The If’s, When’s and How’s of Regime Change

Turns out the MUD is busy discussing how to change the government as you read this. They have to come up with the Mother of all Plans.

45

Amid the chaos that was Caracas yesterday – power outages in half the city and a proper little street riot in Petare – good news has been trickling forth from the Mesa de Unidad rumor mill.

Sources were able to confirm today that, contrary to what this TalCual article from last week says, meetings between different factions of the MUD have, in fact, been taking place, to reach consensus over what constitutional mechanism to use to get regime change in 2016. There’s two major MUD-wide encerronas set to happen on Wednesday and Saturday of this week. So we could be looking at an important announcement from the MUD as early as Sunday or Monday.  

Popular backing for any proposal seeking to end Maduro’s term and ushering in a new government is a sure bet. Just look at how many people showed up to this past Saturday’s concert in support of Leopoldo López and political prisoners, calling for Maduro’s resignation. Similarly, Henrique Capriles’s national tour to rally around the Recall Referendum has been drawing big big crowds.

But there has to be just one plan that all political leaders can get behind and effectively channel collective action around. It also has to be genuinely disinterested (the legitimate time for candidacies will come later), and devoid of any shred of a personal agenda. That’s how we won 6D. That’s why we won 6D.

The challenge for MUD is far from easy, and it has less to do with internal political negotiations than it does with coming up with a fully worked out and viable plan of action that will touch on all the key points (regime change, amnesty for political prisoners, ensuring governability) while anticipating all possible obstacles and getting the timing right. Remember gubernatorial elections are slated to happen in December as well. We’ve got one shot, and we better get this right.

So here are the constitutional means for achieving a change in government that are being discussed, in no particular order:

Recall referendum

Article 72 of the Venezuelan Constitution says that any elected official can be recalled from office after half of his/her term has elapsed, through the activation of a referendum.

First, the National Elections Council (CNE) must organize a signature collection drive, during which valid signatures of 20% of registered voters must be collected. That’s around 3.9 of Venezuela’s 19.5 million registered voters. If validated by the CNE, the signatures would trigger a national referendum in which at least 25% of the voting population, that is, around 4,8 million Venezuelans, must participate. To revoke Maduro’s mandate, the vote must meet two criteria:

  • The “Yes” side must get more votes than the “No” side

   and

  • The “Yes” side must get more votes that Maduro got when he was first elected: 7,587,579.

This second condition makes some people nervous. In 2013, Henrique Capriles got 7,363,980, and on 6D, the opposition received a quarter-million more votes than Maduro did in 2013, so this sounds doable – though clearly it’s no tiro al suelo.

Some tactical caveats. First of all, there’s the issue of timing. The law states that if the President’s mandate gets revoked before the 4th year of his 6-year term, new elections must be announced within a month. After the President’s 4th year in office, the Vice President, meaning Aristóbulo (por ahora) would finish out the term.

The thing is, there’s a technical debate over when exactly Maduro’s term began, since some say it started on January 10, 2013 (when a dying Chávez swore him in from Cuba), and some argue it was April 19, 2013, the day he got sworn into office. So either we’re already entitled to call for a recall, or we have to wait until April 19th. And our deadline for getting regime change through a recall is either January 10th, 2017 or April 19th next year. Depending.

Ultimately, the TSJ or the CNE will have to decide at which point Maduro’s mandate is halfway through, and when the referendum would trigger new elections. In either case, pursuing the referendum leaves a measure of control up to Chavista-dominated institutions, who could deploy all sorts of delaying tactics to run out the opposition’s clock and ensure a chavismo-led transition.

Another hot-button issue involves the validation of signatures. When the referendum option was invoked back in 2003, the National Electoral Council (CNE) did everything in its power to buy time so that Hugo Chávez, whose popularity was at an all-time low since his election, could bounce back in the polls. For this purpose, CNE devised a method of reparo, meaning, the option for any citizen who signed in favor of activating the referendum to take back their signature in case it was forged.  

