’t for so long.

  8. Some appropriate words today from Alexis De Tocqueville on the cause for revolution:

    “It is not always going from bad to worse that leads to revolution.

    What happens most often is that a people that puts up with the most oppressive laws without complaint, as if it did not feel them, rejects those laws violently when the burden is alleviated…

    The evil that one endures patiently because it seems inevitable, becomes unbearable the moment its elimination becomes conceivable.”

    It is now ‘conceivable’ that change is possible in Venezuela. The Chavista’s had better take notice.

  9. Whatever happens today, one thing I bet you is that Maduro’s speech will run shorter than Chavez’s 2011 (TEN HOURS!) and 2012 (NINE! And he was already sick!) speeches.

  10. Sure, the Memoria y Cuenta provides a chance for one of Maduro’s timeless gaffes, or for him to behave outrageously in front of the whole country. He could definitely screw up big. That could happen.

    But make no mistake: This is no interpellation. This is no conversation. If he does not screw up, and handles himself tastefully in the background noise, then this is nothing but 5 to 8 hours of uninterrupted primetime exposure in which he can make his case and further convey the continued institutional capture that Chavismo signaled this week by having us backtrack.

    In this sense, this may not have been an elevated example of a political negotiation. For them to compromise on meeting a constitutional mandate by having us compromise our 2/3 majority is as if all constitutional articles were hostages, and the robbers are releasing one out of 350 by having the police hand in a third of their weapons.

    I may be wrong: Maybe this buys legitimacy for the AN in front of the whole country, and makes it more difficult for the judiciary to block laws some weeks from now, prompting the breakdown of chavista institutional control. This is happening, so I hope that this is the case, but I think it is not.

    Hopefully he gaffes and this goes well for us. Politics are great, but hopefully we also start balancing costs and benefits more thoroughly when negotiating and compromising. We are also newbies in this game.

  11. All eyes on this tonight. We will be able to infer more on the ongoing negotiations after this is all said and done.
    Has Maduro been guaranteed a peaceful audience?,

    Has he committed to a after speech Q&A?
    is the opposition strategically prepared to ask some tough questions?
    …or it is all going to be eudomar santos territory.

    I hold on to further speculation until I see some more signals come out.

  12. I agree whole-heartedly, this article made me feel good.

    The coming victories won’t be about humiliating the government, though that’s not out of the question… They’ll be about forcing politics on them. To get THAT back for giving up the 2/3 is a fine deal, I would say. A bargain. People around the world give their lives en masse for that kind of perk.

    • Poco a poco, easy does it…

      And never forgetting the main objective, the mandate: put things on shelves, jobs on markets and affordable basic things for those who can’t pay real prices.

  13. Nothing was more important that the 2/3 majority. To say otherwise is merely a rationalization. The show can go either way. I admit it, I want to see it… But in fact, it will have no serious repercussions, it is just that: a show… The truth is we are worse now than before because we lost something concrete: we suffered an injustice and we lost real power. And power, my friends, is more important that public opinion at this point. The power to change things and not merely talk about them. I hear a lot about “antipolitics”, but, my friends, it is in fact “politics”, what is killing us.

    • Wise words. I guess the institutional way out of this mess has been buried when they lost the 112. Now it’s up to the imponderable — the binomial composed of military appetite and oil price. Anything can happen out of this, not from the AN anymore.

    • The Amazonas should of course be represented. But where does this “we lost the 2/3rds supermajority” come from? Is there any legal basis for it?

      I understand the real world of the TSJ, but I also understand the importance of getting facts straight, upholding principles, even if these cannot be brought to bear immediately, and not falling to errors and faulty logic As much as we might wish to, we cannot make the world conform to our preferred fiction. If as RobertoN said, the language of “with the votes of those present” and “with the votes of its members” is vaguely interchangeable, then the possibility exists that maybe it merely seems vague, or imprecise, because the logic and the practicality of the real world is so simple there, that no one thought it required clarification. You can’t give a definition of every word you choose to use when you write something. You rely on logic and practicality.

