It’s my new favorite pastime: puzzling through Constituyente scenarios. Indulging my pol-fi morbo, I try to imagine how exactly things that can’t possibly work are supposed to work, and then try to piece together what on god’s green earth the government thinks it stands to gain by trying to force this whole cockamamie scheme through.

Indulge me a second here.

Maduro’s constituyente is a strange beast. It’s based on a mixed “territorial/sectoral” electoral model apparently modelled on Cuba’s famously democratic electoral system.

There is no conceivable legal basis for grouping people into sectors of society.

The territorial part is unfair enough, sure —massively over-representing rural areas where the government has traditionally done better— but at least you can understand it: people typically know which municipio they live in.

The real dog’s breakfast comes on the other side: a totally made up “sectoral” component where people vote according to which medieval guild they would’ve belonged in if this was the 14th century. Or something like that.

There is no conceivable legal basis for grouping people into sectors of society. There’s no reasonable rationale for having them vote within an existential category. These things go without saying. But that isn’t what this post is about: I’m interested in the practicalities. Apparently, I’m the only one.

To divide people by sectors, CNE is going to effectively carve up the Electoral registry into a series of sub-registries: farmers over here, workers over there, business people in a third list, intellectuals and artists over yonder. How?!?!? On what imaginable information basis? Where is the database that tells CNE that I’m a farmer and not a retiree?! What if I’m both?

And then, how am I supposed to find out? How are people supposed to even know which list they’re on? And what if they’re not on any? Can you appeal?

When it comes to putting your name forward as a candidate, the elaborate finger-print scanning protocols and checks and re-checks and re-re-checks of 2016 have already been discarded willy nilly in favor of a Caribbean honor system.

You’d think so…but that would take months, and the other salient fact about this weirdly all-powerful assembly the government is pushing is that they’re rushing it through in a mad last minute dash to a wholly impracticable July 30th election date: a crazy hurry that’s already led the famously rule-bound CNE of the Referendum Revocatorio era to degenerate, overnight, into the church of “whatever, close enough!”

When it comes to putting your name forward as a candidate, the elaborate finger-print scanning protocols and checks and re-checks and re-re-checks of 2016 have already been discarded willy nilly in favor of a Caribbean honor system. The period for people to propose themselves as candidates is already open, even though nobody has any official confirmation of which “sector” they’re meant to represent. What if I put my name forward for the student sector but then when the list comes out they’re calling me a businessman? One thing is for sure, there’s no time to appeal!

And how exactly is this madcap campaign supposed to work? How exactly do you campaign within a sector? With voters likely unsure which sector they’re officially in, how are they meant to even evaluate what candidates say?

In practice, it won’t matter because the opposition isn’t going to dignify this silly circus with its participation, so we’re effectively heading into a single party election. Still, the reality is that Maduro is proposing to give unlimited powers to an assembly made up of candidates that voters know exactly nothing about.

Then you start to think through the political technicalities. Is the government seriously expecting the opposition to go home and  “behave” when the time comes to elect this monstrosity? Does the inner clique really not have the presence of mind to see there’ll be precisely as many riots as there are polling places that day?

Do they really not grasp that Maduro’s name is now so toxic any event that brings people into the streets in numbers becomes a security risk to the regime?

Have they not pieced together that a government that can’t even mobilize its own employees to a march under threat of dismissal definitely can’t mobilize voters to the polls in the middle of a giant riot? That the army is going to be spread out all over the country that day: a hungry, dispirited army led by lieutenants and colonels who loathe the drug-running generals who bark orders at them?

Do they really not grasp that Maduro’s name is now so toxic any event that brings people into the streets in numbers becomes a security risk to the regime? Have they really stopped to think any of this through?!

But let’s say that, somehow, they manage to slog through the election. Have they thought through what comes next? Have they stopped to think what it’ll take to get these people to sit? The logistics of evicting the legitimately elected National Assembly from the Palacio Legislativo to sit these clowns? Have they grasped the shitshow every single controversial ANC decision will be met with on the streets?

And let’s say they get through all that: have they stopped to understand that at the tail end of the entire process they’ll be forced to choose between holding a referendum they’ll definitely lose or imposing a constitution 90% of the country understands for the kick to the testicles it really is? Do they actually think they have the muscle to impose craziness on this olympian scale? Have they actually stopped to understand that none of this can imaginably work?!

