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.

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28 COMMENTS

    • I also think the bad cop/good cop routine is been aplied to all of us. They choose the cards we have to play: lose 3 deputies or lose the entire NA. And the economic crisis decree will probably come with some of this pre-dealed cards, but I think we’re about to come to an ending of polarization.

      We have the show we voted for. But the economic clock is ticking fast.

  1. Hahahaha, not bad for a bus driver.

    Sure Nicolas will keep the bad cop card under his sleeve, but if oppo play our cards right he’ll want to use it less and less.

  2. Its typical of guys with an authocratic vocation not to allow too much power to people who carry a big shadow , more so if in a given situation they can attemtp covertly or openly to replace them . DDC is clearly being targeted by the US Govt as involved in drugtrafficking, as someone who may at any time become the subject of a criminal indictment of international repercutions , he is fast becoming a drag on the regimes efforts at surviving , his image is not only one of a brutal bully (which is embarrasing in itself to an international audience) but of the leader of a circle of corruption, of narco corruption no less (yes……. NM remembers Panama) .

    This is close to the profile of now defenestrated Rafael Ramirez, very important regime figure shadowing in importance the head honcho himself and known to all as involved in huge cases of corruption , apparently they are both suffering the same fate. marginalization and demotion !!

    His main supporters are being displaced to positions of irrelevance , Jesse to the Venezuelan embassy in Austria, his brother thown out of the gabinet place he held , from being the head of Parlaiment he now doents even appear as head of the govt parliamentary faction, nor was he given any govt gabinet post . This is clearly a demotion ………Oh and Mario Silva is back!!

    Another interesting manouver is the kicking out of Cilias relative Malpica from the posts of under treasurer of the Republic and Pdvsa Finance Director , maybe there is a rotten odour there they dont want people to smell in the near future ……the case of the corrupt ‘nephews’ is having its repercussions after all…..

  3. I think that the balance of power shifted on the night of 6D when Padrino Lopez pulled his pistol on Cabello and told him that the FAN was not going to play ball and participate in overturning the election. Diosdado is, essentially, a bully. His power was based on his perceived ability to control the military. When Padrino Lopez thwarted him, that perception shifted. He is no longer as feared as he once was. All of a sudden, his “mazo” looks like an empty threat. I wouldn’t give Maduro as much credit for being politically astute, as Daniel is. I would portray it as Cabello having clipped his own wings by overplaying his hand.

    • I laugh at people that still believe that a mexican standoff happened between these two.

      Padrino has demonstrated how much of a “hero” he is last week.

      Sigan rezandole al nuevo libertador

      • The report is from someone who was there…Allegiances change, as power shifts, and I wouldn’t write off PL’s institutionality when the chips are down, and blood could run in the streets….

    • Diosdado has some clout within the army, but his real strength lies in being in charge of the UBCHs. That’s all him and it doesn’t have a martial court to attend.

  4. I really think that the calculation that some sectors of the opposition are making that the Maduro wing of Chavismo, composed by hard-lined communists who don’t believe in inflation and respond to Cuba is better for sustaining governability in the country is dangerously naive. If they finally take control of the government the will steer the present crazy politics into an even crazier direction than the Cabello corrupt narcogenerals. To think that we’ll be better of letting a bunch of crazy ideologues take over the country during its worst economic crisis is disconcerting. “It’s the economy, stupid”

    • I grant that Maduro y su combo are dangerous insofar that they are true commie believers. Now this conviction will make them implode sooner than later. But as long as they talk there is politics and more importantly the chance to avoid violence.

      Godgiven will not talk so I am afraid that he will need violence to deal with him. And given his retirement prospects of jail or death it is only natural that this is the only option.

    • I agree with you, and the idea here wasn’t to give Nick two thumbs up, merely comment on this toma-y-dame between number one and number two in PSUV ranks. The way it’s beig played out was at best a Fourth Scenario, not the one that you’d put money down for.

      And yes, part of the new ministers are really out there, being wacky on the clock. Scary stuff indeed.

  5. Cuba, China, Russia, Argentina, and even Brazil are in economic crisis. Maduro doesn’t have any more benefactors to lean on. From here on, Venezuela will have to bootstrap out of this economic quagmire. It’s not a problem that can be solved by a bully like Cabello! However, there is bound to be an ideological confrontation that will be interesting to watch. I think we all know how it should hopefully turn out. Some kind of pragmatic blending of the two extremes could do it out of the necessity of economic survival. Let’s hope!

    • I don’t think there will be total cohabitation, certainly not in the decision-making department. They’ll have to be forced to do so, and there lies the challenge. Perhaps future credits could be what unlocks an exchange on behalf of both sides in order to ensure each one’s advance.

