Jorge Rodríguez, through his spokeswomen at CNE, made a serious mistake last night. You can read all about the specifics in Naky’s brilliant briefing this morning. But the question before us is, what does it mean? And why focus on Jorge Rodríguez?
JRod has become the regime’s key tactician, the head of its most ideologically obdurate and extremist wing, and the all-but-avowed decision-maker behind the nominally independent National Elections Council (CNE) board.
We focus on JRod because privately, and not-so-privately, CNE’s titular head, Tibisay Lucena has stopped even pretending she gets to make her own calls. She doesn’t. On no es con el payaso, es con el dueño del circo grounds, it’s time we trained our fire on the real culprit here.
Technically, Jorge Rodríguez is just the mayor of Central Caracas (Libertador), but one feature of our dictatorship is that people’s real jobs rarely line up with their official titles. In fact, JRod has become the regime’s key tactician, the head of its most ideologically obdurate and extremist wing, and the all-but-avowed decision-maker behind the nominally independent National Elections Council (CNE) board.
It’s a job that used to fall to José Vicente Rangel, and José Vicente was a lot better at it than JRod is. José Vicente understood that the center of his task was to keep the opposition divided. His tactical moves consistently sought to split off opposition radicals from moderates, helping keep the opposition in a kind of permanent low-grade civil war. The radicals vs. moderates splits that have riven the antichavista movement for so long, and that did so much to keep chavismo in power, were not casual. They were, to a large extent orchestrated.
Why do I say JRod overreached last night? Because the 20% Signature Gathering Drive decision his spokeswomen announced yesterday is not likely to split the opposition: just the opposite. The decision is so plainly one-sided, so extreme, it’ll strengthen MUD unity instead.
What JRod needed was an ambiguous decision: one that seemed to hold out the possibility, the outside shot that if MUD really got its act together, it just might be able to overcome the obstacles and collect the signatures it needs to keep the recall going. The goal was to keep the “moderates” committed to the process while pushing the radicals into protest.
Not even the most naïvely deluted of MUD doves could think it’s possible to meet these requirements.
Last night’s decision doesn’t do that. By once more refusing to name dates for the next step of the process, activating far too few voting centers and far too few captahuellas, distributing those centers absurdly on the map, writing in an hour-long lunch break (¡por dios!) to shorten each day of signature gathering day to 7 hours and — the cherry no top — freelancing a constitutionally non-existing requirement to collect signatures for 20% of the voters in each state, the decision kills the recall process cold.
Not even the most naïvely deluted of MUD doves could think it’s possible to meet these requirements. And even if they did, CNE also explicitly announced no recall would be held until after the key January 10th, 2017 deadline, and so would leave Maduro’s vice-president in power through 2019. This is a position not even Timoteo Zambrano could support.
So JRod has failed at the core of his job: keeping the opposition divided. Instead, he’s blundered into a move that creates clarity on the death of the recall and the shift into a more militant season of protests. This is something the MUD has gone to extreme lengths to avoid, but which even the most moderate among them can no longer miss.
In the end, JRod has gifted them something they have the hardest time achieving without outside help: clarity, and consensus.
Even if MUD decides to participate in the bizarre insult of a 20% Signature Drive, it will merely be using it as a coordinating device for street action rather than an actual attempt to activate a now-dead recall.
In the end, JRod has gifted them something they have the hardest time achieving without outside help: clarity, and consensus. The road ahead is clear. All that’s left is street action. MUD just became a protest movement. Its job now is no longer to mobilize voters — the terrain it’s most comfortable with. It’s to rally social protest, to put itself at the head of the volcanic anger in society at a government that has made day-to-day life profoundly unlivable.
The political game changed profoundly in Venezuela last night. Jorge screwed up.