¿Really!?

The Government isn’t Magic

There’s a tendency —born of learned helplessness— for opposition folk to ascribe magical powers to the government. We sometimes talk as though, because Maduro and the inner-core of crazies surrounding him are entirely unscrupulous, that somehow makes them exempt from the regular laws of political gravity.

If the government faced no constraints, Luisa Ortega would no longer be in office, probably not even free, possibly not even alive.

Showing this isn’t so is trivial: if the government faced no constraints on its capacity to administer violence in the service of maintaining power we wouldn’t have hundreds of political prisoners, we’d have hundreds of thousands of political prisoners, like they do in Turkey. We wouldn’t have dozens of deaths in protest, we’d have soldiers shooting anti-aircraft artillery into opposition crowds and thousands of deaths, like they did in Turkey. If the government faced no constraints, Luisa Ortega would no longer be in office, probably not even free, possibly not even alive.

The reason we haven’t seen these things isn’t that Maduro’s inner circle has any hidden reservoir of scruples: God knows they don’t. It’s that to stay in power they need the support of people and institutions that can push only so far. For two months now we’ve seen Maduro tentatively trying to establish where those limits are, precisely: trying to get his bearings on what exactly he’s constrained from doing and what he’s free to do.

Probably the place where this calibration is most visible is in the ordinance the National Guard uses to repress protests. We’ve seen them — literally seen them — calibrating the lethality of the cartridges they can get away with. If rubber pellets aren’t dissuasive enough, do you go with lead pellets, or are you better off with marbles? We’ve seen them try out different things, but in that range. What we’ve not seen them is jump to Kalashnikovs, or M16s, or Sarin gas.

Not Syria.

Why?

It’s not because Maduro and Reverol wouldn’t love to go bigger on violence. It’s because they fear that, if that order was given, it would not be obeyed.

They can’t be so dumb they don’t see it. It would be an act of political self-harm. And that’s not their style.

So these guys are constrained, and on some level they realize they’re constrained. But have they stopped to really think through the level of violence they would have to administer to make the Constituyente stick? Do they think that level of violence is survivable for them?

I go around and around these questions, and I always seem to circle back to the same answer: they can’t be so dumb they don’t see it. It would be an act of political self-harm. And that’s not their style. Because sure, economic self-harm yes, that I believe, these guys have shown again and again an amazing propensity for hurting themselves needlessly on economic matters. But not politically. Politically, they’re survivors.

And this cochinada? This not a survivable cochinada for them. They can’t not see that.

Which is why I still think the ANC won’t happen. Sooner or later, more or less elegantly, they’re going to find a way to call it off. Because they just don’t have the power resources — in the security forces, in the party, in the country at large — to make it stick.  You don’t become this powerful if you can’t figure out power dynamics this obvious.

They must see it. It must be a bargaining chip.

55 COMMENTS

  1. I’m not sure. All the risks you mention are there, but I think they are just that desperate. If the ANC thing goes on even with 5% of the population voting they will very much proclaim loud and clear the people have spoken and everything they want is now the law of the land, and if any concerted effort is made to sabotage this travestry then it will be used as evidence of how the “fascists” are against elections.

    Or at least, that sounds to me like the plan. It is a big gamble, but is not like they have many other options but to gamble it all.

      • But….every time over the last 18 years someone has said ”no way, they would never do ‘that’…they wouldn’t dare…” look what has happened….they DID

        • Exactly, they did and they will do it again and again. The vast majority of Venezuelans and people here on CC hugely underestimate what Chavistas are ABLE and WILLING to do to stay IN POWER!!! Francisco you should read “the art of war” maybe that will help you understand Chavismo!

      • La pregunta no es qué tan racionales o no son. La pregunta es si son unos hijos de puta o no, y creo que la respuesta es clara.
        La razón simplemente sigue a la voluntad. Todo lo que ellos hacen tiene sentido. Habría que comenzar por reconocer eso.
        La verdad es que son perfectamente racionales, y también son unos perfectos hijos de puta. sin escrúpulos de ningún tipo. Los que al parecer no somos ni racionales ni hijos de puta somos nosotros, y por eso estamos donde estamos.
        Yo no entiendo cómo alguien que nació en el siglo XX puede dudar que la violencia y la razón van juntas.
        No solamente son racionales, son tecnócratas consumados. ¿o es que acaso se niega el carácter sistemático y tecnocrático de la represión y de la propaganda que están llevando a cabo?

