Chavismo Forfeits the Fight Over the Economic Emergency Decree

Friday morning, for the first time, the New Majority in the National Assembly asserted its institutional power, refusing to pass Maduro’s half-baked Economic Emergency Decree.

Friday morning, for the first time, the New Majority in the National Assembly asserted its institutional power, refusing to pass Maduro’s half-baked Economic Emergency Decree.

It’s no surprise. The measure, released last week just ahead of the Memoria y Cuenta address, was never seriously meant to be passed. It was strewn with poison-pill clauses: measures that chavismo couldn’t fail to see would doom its chances of passage by an opposition-controlled AN. They included several enabling law-like clauses that would have given Maduro even more control over the economy. Article #2, for example, would have stripped the AN of any influence over public spending, writing Maduro a blank check for dealing with the economy. Article #4 would have enabled the central bank (now controlled by Maduro) to regulate bank accounts with an Argentina-style corralito.

Coupled with the president’s existing powers, passing the decree would have had dangerous repercussions for Venezuela’s troubled democracy. Or, as Ismael Garcia called it, “como darle al mono una hojilla”.

Worse, the proposal failed to coherently address any economic issues. At most, it insinuated a boost in national production, without a logical causal argument behind it. Heck, it didn’t even make any noises in the direction of protecting social spending.

The decree was clearly a farce: the government could not have thought it ever stood any real chance of passage. And yet, it placed the Opposition in an uncomfortable position: rejecting a measure backed by the full might of Communicational Hegemony could carry high political cost. As Ramos Allup put it on Globovision, either the opposition rejects the decree, creating partisan deadlock during a time of economic crisis, or it passes the measure and becomes jointly responsible for the economic catastrophe soon to follow.

Chavismo had sought to frame the opposition’s reaction to the decree as an assessment of the New Majority’s willingness to cooperate in overcoming the current economic crisis. The decree was always a non-starter, but rejecting it was tricky.

Or at least it would have been tricky, until Maduro’s ministers failed to show up to debate the decree at the assembly, unwilling to discuss the topic in front of the journalists that are now freely allowed into the hemiciclo. It was a decision that gave the game away: how could the AN imaginably approve a contentious decree if ministers wouldn’t even turn up to answer their questions about it?

The odd part here here is that Maduro’s ministers seem to be much more unwilling to discuss the topic than the mustachioed man himself, even if he belatedly declared their absence intentional.

La AN le está dando la espalda al país, is the latest prefabricated phrase used by Maduro and Diosdado to try to hide their ineptitude. We’re well past that. Empty rhetoric won’t save them from ideological blindness.

After 17 years of dealing with ruthless, competitive authoritarianism, the MUD has learned to navigate through our country’s messy political theater. Chavismo never had to learn to deal effectively with competing institutions, at least not as a movement. Now it’s paying the price.

At this point, it’s not even about the Assembly trying to negotiate with the government. Even this late in the game (c.f., economic meltdown), Chavistas continue to reject any hint of pluralism, seeking to impose a “criterio unitario” and utterly at a loss when faced with a power center that won’t be dictated to. The outright denial of different viewpoints is what prevents them from discussing policy in front of the media, what makes them see an empty decree as the path to a “new economic model”, and what will eventually lead to their downfall.

In the past, unacceptable (yet deft) political moves like the Dakazo had us believing that Chavismo was an astute political machine, even if it sucked at governing and managing the economy. Following this metida de pata, Maduro’s weakness as a leader within his own party and the movement’s inability to politic in a multi-party system are apparent, to say the least.

It’s not that Chavismo is unwilling to negotiate. It’s that they can’t. They’re simply unable to. They don’t know how.