In the absence of any legislation that properly regulates recall referenda, in 2007, CNE published what were supposedly temporary norms, which state, among other complications,  that signature collections must be done with the aid of a fingerprint scanner. Unless the current National Assembly sanctions a law regulating referendum procedures, this CNE norm would still be in effect.

This is both good and bad: although biometric scanners could certainly dissuade some public employees from signing, for fear of retaliation, they also render the entire reparo process moot, since a fingerprint scan is aimed precisely at avoiding forgeries in the first place. All this to say that CNE has tons of bullshit procedural artillery and grayish legal zones with which to stonewall this process till Aristóbulo time rolls around. 

That said, just the fact that a recall referendum was already invoked back in 2004 is a big plus. It not only sets a procedural precedent for how the CNE should handle things this time around, but it also remains a reference in the minds of Venezuelans who already experienced it. And an AN-sanctioned law on Referenda could be a useful tool for playing around with the timing and bypassing other CNE obstacles, so it’s a definite plus in favor of this option.

So far, the recall referendum option has been heavily promoted by Henrique Capriles and – after an eyebrow-raising delay – by his party, Primero Justicia.

Amendment to Shorten Presidential Term and impose Term Limits

Art. 341 of the Constitution allows for said document to be amended through a national referendum, once the National Assembly has formally petitioned the CNE through a simple majority vote. After the petition is submitted, CNE must subject the motion to amend the Constitution to a national vote within 30 days.

The goal of this mechanism, as announced by Causa R deputy Andrés Velásquez and, later, by National Assembly President Henry Ramos Allup, would be to shorten the presidential term – including Maduro’s – from the current six years to a proposed four, and to also eliminate the possibility of indefinite reelection, something that was added to the constitution following a Chavez-initiated 2009 referendum. Additionally, the amendment could shorten term limits for AN legislators and TSJ magistrates.

Ramos Allup argues that the advantages of this option lie in its simplicity, since its activation only requires a simple majority vote from an overwhelmingly opposition-controlled legislature.

The achilles heel to this proposal, cited by legal scholars, is the high probability that TSJ would rule that the proposed changes amount to a constitutional reform, rather than an amendment, which requires a 2/3rd A.N. majority to call – which TSJ could also argue the opposition no longer has, after the disincorporation of the Amazonas state deputies. They could also counter that no amendment can apply retroactively to a presidential term already in progress – which would make the change come into force after 2019.

Then again… theres the 2009 precedent set by Chávez himself, when he applied the indefinite reelection ammendment to his own mandate while his presidential term was already in progress. So…there’s arguments for pushing this.

The amendment option has some political traction these days. As we mentioned, Henry Ramos and his Acción Democrática party have publicly supported it, as well as Causa R, and Copei. Capriles proposed that MUD should actively pursue both this and the Recall Referendum strategy in parallel.

Constituent Assembly

Back in 2014, Leopoldo López’s party, Voluntad Popular, threw all of its communicational muscle behind a call for a Constituent Assembly. Art. 347 of the Constitution says that the Venezuelan people may invoke a “transformation of the State” though the activation of a constituent assembly, which would supersede the current institutional system and create a new legal framework.

There is settled jurisprudence in Venezuela establishing that a constituyente has supra-constitutional authority: its decisions cannot be questioned by any established legal body, because its role is precisely to re-establish those bodies.

Triggering this process requires either ⅔ of the AN votes, 15% of registered voters, ⅔ of all municipal legislatures, or a call by the President himself, after which a national referendum must consult all Venezuelans whether or not they want to dissolve the existing constitution and start again from scratch. The following steps involve holding elections for a National Constituent Assembly, and then, after they have drafted a new constitution, precedent calls for a further election to approve it. So, lots of steps, lots of elections, and a new constitution, in order to change the government.