  2. “Have they really stopped to think any of this through?!”

    No, I don’t think so.

    If you go back to Dec. 12 when Maduro decided that they would withdraw the Bs.100 bills in 72 hours without any new bills to replace them I think you might get an inkling of his total incompetence and those around him.

  3. Great post. I hope you are right about their inability to push it through.

    No doubt the “sectoral” elections cannot be done fairly. The boundaries of each constituency are arbitrary, and open to regime manipulation, as you point out. It is a mechanism for gerrymandering and guaranteed majorities.

    It’s useful to recognize that a body elected by “sectors” is quite similar to Mussolini’s National Council of Corporations, and its successor the Chamber of Fasci and Corporations which replaced Italy’s Parliament.

    The “corporations” in that title referred to groups representing different sectors of the national economy, and not for-profit entities, as is often assumed. Their mode of election related to the sector of the economy they theoretically represented.

    These bodies in Italy were constitutional in nature, but of course essentially rubber-stamped Mussolini’s decrees.

      • It worked fine for Mussolini for 20 years. His government never faced any serious internal opposition. He fell from power only because he started an external war, which Italy lost disastrously, having declared war on the most powerful nations in the world. (US, UK, USSR).

        • Yes. But he made the trains run on time. And Cuba and Venezuela both have universal health care. So they are all OK.

  4. I agree they are politically rational, but I think you may be overstimating the political costs of the constituyente. If you speak to the middle of the road disgruntled chavista/nini, the “but if a constituyente is so bad why did VP proposed one a year ago” argument sticks, and I think the same applies to the armed forces, the argument that this constituyente is horrible because of the rules is not such an easy argument to sell outside our bubble, I think they made their call and think they can get away with this (and the more convenient option which was a TSJ-annullment is no longer possible)

  5. Your calculation of not inflicting greater pain to the opposition is based on the army not willing to go along. But the restraint variable could the U.S. halting purchases of oil. Under which scenario they might be able squeak through la constituyente

  6. Dunno man. To me it seems one more desperate attempt for maximization. They know the odds are stacked against them, but nothing is more viable (in you put your self in their shoes, is there anything else?). I think Chavismo dug itself in a hole that can’t get out of. It is not that they are cornered by opponents, is that they know that drug trafficking is one that you can’t survive unless you remain in power. They could probably survive anything else, but not drug trafficking.

    • There is no honest deal you can make with a guy like Reverol when there is an indictment against him in a NY federal court signed by Loretta Lynch.

    • I agree very much with Rodrigo here. I try to think about the end of the Pinochet era, Argentina’s dictatorship, those in Eastern Europe. You could get away with killing several thousands in the pre Internet era but it is harder with “just” killing several hundred AND being completely involved in dtug trafficking and the theft not of a couple but of many billions

  7. The constituyente will happen, it will replace the AN, GNB will kill more and more people and in greater numbers with more lethal weapons. They couldn’t care less if MUD participates or not and the GNB will shoot and kill demonstrators on the last day of July like we’ve never seen before. There are still not millions in the streets all day every day, nor the 3,5% of the population your article talked about Fransisco!! It’s so sad to witness Chavistas winning this war because el bravo pueblo isn’t fighting for its future. Bunch of lame ducks doing fuck all to safe their own souls. And the amount have wishful thinking here in CC makes my want to throw up!

  8. Off topic but what’s with these damn pop up ads that block the whole screen? Is my paypal contribution not enough? Did you guys at CC actually do that or is it a personal problem?

    • Wondering the same thing. I get a blank pop up with no ad and have to wait 3 seconds and click to make it go away.

      • It pays the bills, at least there is no paywall plus this is by far the best source of news on Venezuela–English or Spanish IMHO

        • Agreed, one of the best sources, and interactive. I also contribute monthly. I’ve asked for an accounting of numbers.. who, how much how much does CC need? I could give more.. how much is enough or needed? I asked about the hit counter which was way off, and CC disappeared it. ya’ know it went from a blog to a business, As a capitalist I respect that. But the same folks asking for transparency from Maduro y combo won’t do the same for loyal readers.. and the blank ad is annoying. Didn’t CC see this coming? Oh, wait..