      Take a simple example:

      If you hold that a supermajority, a two-to-one proportion, must be 112 – based on 2/3rds of the seats, and that 109 is insufficient, then you also have to hold that even if you have a majority of, say, 80 to 51, with 131 members voting, you lose the vote because the majority is half of 167 = 84, and you did not get 84 votes. In other words, to ever win any vote, you must have all members present and must always win 84 votes or better. On the losing side, you could also say that all the 83 votes had to have been voted, too, otherwise the vote is not official. You could then say that for any vote to be official, 100% of the seats must have been voted one way or the other – no abstention votes permitted. If you extrapolated that to elections of public officials, usually a 40% voter turnout is consider pretty fair, 60% is fairly high. You could have a town with 120 registered voters, and 100 of them vote, 51 for Mr. Smile and 49 for Mr. Frown. But Mr. Smile does not win, because half of 120 is 60, and he did not get 61 votes. Nobody would ever get elected, and no legislation would ever get passed.

      More verbal precision of description may be given in other sections, pertaining to other subjects such as tabulation of votes, or quorum. The available seats are based on districts or zones or areas to provide representation from the entire geographical land area of the nation. A quorum establishes that 2/3rds of the available seats are present to vote (that I know of, online or ‘remote voting’ is not adopted anywhere, so the representatives must be there). That presence to vote is established by the quorum, and it does not require 100% of all seats be filled! The number required is 2/3rds of seats present. It is then the proportion of votes, within that quorum, which determine the outcome. The number of seats has served its purpose, and has nothing further to do with the actual voting of the members present. Once a quorum is present, voting can take place. A “quorum” and “presence” and “vote” are three different things.

    • i

      I agree we are worse now than before, but not so sure we lost “real power”, more like formal power. It was only real if it was enforceable. In fact any “power” the AN has is smoke and mirrors, it is an etherous game of power, a west-side-story-fight-dance with the PSUV.

      The purpose of this dance is to increase the profile of the opposition and reduce that of the regime in the eyes of the people, the only “real power” the opposition has.

      • “The purpose of this dance is to increase the profile of the opposition and reduce that of the regime in the eyes of the people, the only “real power” the opposition has.”

        But wasn’t that precisely what the opposition has lost? Because more than real power, or formal power, ponder on the propaganda war for a second, imagine the headlines we could have witnessed all over the planet with the three congressman holding each other’s hands, even crying, in front of the AN, and saying that they would rather die for the country, or be arrested, than let down the people who have elected them. It may sound gaudy, but that’s how the left has been winning every political battle since ever. The political/economic crisis would have reached unprecedented levels, and there’s the boiling point when things can change for real. But for some reason they decided for backtracking on all these possibilities.

        And I just don’t buy that there’s some great political strategy behind the move, some formidable chess play out of the sleeve that will make all our jaws drop in the last minute…
        It’s much simpler than that: they felt fear, not everyone wants to end up like LL.

        Now that they have accepted that they are actually 109, they lost formal power, real power, and any powerful propaganda war that they could have won that could have changed the score of the game for real for the first time; after all, they gave up, didn’t they? How can we blame Maduro for that?
        For all purposes, they went at lightspeed from winners from losers, very unfortunately.

          • If they didn’t want confrontation when they had 112 and massive popular support, what makes you think that they will with 109? A precedent has been opened, and it’s not good. But let’s keep praying.

        • Marc
          I do not disagree with what you are saying.

          And yes, there are no “formidable chess plays” awaiting.
          But in chess there are always different alternatives that shape the contest in very different ways.
          You can force the issue now or take it slower.

          The option you propose (option 1) is more dramatic.
          There would have been a lot of political grandstanding
          but in the end it may just force the government to
          simply ignore the AN giving it a very short political life.

          The people would have been disappointed but would
          conclude that the opposition has nothing to hurt the regime,
          which would make it look invincible again.
          And that would be that.

          The option they chose (option 2) makes the government
          keep up the charade a little longer
          which is good for the opposition,
          because time plays against the government.
          Yes, it shows that the AN does not have real strength
          to force the government to do anything they do not want to do,
          but that is no different from option 1
          (unless you believe that option 1 somehow could have forced the government,
          I do not).

          Option 2 keeps the AN alive producing laws,
          making noise and being somewhat relevant.
          It breaks the communicational hegemony.
          Globovision and other tv stations have been transmitting everything the AN is doing and interviewing HRA and other deputies.
          That is a lot of publicity they did not have before.
          It gives a voice to the opposition.

          So it is really about either having a very high profile but short lived confrontation and then silence, or a moderate profile but continuous tug of war with a government that keeps getting weaker.

          Depending on your style of play you would prefer one versus the other. I used to prefer option 1 but maybe option 2 is better as it keeps the AN relevant for longer.

          • I understand your points, Amieres. But I have some considerations to make.

