Diosdado's clipped wings

On December 5th, there's one thing just about nobody foresaw about the underground power struggle between the revolution's ultimate frenemies: that Maduro might win it.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (R) talks to National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello during a ceremony at the military academy in Caracas December 27, 2013. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins (VENEZUELA - Tags: POLITICS)

Everybody guessed that a big opposition win in December 6th’s parliamentary election would strain the key relationship between Nicolás Maduro and Diosdado Cabello, his powerful long-time number two (and, according to many, behind-the-scenes-number-one). Apocalyptic scenarios circulated, including our own Andrés Rondón’s theory that Diosdado would leverage a big loss on 6D to get rid of his Toripolloness.

Here’s one thing nobody seems to have considered, though, even in passing: that Nicolás Maduro could end up winning that fight.

And yet, against all odds, things seem to be playing out exactly the opposite way from the scenario Andrés envisaged. 

This subplot has been going on for a while. In the beginning it was kind of a pissing contest (Diosdado aplaude, anyone?), but too much is at stake for such levity these days.

Diosdado’s proposal last Tuesday for the TSJ, via Sala Constitucional, to pretty much take over the legislative branch put us all in a “que bolas esta vaina” mode. It showed Diosdado in the pose he likes best: on the offensive, pushing crazy maximalist proposals and sticking it to the other side.

But as the day rolled on, and news of a meeting between Henry Ramos Allup and Cilia Flores came out, we began to get signs that Diosdado’s power isn’t what it once was. The Executive branch, it seems, is also seated at the decision-making table.

Henry admitted that a sort of red phone between Miraflores and El Cafetal had been opened, and that he himself was in conversations with Aristóbulo Istúriz, the recently named vice president of the Republic, as well as with the first lady. And that’s when the puzzle began to make sense.

On more of the puzzle, read Quico’s take on this, that delves deep into how Aristóbulo’s appointment at the expense of Arreaza not only makes sense, but was a key decision that gave Maduro a valuable asset that till now, had been underused as governor of Anzoátegui.

The coolest saying in the Venezuelan political scene is by far “los rusos también juegan”, a fútbol-originating dictum that the other team can play the game as well as you can.

We’re so used to seeing Nicolás Maduro as a punchline, we forget the guy can bust a move every now and then. Maybe not out of brilliance, but most certainly because he’s the damn president of the republic, and that must be good for something.

Maduro still cares for a façade of “democratic leader”…to an extent. He still plays the state-leader-who-recognizes-defeat role…to an extent. Godgiven has no quarrels with being the radical hot-headed, short-tempered, and willing to settle for nothing less than everything. The guy is Brain from Pinky-and-the-Brain. They even look alike.

Meanwhile, Maduro sets out a line that, while never short on insults for his opponents, is not nearly as incendiary. In between bouts of invective, he tacitly recognizes the opposition-run National Assembly as a branch of government in the hopes of safeguarding a minimum of governability – and as a way of reaffirming that he’s in charge of fighting the “contrarevolución.

This seems rather contra natura for a diehard radical ideologue. But Maduro seems to at least have the instinct to recognize that sidelining the National Assembly entirely would leave him so far out of the constitutional mainstream, his position would become untenable. And he can probably guess that that’s the very reason Diosdado wants all out war on the Assembly.

From the outside, you could see Maduro’s rather cool pose as an attempt to rein in the nut house. That meant effectively overruling Cabello’s see-the-world-burn wish for a judicial Fujimorazo. He has placed the former President of the National Assembly firmly on the losing side of the meta-argument:

When they lost the elections, one gave a speech to the masses, while the other simply tweeted. One looks uncomfortable, as if the rug under his feet is being pulled, the other is shuffling his deck of ministers, assuring he’s surrounded by those loyal to him; something the former simply can’t do.

One is storming out of the National Assembly mid-session over technicalities, the other stopped by in a night to remember.

Then came Friday’s amazing Memoria y Cuenta address. It’ll be remembered as the night Henry Ramos Allup stole the show, making Maduro’s almost 3-hour speech feel like an opening act to one of the most daring speeches in contemporary Venezuelan political history.

But read between the lines, he achieved the one thing Diosdado has been furiously scheming to refuse the opposition: recognition. Hearing Henry talked about it, you could just about begin to believe in the possibility of cohabitation between both forces.

And it’s precisely this little fact that has given Maduro the upper hand against Diosdado: he’s made Diosdado a third wheel. Useless. It seems hard to picture, but the anti-politics rhetoric has put the Godgiven in a stranglehold. Either he admits error and joins this sentiment, or he’s further marginalizes himself and comes to be seen as an obstacle even within chavista ranks.

The Memoria y Cuenta may be remembered as the breaking point in the Maduro-Diosdado balance of power. The President set the tone for the future and is therefore in charge, politically. On top of that , accepting to not only visit the National Assembly -Diosdi’s turf-, but to do it ensuring relatively controlled conditions thanks to a brokered peace dealt by his Vice President and his wife, not Diosdado, adds insult to injury.

So Diosdado is taking a beating from everywhere, even the press, and it feels like the bully is being bullied for once. He tries to stand his ground but the Executive branch sees in this maelstrom an opportunity to stick the finger inside the open wound. Case in point: some of his important fichas in the Ministries have been removed.

Giuseppe Yofredda Yorio, formerly in charge of the Ministry of Transportation and compinche from back in 2002, was benched after that institution was merged with the Ministry of Aerial and Maritime Transportation, to be presided by Luis Sauce.

And no other than his brother, José David Cabello, was removed from the key position of Minister of Industry and Finance and replaced by executive lapdog Miguel Pérez Abad.

True, his wife is still around, but she presides the Ministry of Tourism, which in the grand scheme of things is almost humiliating in its irrelevance. Her role is to be ears in the Council of Ministers, and to keep Daniella booked on a series of expensive junkets, maybe. Nothing else.

What this means to the other side of the political forces, MUD, is nothing but bliss. In a “no es por meter casquillo pero…”, Chúo Torrealba pointed out the divergence between Cabello and Maduro. It’s not an opportunity he was likely to waste.

When the rift becomes impossible to hide, you know that the Russians have played their hand well. Maduro has made it clear that this Diosdado isn’t the “don’t mess with me” bully anymore, and is helping tear down the myth surrounding the figure who, until just last month, we all figured was really running Venezuela behind the scenes.

Not bad for a bus driver.