  9. Bargaining chip to whom? Alas, I see what you mean (I commented on the practicalities from day 1, let alone the ethics behind that), but at the same time, the imposition seems in the spirit of Maduro’s Leninism.

    The low turnout will make it possible, and their revolutionary theories will support it.

    • Mr. Aveledo makes my central point perfectly. Who is in th other side of the table? Who are “we” (*) negotiating with? It’s not a state, but a myriad of power groups and interests. Loosely speaking, a Cuban occupation, narco, inc. And a institutional criminal military, among others.

      (*) who is we? That is also a great question to ponder! Are “we” still being represented by MUD?

  10. I saw Maduro over the weekend shouting over and over again that the constituyente will take place which means he’s not certain it will.
    BTW Francisco, as much as I believe you’re an intolerant turd, this was a well-written piece and a good read

  11. “Constituyente or War.” At this point we Venezuelans choose war.

    I don’t think Maduro will back from this. It’s their last resort, the regime’s going all in…if these mofo’s are still in power the 31st of July, either Venezuela dies or they leave.

    Hopefully *something* happens before then…otherwise things will get ugly(ier).

  12. Can someone write a kinda fiction/highly romantic piece on the BEST case scenario in which the bad guys go to (maybe even humane) JAILS, and everyone cares about/actually helps the poor, and exports get diversified, and the international community “intervenes,” etc., and the country becomes prosperous and rich and its people happy [again]…, please?

    Thanks in advance.

  13. Yes, the prostituyente is a train wreck. Everybody knows it except your baboons in red, the enchufados and of course the Cubans.

    The question is: 1. will there be enough defections within Chavismo so as to slam the breaks on this train wreck waiting to happen? Or will ALL of Venezuela (not just the Gochos Arrechos) grow a pair of nuts and throw these guys out?

    Not sure. I think a lot of people are cowards and just want to stay out of this. They think that “Chavismo always wins” (even though they hate the government) and they have a defeatist attitude. Your proverbial sheeple. When the day of reckoning comes, everybody will have to be in the streets to not let this happen.

    • Some people just don’t want to die for free. Calling them cowards sounds preposterous. It’s conservation instinct what we’re seeing here.

      And Chavismo always wins. Always will.

      • They won as long as they could bribe and buy enough people in the opposition, like they did in 2014 with Chúo Torrealba and the diálogos burundangueros.

        Maduro’s stupidity and Diosdado’s brutality have broken that pact, they don’t want to share the spoils with anyone and thus their resentment and inherent communist-fascist idiocy blocks their better judgement, thinking that they can keep killing people forever until the people gets tired and scared enough to go back to their soon not-to-be-theirs any longer houses to patiently wait for death at the hands of the monstrous hampa that’s slaughtered a third of a million people during this regime already?

        How many deaths are going to happen once the ANC decrees that private property doesn’t exist anymore and thus tries to send the squatters, colectivos and the costumed criminals from the naziguard and nazi police to kick people off their houses?

        Chavismo is masturbating their twisted psyches with the thought that they’re fighting terrorists, but they haven’t met actual terrorism in their lives, not even the piedreros in the 23 de enero might be able to withstand an actual squad of terrorists harrassing them for over a week, that’s sure.

  14. They’re just trying to gain more time, another smoke screen or desperate attempt to survive 2017 and 2018. Until the inevitable presidential elections. In about 18 months they can steal a lot more, traffic a lot more drugs and food, hide more stolen cash, for a comfortable retirement plan.

  15. Francisco, I think you are right on the money in that it will be impossible to have elections for the prostituyente. Impossible. Yes, the military will be too far spread out. The opposition will call a full “trancazo nacional” and then will heckle anyone going to a voting booth (and probably these will be people they know). Yes, Chavistas and colectivos have used fear and intimidation before on election day, but now the table is turned. It is time to give them a taste of their own medicine.

    The one “good” thing about the daily protests as well as the repression is that it is showing the government that the poeple will not back down. Right now it is the activists who are carrying the burden, but the closer this gets to election day people who remained on the sidelines will jump in.

  16. But…they act desperately. We have found out that the CNE inscribed Ramos Allup as a proposed constituent. Of course, HRA denounced it..But to be so blatant, even in a Caribbean honor system? A drowning gobierno act of desperation.

  17. I had an aha! moment today on this subject (While failing to ‘plantarme’ for the nth time in the afternoon).

    The ANC is designed to distract people from protests!!