            The moments in which Chavismo felt really threatened only came from such “dramatic moments” (2002/2014) you’ve mentioned, not from “peaceful times”. A similar drama scenario was being fostered until a couple days ago, but the momentum has been lost after they conceded defeat by accepting to lose the three seats without any resistance. And with such unclear military support backing Maduro and oil price at 20, a nuclear bomb could ready have explode in Miraflores if they resisted with full international community support, the famous ladies of the opposition, etc, but they defused it the bomb, and it’s up to the imponderable again, thus the AN loses protagonism.

            And even if this “dramatic moment” failed, what could have been a great possibility, the game could still have changed somehow, what about now? What the AN can do to seriously compromise Chavismo, pretty much nothing.

            “The people would have been disappointed but would conclude that the opposition has nothing to hurt the regime, which would make it look invincible again. And that would be that.”

            Actually, the people feel like that when their leaders give up on three posts of the AN without any resistance; the voters who elected those three are feeling like you suggest now, but they would have felt inspired by them if they had behaved differently, with a little bit more bravery.

            “but that is no different from option 1 (unless you believe that option 1 somehow could have forced the government out, I do not).”

            I believe it would have inflicted more harm, that’s my point. We want to shoot at the bear in the best we can, if it dies or not in the process is ultimately not up to us. And based on the press of my own country, when Allup was being more “virile”, in the beginning, we had more “dramatic news” coming from the AN every day, it was becoming a soup opera of good vs evil. “Will Maduro allow them in or not? How should the neighbors react?” That’s what the TV anchors were saying every day. Everyone was concerned. Now? All gone. It’s all about the economy again.

            Seriously, if Macri acted in such miserable, submissive and weak posture, he would have already been eaten alive by all the communist unions, political parties, mothers of Plaza de Mayo, you name it, of Argentina. A general strike would already have been called. Politicians can’t be that weak! Do you think Reagan, Thatcher, Churchill would have achieved anything they did with similar “allupian” behaviour? Not really, right? LL understood that.

            “keeps the AN alive producing laws making noise and being somewhat relevant.”

            Ok. But less relevant than it could have been.

            “It breaks the communicational hegemony.”

            Maybe not, I read that there’s already heavy censorship on the way.

            “Globovision and other tv stations have been transmitting everything the AN is doing and interviewing HRA and other deputies. That is a lot of publicity they did not have before. It gives a voice to the opposition.”

            That is obviously good, but it will get old soon as the people notice that the problems are not getting solved, they watch it now because they still have hope. No country in the world likes to watch C-SPAN, only in desperate times when the people think that something can change. What is not really the case anymore, at least change is definitely not coming from the AN because they have already showed that they are not willing to go until the last consequences.

          • Again, I do not disagree.
            (Which is another way of saying I agree.)

            Except that, for me,
            the 2002 -2003 strike and 2014 were misguided tactics
            because they were both an all-or-nothing, do-or-die situation.

            Both situations risked everything on
            the success or failure of a single tactic: a war of attrition.

            Bad idea because the government only needed
            to sit and wait for the opposition to tire itself out.
            An easy task when they have ample resources.

            Putting all the eggs in one basket does not make a good strategy.

            You are right, a high profile confrontation
            gets much more press nationally and internationally.
            Whereas a slow and steady struggle
            does not make interesting news
            but may be more effective.
            As the economic crisis worsens
            time is on the side of the opposition .

            This time around the opposition chose to extend the game
            and not fall for a final confrontation too early.

            Lets see what comes out of it.

          • In chess there is no such thing as waiting. It doesn’ t matter whether you are a positional player or a tactical one, If you are a good player you will always prefer to have active pieces and the initiative. Yes, sometimes the only way you can improve your position is through seemingly quiet moves, but I don’ t think that is what we are doing at all! We are still in zugzwang, or at least it feels like zugzwang, which is worse. Now, I don’ t even like this comparison with chess, because we are talking about the fate of real people with real struggles, not about pawns. Maybe, if we wait long enough, the government will colapse all by itself. I don ‘t think it will, but if it does it will bring us down with him anyway and a lot of people will suffer. In fact we are alreading suffering too much! Maybe a confrontation would actually result in less sufferingl! That is a possibility!

            Psychologically this “waiting” strategy is unsustainable, and hence losing. It is pushing people too far,it is demanding too much of us, and the logical result will be either a terrible burst of violence or a completetely disgusting accommodation with the regime. We saw that in 2014. We saw a hint of the violence and a hint of the disgusting accommodation. It will happen again as long a the lies and contradictions remain there and as long as the strategy keeps failing because it ignores basic human needs. This is why it was not a mistake to take those paintings away. People NEED more of that, not less.