  6. Good rulers can retire gracefully. Bad ones usually fall. The difference is that good ones have the goodwill of the people under them, while the bad ones only have angry people wanting to get even for the mismanagement and hardships imposed on them against their will. Hopefully this clipping of wings will extend further. HRA offered Maduro a “soft-landing” (solving the problems, as opposed to trying to posture on a pedestal in strong winds blowing from a lot of different directions.

  7. Please don’t use the FAKE “Diosdado aplaude” video, if you watch the video Diosdado is clapping his hands and then when he is not clapping you hear ( Diosdado aplaude) but you don’t see Maduro’s face, so its a cut and paste for fools

  8. The match originating that football dictum was actually USSR vs Brazil at the 1958 World Cup. The witty quote is also slightly different.

    “The legend goes that, in preparing for the match, Brazilian coach Vicente Feola had mapped out a very complicated play showing how the team would score its goals. Brazilian player A was to pass to player B, who would dribble around Soviet player 1. Player B would then pass a long ball to player C, who would run past Soviet player 2, catching him napping. Player C would then dribble around Soviets 3, 4 and 5, none of whom would be able to stop him. He would finally send a cross to player D, who would head it into the goal past Soviets 6–11. Garrincha, whose career would be defined by ill-discipline, listened to all this and then asked (in essence), “Fine, Mr. Feola, but have you agreed to all of that with the Russians?”

  9. OT : Last tuesday the GNB announced that two of their sargeants had been killed by delinqent gangs in a ‘operativo’ near Caucagua , then this sunday the shooting in Caucagua of a young 19 year old Guard was announced . No other explanations were offered . From someone who lives in the town I hear that the GNB have taken over the town and environs , arrested a big number of locals who are being interrogated.and also practically ordered all ordinary businesses shut down . The person I spoke to is friends of the local police and was surprised to find the streets empty and the town full of GNB patrols , they told him that they had been ordered by the GNB to guard the main square and keep things quiet, some of the arrested where later let out and spoke of being interrogated again and again about the whereabouts of two stolen luggage cases , apparently on tuesday a convoy of GNB carrying those two bags where ambushed , two guardsmen killed , three others ‘dissapeared’ and the luggage cases stolen. What the two luggage cases contained no one knows , presumably they belonged to Pdvsa Oriente. This person on traveling by public transport to caracas had his bus stopped several times by teams of GNB who took everyone off the bus while desperately searching for something they couldnt find …….the whole thing sounds rather misterious , anybody recieved any information about what this is all about ??

    • I suspect that whoever ambushed that GNB convoy had some inside information. I would imagine that most GNB convoys are not carrying precious cargo, which would mean that there would be no point in a random ambush of a GNB convoy.

  10. While I agree that’s there’s an obvious split between Maduro and Diosdado, I think we might be reading to much into it, at least for now. First and foremost, let’s remember that there’s a lot more in common between Maduro and Diosdado – in terms of… everything: political goals, secrets, interests, friends, secrets, allies, businesses – that between Maduro and HRA or MUD in general. Diosdado, for all his posturing, it’s still a more necessary and valuable ally to Maduro than HRA or MUD.

    Second, we just don’t know how many of the new ministers are part of Team Diosdado. And, yes, his brother is out. But he’s still in control of SENIAT, which is more important the Ministry of Industry. Are we sure that his exit wasn’t compensated with other (or others) Diosdado ally getting a different Ministry? So, unless someone explains who’s who in the new cabinet in terms of their closeness to Maduro, Diosdado, or Chávez’ family, I don’t think we can say for sure that the reshuffle was a defeat for Diosdado. He had plenty of power before his brother was named Minister, and could still have plenty of power without him there.

    And, last but not least, who controls the TSJ? Does Maduro or Diosdado has a majority of judges there? If Diosdado does, Maduro’s at his mercy.

    • All valid points/questions, but I don’t necessarily agree with them.

      1. Yes, Diosdado is a useful ally given their similar goals. But he’s only useful when on the same page. Unless they’re going with a good cop/bad cop routine here (as someone else commented), Diosdado is slowly becoming an obstacle to assure governance and avoiding a Consultivo. Thus, Maduro’s need for more control over the powers that be.

      2. I can’t deny your point: we don’t know how many Team Diosdi ministers are in the new cabinet, but taking out the guy’s brother and a close collaborator isn’t seomthing done out of coincidence. That was a shift, specially given who were named: Perez Abad, an Arreaza of sorts, and Luis Sauce, part of Team El Troudi.

      3. I object this point completely for the same reasons you point out in #2: we don’t really know who has the most judges in TSJ. One would think Diosdado, but quite frankly I’m not sure.

      In the end, I feel that the sum of the parts is what makes this clash of titans so appealing. It wasn’t just the new ministers, it’s the fact that Diosdado seems much more vulnerable now that a couple of weeks ago, and truly, I don’t believe anybody thought he’d be vulnerable at all a month ago, regardless of 6D’s outcome.

      Thanks for commenting Pedro! Abrazo

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