    The working middle-lower classes don’t feel compelled to march, risk their lives or lose their jobs fighting against a Constituyente they don’t know or understand. They are willing to do so against hunger, medicine shortages, violence, etc. And those are the reasons why protests begun, before deviating to ANC, and subsequently losing the amount of people they had in the first marchas.

    That is why the government want the MUD talking about the ANC… So they don’t talk about the issues that really take people to the streets.

    Want to prove my point? Ask a bus driver their take on inflation or food shortages, and ask him their take on the ANC… The difference in his face and reaction will show you my point.

  18. They will eventually cancel them, or run them without any kind of sense. It doesn’t matter. Is just a paño frío to distract protests from the only thing that really would’ve moved masses.

  19. This morning checked an interview and he described the jig:

    Since the Constituyents can issue decrees and there’s no time limit to decide the new constitution, the Constituyente will never take place. Since Constituyents are above public powers, they will simply rule by decree forever.

  20. En 17 años ellos han cumplido absolutamente todas sus amenazas. Sin excepción. Y si finalmente de verdad no pueden imponer la constituyente(únicamente a costa del sudor y la sangre de muchos venezolanos), al menos su amenaza les serviría para sobrevivir dos años más. Así que cumple dos finalidades: por un lado, es una avanzada, pero también es una manera de asegurarse una negociación a su favor en caso de que la presión en la calle sea muy alta. Muchos, al ver el costo humano de la lucha, querrán aceptar que Maduro culmine su mandato, a cambio de que éste abandone la constituyente.
    La razón por la cual nadie se detiene mucho en los detalles de la constituyente, es porque no vale la pena. Las inteligencias tienen que enfocarse en cosas importantes, y no en tonterías.

  21. The ANC is the Govt.’s only out, since compromise/jail isn’t palatable. The ANC worked for the Cuban masters for 50 years, and would work in Venezuela, IF: the Ven. military stays cohesive/supportive; civil war doesn’t break out; the U. S. doesn’t intervene economically/militarily; since I believe the likelihood of one or more of these 3 anti-ANC scenarios occurring is high, I don’t believe the ANC will stand, although it will probably be attempted, even with only a small % of the population attending, since Govt. victory/majority is a foregone conclusion. As for “bargaining chip”, what–“We’ll call off the illegal/unacceptable ANC, and you let us continue ruining the Country and trampling on your rights?”

  22. The aim of the constituyente is not a new constitution but the ornamental gutting of the old one which prevents the regime from assumming absolute power with a purportedly ‘clean face’, it doesnt change things one bit because the new constitution will be the result of a farce and will be treated by all as a farce, a piece of paper that the regime will try to use to build a papier machie fachade of a legitimacy which the world will not recognize as valid and which 75% of venezuelans will reject as invalid!!………this regime plans to rule thru the use of sheer and brute coercion , having a fake constitution no one believes in might help them fool themselves into thinking that their rule is legitimate but thats a pipe dream , like an old hag that thinks that by using heavy cosmetics and dressing like someone younger she will take the appearance of an adorable young thing…..!! only make it more violent..!

  23. Es muy fácil escupir sobre un papel. El problema viene cuando el papel lo sostiene un militar que te está apuntando con un fusil (y está dispuesto a usarlo).
    Es un hecho bien sabido que los fusiles te proporcionan una legitimidad absoluta cuando no hay nada que te impida usarlos.
    Es muy sencillo, estamos en medio de una dictadura militar, y las dictaduras militares actúan así.
    No hay ningún indicio de que la constituyente sea una amenaza vacía o de que se trate de una simple distracción. En cambio, toda la evidencia indica todo lo contrario.
    Decir que la constituyente es imposible o que se trata de una mera distracción es irresponsable y deshonesto, porque si existe la posibilidad de que se apruebe (no importa cómo se apruebe, en realidad, siempre y cuando los militares la avalen), dado lo que ésta implicaría, y todo lo que está en juego, hay que reaccionar en consecuencia.
    No hay que negar el carácter sistemático y tecnocrático de la violencia, que apenas está comenzando.
    Esa es la verdad. Si la constituyente se aprueba, la violencia se multiplicará. Y no me refiero nada más a la violencia en las calles, me refiero a la violencia dentro de los centros de detención.

Leave a Reply