So far this year, Voluntad Popular hasn’t mentioned the Constituyente option. The Constituyente is MUD’s nuclear option, but it has fallen somewhat out of the national conversation, with VP focused on the Amnesty Law, in defense of political prisoners including Leopoldo López. UNT and AD have steadfastly supported this legislative initiative, despite Maduro’s claims that he would never sign it into law – itself illegal, since the Assembly can override a presidential veto in Venezuela with a simple majority vote.

Resignation

Art. 233 sets out what is certainly the most straightforward of all the mechanisms in the constitution. If Maduro simply resigns before the 4th year of his mandate, an absolute vacancy is produced in the presidency and new elections have to be held within 30 days. “But he’ll never resign!” you say. And I say the day the rest of chavismo’s factional chiefs decide they’re better off without him than with him, impossible things become possible. Also, there would be an inevitable, 30-day Aristóbulo presidency should this ever happen.  

Abandono del Cargo

Henry Ramos has mused out loud that under Art. 233 the Assembly can also simply declare, with a simple majority, that the president has abandoned his post, which would again trigger an absolute vacancy and elections within 30 days. We’re in the territory of Political Fiction here, though. It doesn’t work like that in the real world.

Pitfalls

Some obstacles are cross-cutting. For one, there’s CNE’s budget. The chavista AN last year allocated just Bs.13 million for the purposes of elections. According to journalist Eugenio Martínez, the estimated cost for holding Gubernatorial elections, which are technically slated for December of 2016, would hover around Bs. 900 million, almost 70 times the current allocation. So there’s a good possibility that CNE could play the budget card to delay a national referendum.

Sources tell me that, while the Caracas opposphere is blinded by discussions of regime change mechanisms, party activists all around the country are already busy planning for regional elections. Caracas feels far away to a lot of these people: winning a state governorship is the closest they will get to holding actual power, regardless of who grabs the coroto in Miraflores.

It’s easy to discount this, but when it comes time to mobilize on a National basis for regime change, having your regional activists off doing something else will not help. Especially in a recall vote scenario, the margin matters: you can’t get 7.6 million Yes votes out of Chacao, Lechería, northern Valencia and northern Maracaibo alone.

That brings me to what I see as the most important point in this discussion: political incentives for proper mobilization come election time.

We know that, come election day, get out the vote efforts and an effective campaign strategy are important. But the key to success is getting your grassroots political leadership to defend every single vote at the polling stations on the day of the election.

When there’s an incentive for sharing the spoils of victory, like on 6D, when all 87 voting circuits, and party leaderships at the local level were up for grabs, people hustle. If, for example, a national opposition campaign has to be deployed in defense of a YES vote, these kinds of concrete incentives are a lot weaker.

Whatever the MUD’s plan of action for 2016 ends up being, it  must take this into account, especially if there’s a real possibility that we will have to settle for either a referendum vote or a governor’s election, but not both.

So, way to go MUD, we look forward to your reaching a broad consensus. In fact, we hope you end up swimming in it, ladling giant heaping spoonfuls of consensus over each other and rubbing it all over your bodies. We hope there’s way too much consensus to know what to do with, consensus coming out the wazoo and every other man and lady-part around. Consesuspalooza. Miss Consenzuela. Consensuayshion. You get my point. 

45 COMMENTS

  1. Reading all this leaves me with a depression that nothing is going to change.
    Everything is too complicated and they will just reject, ignore or declare illegal or unconstitutional anything that the AN presents.

    None of this is providing food, water or electricity.

    • There is no point in getting depressed about this.

      If anything this should make you feel optimistic, for me, I feel there are people working out solutions to change the regime, and that at least the majority in the opposition camp agrees that the transition should be done peacefully.

  2. Hmmm but TSJ could block each and everyone of those methods. Just because they say so.
    What about a 6th one?
    Massive Protest
    If History serves his purpose a$$holes like Maduro need a little push to make it clear people are sick and tired of this freaking mess.
    If you do the math is easier to do a single Mega-March to Miraflores than make lines for months on end to buy food.

    • Really? Mega-marcha pa miraflores? Whats your next proposal, un paro?

