The Defection Races

As Venezuela’s political crisis drags on, the pressure on both the government and the opposition is growing. The question is: who's going to crack first?

So how are we to read the political moment Venezuela is living through? I think of it as a defections race. Both sides are under strain, both sides are stretched, and the rules are straightforward: whoever splits first loses.

Who will split first is not obvious —and that’s a big difference from the picture in 2014 when a level-headed scan of the competitive landscape made it obvious the government would find it relatively easy to wait out the protesters.

Not this time around. The question of whose side the clock is on is the question of 2017. The answer isn’t obvious.

Tensions are running high on both sides. Early warning signs of splits are obvious on both. Chuo Torrealba and UNT flirting with participating in Maduro’s deliriously rigged Constituent Assembly is an obvious sign of a potential split on the opposition side: they’ll plainly not be joined by much of the MUD mainstream, meaning they’d have to strike out on their own. The Prosecutor General’s apostasy and minor chavista figures such as Gabriela Ramírez’s blow-back plays a similar role inside the government: much of chavismo is plainly, obviously not signed up with the government’s strategy, and the temptation to bolt is more or less out in the open.

The question of whose side the clock is on is the question of 2017. The answer isn’t obvious.

The government’s obdurate maximalism turns out to be a big advantage for the opposition: when your Best Alternative to Raising Hell on the Streets (BARHS — eat your heart out, Harvard Negotiating Method) is facing political extermination and political prison for fascism-inspired terrorism, calling out people tempted to give the BARHS a try is relatively straight-forward.

Granted, the opposition has the weaker hand —just by definition, simply by virtue of being the opposition— but atypically it’s playing it smarter: giving government aligned forces a genuinely compelling Best Alternative to Cracking Our Skulls (BACOS). MUD’s offer is clear: if you’re in the security forces, your BACOS is amnesty, as long as you can show you were on the side of the angels when it really mattered. Make the wrong choice, though, and you’re in jail.

I cannot imagine this showdown going past the month of June —though heaven knows nothing’s harder to pin down here than the timing. Anyone who expresses confidence on how this is all going to pan out can safely be written off as a crank. At least the rules are clear: Get the other side to crack first and you win.

But I think we have the advantage, because their BACOS is way better than our BARHS.

It’s going to be a white-knuckle ride all the way through to the end for sure, though.