            By the way, you already have legitimacy. You will not lose it simply because you say what you really believe. You are not any more legitimate because you chose to respect the taboos of the government. And if you try to make profit of that propaganda, then you are in peril of becoming one of them!

            Bueno, no me voy a encadenar.

  14. I forgot to say this: he had the obligation to give his rendition anyway. So it is not like we “won” anything!The only way he had to skip that obligation (which I am sure is an option he hadn’ t even considered!) was to shut down the AN, which was actually much worse for him than for us. In fact, if he actually wanted to he could still skip the obligation via TSJ anyway! I don’ t understand your logic. If we are to negotiate, then we should at least negotiate “logically”. Now I am forced to think that you are either completely irrational or simply dishonest about your objetives. If you lose very something very dear to you and your enemy loses nothing, then somewhere along the way you made a blunder. You are giving up something for free, and your enemy is free to do what he wants anyway. Why are we so afraid of a confrontantion? What is the worse case escenario if we confront them?

  15. I don’t know. Maduro is a thug. Whatever happens today will not mitigate his thugishness. There will be another cycle of everyone tweeting about who got the upper hand. There will be the obligatory clips of Maduro doing something reflective of his idiocy. Meanwhile, the price of oil is dropping and a disaster is unfolding. Maduro standing up giving a speech about the state of the country is compliance with the constitution, but it is also waving a big red flag in front of a bull. I am not convinced that the opposition leadership or Maduro are fully aware of the bull, and if the bull decides to charge, the bull will not be interested in who scored the last public relations point: it will hit whatever is in front of it.

    I don’t mean to denigrate the feeling of pride people justifiably have in the result of these elections but the pessimist in me thinks whatever progress was achieved last month could be wiped out in an instant if people now in power do not get some focus on the practicalities of stabilizing the economic situation.

    • I have the same thoughts, such as wanting to grab hold of both sides by the neck and shake. I have this unshakable feeling that everyone believes that politics and posturing are more important then dealing with the oncoming disaster. There is precious little food in the pipeline, what don’t they understand about that?

      • Venezuela is like an alcoholic that is just now understanding that there is a twelve step program that can help.

        May be too little too late, but there is a path to sobriety that will eventually help overcome the addiction.

        Before that can happen though, there will be pain.

  16. some possibilities:

    a) the Presidency press office alleges ‘credible security threats to the President’ and the whole thing gets called off at 4:30pm.

    b) at the first pita, Maduro claims he cannot go on with such lack of respect and storms out of the room… through the wrong door, ends up in the bathroom, stays there until midnight when everyone has left and the cameras are off, then discreetly goes out and actually leaves the premises.

    c) Maduro le ofrece unos coñazos a Freddy Guevara, just because he’s the one that looks nerdiest. no coñazos happen, Freddy cries later.

  17. Maduro lies constantly, breaks promises, and has never been challenged in a public setting. Chavez and his followers never debated. This is where the opposition can make progress this afternoon. If the media broadcasts the Memoria Y Cuenta live, then Maduro may have to justify his “facts”. For example, what are the true inflation rate, exchange rate, and unemployment rate.

    With the media slowly opening up, the opposition might be able to clearly critique Maduro’s speech in interviews afterwards.

    For example, Maduro has stated that new housing will not be built because the oppo won control of the AN. Will the vindicative Maduro backtrack and promise one million casas? Wait and see.

    I would be thrilled to have MCM take the podium for two minutes prior to Maduro’s story telling time.

  18. The mentally-challenged Thug, the high school drop out bus driver will simply spit out the usual lies and false accusations, praise Chavez, condemn Lorenzo, and run for the nearest exit without answering a single question. That’s what sinister, disguised dictators do in Vzla’s “democracy”.

    Fortunately they now have all the solutions to fix the economy overnight, if only the MUD pelicones burguesitos would let them. They are not to blame for the past 17 years, of course. I couldn’t even watch 10 minutes of the upcoming public disgrace.

  19. They just announced that Casa Militar has banned all media -except official one?— from the AN for the speech.

    ——

    Say what? Doesn’t MUD have anything to say about this? Jesu Christo, who has EVER heard of a state of the union address, in any country world wide, where the media has been banned. What is the stated reason? Is the media blackout going to continue? What can MUD do?

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