      Forget about a forced resignation without the military on your side. They are too invested into the revolution and its benefits to go after a risky event that will backfire on them, people will seek for revenge.
      The only shot we have, if any, is around a legal and voted solution.

    • “Hey, everyone, Opposition Political Leader talking here. Let’s go to Miraflores! Mega marcha! What’s that you’re saying? They’ll shoot at us? Well, of course they will. That’s what dictatorships do, they shoot and kill protesters. Ok, as I was saying, we’ll march to Miraflores and overthrow the government with our massive, massive protest. Trust me, behind those shooting National Guards there would be some really scared chavista politicians. But don’t worry, because the more they shoot, the faster they’ll fall. So, lead the way! I’ll be right here behind you. And keep your head low. Don’t let a bullet hit you in the face!”

      • (Leaving the jokes aside: protests will not yield results – or regime change – unless they are part of a larger political initiate, whether that’s the referendum, amendment, or whatever. Lessons learned, right?)

        • I think it’s pretty clear that not a single one of these government changing strategies stands a chance of success unless it is accompanied by effective citizen pressure and mobilization, to force TSJ and CNE into doing the right thing. Peaceful protesting is a necessary component of any of these plans.

          • I agree. Both are needed. The strategies need to be accompanied by citizen pressure, and the citizen / protest pressure must be part of a political strategy with attainable goals. Anyone of the two alone will most likely lead nowhere. That’s why I think “massive protests” as a stand alone strategy would be a mistake.

    • AFAIK there are talks about organizing a major peaceful march according to La Patilla.
      I think the current environment is very different than 2014. Maduro has lost most of his support, there is discontent within the military.
      I personally know one but have to leave it at that.
      Some could even be secretly saying “Coño compatriotas que esperan, el gallo pelon? vamos a salir de este bolsiclon!”
      Of course for them to stage a coup would be like the last resort. As it should be.
      If people are going to ultimately burst on the streets of frustration and anger is better to have an escape valve with a peaceful one.

  3. Massive protests with intentional targets, i.e. going to Miraflores with pitchforks and machetes will yield a regime change. The crux of the problem lies in that not all change is good change (revise 1998 onward).

    Hence, the quality of the change is as important as change itself.

    I am afraid that the incumbent’s interests will need to be addressed though negotiations if anything is to be achieved without a total all-in confrontation. However, the Chavismo apparatchik is knees deep in blood money, and Human rights violations that even the most willing negotiators will be unable to ignore even if they want/need to.

    On the other hand, total confrontation threats from this side lack credibility since most of the military and paramilitary strength lies on the incumbent’s side already.

    The county is heading to chaos (more!) and it is IMO not going to be able to avoid more ruin given that it is the intention of the current regime and its handlers, and the oppositions lacks credible threats or real bargaining power.

    In other words, best role the AN can aim to have is to survive the implosion and to begin handling out massive doses of preemptive I-told-you-so narrative to clarify responsibilities down the road.

    Sorry, my thoughts, I hope I am wrong.

    • The quality of thought will determine the quality of the results of the actions following the thoughts. MUD also needs a plan to rescue the country, and that’s a tough one. How do you move to free market prices (real prices) when goods are ridiculously below the market value? How do you enable a population of 70% poor to afford paying $3.00 a pound for meats, when all they can afford is $0.20 a pound?

      Someone published a list of a basket of goods in Venezuela:
      5kg Pan 11 lbs
      6 4packs toilet paper
      4 bottles cooking oil
      6 kg rice 13.2 pounds
      Bs. 9,298

      I thought I’d go to my local supermarket here in the US and see how much that basket would cost in dollars. I gave up when I realized that the PAN alone would cost more than $10 bucks. And food is more expensive in the EU, I believe. I know gasoline is.

      How do you reestablish, or re-integrate, Venezuela into the world economy?

      MUD is making the right moves, proposing the right initiatives. The guarantee of private property and capital is absolutely essential.

      • No we are not doomed.
        Is not that complicated.
        Yes, Products and Services do have a “market value” but so does Labor.
        It is all part of the same coin.
        Fixing a Car = 10 Liters of Milk.
        Producing 10 Liters of Milk = Getting your car fixed.

    • Well, some folks here are adding adjectives to what I said.
      I never advocated or implied violence.
      I was just stating the obvious since it was not mentioned in this post as one of the several options we have.
      Public demonstrations have to be large (massive), that is the whole point to show the size of the discontent, and if marching they have to march somewhere. Usually to symbols that represent the issue at stake.
      I can understand some people are apprehensive because of the dangerous implications but everything has a price and a risk. Maybe is a Taboo I was not aware of?
      I am not either forcing anyone to march, that should always be a personal decision.
      Oh, and there are many different ways that people can put pressure on Maduro to resign.

  4. I suspect that all of these plans will be overcome by events. Specifically, I think that the country will become ungovernable by the current government eventually forcing a military coup to restore order long before any of these plans come to fruition. Which is not to say that a plan should not be decided upon and pursued. I tend to favor the Constituent Assembly, because: 1. It makes sense start the ball rolling in this direction even if it occurs during a transitional regime. 2. It will allow the Opposition to get a head-start on drafting a new Constitution that institutionally and permanently decentralizes power and provides safeguards to prevent another power grab in the future.

    • I agree about events overcoming the plans. But still, without plans and a push in one direction, the “events” might never materialize. MUD must choose a strategy to remove the government and put pressure on them, even if just to precipitate other types of removal. If MUD doesn’t put pressure on the gov’t and the FANB, they’ll could be able to ride this out (unlikely, but not impossible).

      • Pedro and Toro Volt,

        I agree with both of you. That is why I went on to say, “Which is not to say that a plan should not be decided upon and pursued.” I then further went on to say which plan I prefer and why I prefer it.

        Read my whole comment before you jump on me, please. I know that I can sometimes say controversial things, but this wasn’t one of them.

    • “I suspect that all of these plans will be overcome by events”.
      Very likely as many things in life.
      But for they things we can control we have to activate the plans.
      Who knows, in the optimistic side it could be easy and things goes as planned. Just like 6D

      Damn! If I was Maduro I’d just leave that freaking mess to somebody else what a headache.

  5. When laid out, Constitutional Assembly seems to be the most straightforward and foolproof option stacked up to the others out there. Was that the intent of this article?

    It can happen right away, and should it fail to trigger then on to plan B.

  6. There’s not leaving the government simmer. We’re the ones who simmer and become stale. We’re the ones who find no medicines and no food. We’re the ones with the blackouts and the shortages.

    The time for waiting, if indeed there was ever one, is gone. We simply cannot wait much more.

  7. Is no one going to comment on the last paragraph? I nearly spit out my coffee.

    “In fact, we hope you end up swimming in it, ladling giant heaping spoonfuls of consensus over each other and rubbing it all over your bodies. We hope there’s way too much consensus to know what to do with, consensus coming out the wazoo and every other man and lady-part around. Consesuspalooza. Miss Consenzuela. Consensuayshion. You get my point.”

  8. completely off topic but has anybody else noticed how Julio Borges appears playing with his phone on all photos and footage of speeches in the National Assembly. Whats the deal? What is he a teenager? Sorry I just had to get that off my chest.

    BTW I agree with the recall referendum or national assembly options.

    The “shortening of the mandate” option just seems too gimicky specially applying it to an existing official holding office. It is actually a good idea anyways but not as means to get existing government officials out of office.

  9. Whatever the plan is, they need to hurry the fuck up, because if Easter comes and goes and nothing happens, people are going to be pissed.

  10. I do find it interesting that Toro Volt is being heavily criticized for his suggestion to go out on the streets when it has similarities with the Salida in 2014. Sure circumstances are different now since the MUD has majority in the NA, but there wasn’t really any major plan for the Salida, just to go out in the streets to see if Maduro can (ultimately) get out. And how Capriles was heavily criticized for believing in a more constitutional way to get Maduro out and now it seems to be the only way.

    By the way superb article, this is why I $upport Caracas Chronicles!

  11. Nice article. Ground to earth.

    It does support my thesis: Chavismo is undefeatable and undestroyable unless you topple them via an armed effort. Since MUD and general oppo people see such conflict as undesirable, an eternal steady state of decay awaits those who don´t flee.

    You and the MUD are stuck in the Mexican Standoff of political correctness, something resembling that last scene of Pulp Fiction. There, Vincent and Jules find themselves pointing and being aimed at gunpoint amidst a robbery. In my decaf representation of such scenery, you wield a constitution, they wield real guns and a tribunal.

    Still, there is no chance and no way out of this other than -literally- choosing the way out.

    Emigrate. Get the hell out and never look back.

    CC readers and majority oppo people backed the idea that growing an electoral majority and winning an election would unleash the demons of transition. After all, winning in their pitch with their rules was unheard of and worth trying “pa ve que tal esa vaina”.

    Turns out that now you can´t cash such victory as a consequence of not doing the full work years ago, which is: infiltrate the military, just like they did from 60´s to 80´s.

    Since MUD always despised “la cosa militar”, it failed to make proper alliances in time, fed by their infinite stubborness. Now we are all paying for it when is too late to attempt such a maneuver, unless you plan to milk it 20 years in the future.

    Building bridges with the men in green could, at least, disable or seriously thwart Maduro´s repressive apparatus today, helping the electoral cause to do the rest.

    Articulo 350 if you like, but done from inside without echar un solo tiro.

    Al final del día, yo soy un fascista mas. Pero el fascista mas acertado que comenta en este blog.

    • Strongly disagree.
      The Chavista regime is imploding in its incompetency and corruption.
      There are consensus among the most respectable voices in and out of Venezuela saying is just a matter of time.
      No money, no political capital, no power. People are pissed.
      Oh ! and how do you know the sentiment of the military let alone if there are infiltrates or not?

      • “The Chavista regime is imploding in its incompetency and corruption.”
        Nope. Chavista regime is not “imploding”, society and rule of law are.

        “No money, no political capital, no power. People are pissed.”
        Ask Castro how much of a problem that was for him.

        “Oh ! and how do you know the sentiment of the military let alone if there are infiltrates or not?”
        They still protect Maduro & Co instead of you.

        Close but no cigar.

    • James, there is simply no testicular fortitude in Venezuela to take up arms against the Government. They secretly wish the military/Putin/CIA come over and do the dirty work for them.
      They still believe in a peaceful revolution against people that have no qualms about killing. And they will be quick about quoting Gandhi and Give Peace a Chance but they still do not realize that the Mahatma would have lasted 20 minutes under Stalin. He was lucky he drew the polite British Empire and still managed to fuck it up.
      Elections have consequences… Venezuela is the new Zimbabwe, they can enjoy it.

  12. I think passing the amnesty and have the assembly march into Ramo Verde to pull Leopoldo out in peaceful way. It would add high drama to a cause célèbre. Something like the Storming of La Bastille and Ghandi’s Salt March.

    Of course, those gorila’s have shown no compunction at shooting at unarmed people.

  13. Emiliana, I guess “consensus coming out the wazoo and every other man and lady-part around” fits, somehow, with your being a “lover of expletives” (lol)”. Obviously, consensus is necessary, but the constitutional solutions, as mentioned by many here, will be blocked one way or another by the Regime. The long-suffering “Bravo Pueblo”, to now, seems incapable surreally of mounting massive resistance in the streets, without what in the past would have been the Leftist agitators, who unfortunately now rule, and who, with their corrupted $ millions/billions, and human rights abuses, will not go peacefully. So, it will really be up to the military, lower/mid-ranks as traditionally, whose extensive families are suffering as part of the Pueblo, to rise up and kick the Regime bums out (unless by some miracle there is a Caracazo II) against a Dantesque backdrop of human need/suffering.

Leave a Reply