Writing in the Financial Times on May 29th, Francisco Rodríguez argues that Venezuela’s institutional setup is designed as a winner-takes-all system that concentrates power in the executive. Ceding power to the opposition is therefore perceived as too costly by a chavismo fearful of persecution and political banishment. For a durable peace to emerge, the argument goes, you have to change the Constitution to protect the rights of chavismo, now the minority. Otherwise, we’re warned, Venezuela runs the risk of ending up like present day Libya.

While the Constitution can certainly be amended to further reduce costs of being in the opposition, most notably by barring reelection and shortening the presidential term, this is not the binding constraint.

Venezuela’s Constitution already has plenty of provisions to promote the peaceful co-existence of contending political groups and protect minority rights. It prohibits the use of state resources for party political ends, bars the armed forces from taking partisan positions, sets out mechanisms to rein in the executive (including recall referenda and legislative oversight over executive decisions), and a long list of other provisions designed to limit just how much the winner can take.

For a durable peace to emerge, the argument goes, you have to change the Constitution to protect the rights of chavismo, now the minority.

The winner-takes-all features of Venezuelan politics don’t stem from the Constitution; they’re the practical outcome of utterly disregarding it. That outcome, in turn, flows from the government’s control of oil rents, which makes rule-following optional, and allows an increasingly small group of officials to hold the country, including the overwhelming majority of chavistas, hostage to their narrow interests while displaying complete indifference to the humanitarian cost of their obstinacy.

But we have one key asset the Libyans of the early 70s lacked: a long democratic tradition. Despite the ruling party’s best efforts, Venezuelans evidently deem that tradition worth fighting for. To lay the groundwork for a durable transition there must indeed be a negotiated agreement that builds on that tradition.

And yet Francisco may be onto something with his reference to Libya.

In April 1973, as his revolution was losing popularity, Muammar Gaddafi dissolved all existing laws and proclaimed that all enemies of the Revolution were to be purged. Decreeing an administrative revolution, he swept away the remnants of the “bourgeois state”. He ordered all good revolutionaries into Consejo Comunal-style committees and declared his determination to rid Libya of foreign influences. He managed to steamroll all opposition, carry this program off, and cement himself into a ruinous four-decade dictatorship. The Libyan parallel Venezuelans need to be mindful of is 1973.

Chavismo no longer presents a united front. Due to Maduro’s insistence on doing away with the Constitution, an increasing number of high-ranking chavistas have openly parted ways with the government. This wedge is one the opposition would do well to take advantage of. The goal is not to try to obliterate chavismo altogether, but rather to create a broad coalition of democrats  – including some newly converted in defense of the Constitution and for national reconciliation.

Many dissenting chavistas realize how much they have to gain from participating in a democratic Venezuela. They would no doubt remain a formidable force.

The cornerstone of this agreement should be respect for the existing Constitution, and the Rule of Law more broadly. Additionally, the agreement will clearly have to include guarantees to defecting chavistas in the form of amnesties, yet these need not be inserted in the Constitution but can instead be overseen by the international community.

The goal is not to try to obliterate chavismo altogether, but rather to create a broad coalition of democrats… in defense of the Constitution.

A unified front, of opposition and chavismo, rallying around the present Constitution could induce other defections – international allies included– further isolating Maduro and his clique and making their continued hold on power that much less tenable.

A transition could take the form of a unity government that takes power by choosing a consensus vice-president and having Maduro resign. This unity government would then be charged with implementing long overdue economic reforms, opening a humanitarian channel, freeing all political prisoners, recognizing the National Assembly’s prerogatives, and renewing the other branches of power in preparation for presidential elections due in 2018.

All this can be achieved without changing one comma in the Constitution.

Venezuela has the democratic capital for a viable, orderly transition. Looking ahead the real challenge is not how to avoid ending up like Libya, but rather, how not to end up like present-day Venezuela twenty or thirty years down the line.

The crux of the problem is not poorly designed rules: it’s that the state’s economic dominance, even in its crippled post-oil-boom condition, makes following any rules feel like an optional frippery. This is not a recent predicament, but one that has been greatly exacerbated under chavismo. Without a broader distribution of economic power, political freedoms will always remain vulnerable. Changing this predicament will require much more than adding one or two phrases to the Constitution, and that process certainly can’t start with acquiescence to the regime’s uncontrolled rule-breaking.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Imposible estar en desacuerdo aunque creo que cuando se permitió gobernar durante tanto tiempo a un individuo como Chávez y acumular tanto poder, difícilmente se puede decir luego que para los venezolanos la tradición democrática “evidently deem that tradition worth fighting for”. Si fuese así, habrían por ejemplo apoyado La Salida masivamente y sin miedo, tal y como describen tweeter, los medios no gubernamentales… a los que ahora protestan, y habrían evitado entonces este desastre.

    Queda para los libros de historia ficción preguntarse qué estaría ocurriendo ahora en Venezuela si en vez de tener un gobierno inepto que pretende imponer políticas socialistas fracasadas arruinando a todos menos unos pocos, Maduro hubiese sido un buen gestor preocupado por tener una economía en crecimiento como en China o Bolivia. Intuyo que nada de lo que estamos viendo que ocurre a día de hoy

    • Hay dos diferencias cruciales entre 2014 y hoy en día:

      1) La mayoría de la dirigencia de la MUD estaba comprada, por eso salieron corriendo a arrodillarse a los diálogos burundangueros.

      2) En 2014, todavía se podía conseguir comida y medicinas.

      Y una tercera de ñapa:

      El chavismo no estaba por eternizar el status quo, lo que mantuvo la esperanza de la gente en salidas pacíficas antes era que algún día se podía lograr aunque pasaran 50 años pra los comeflores (Que será que ellos no envejecen), con la prostituyente, el chavismo promete continuar el empeoramiento de Venezuela para siempre.

  2. “Venezuela has the democratic capital for a viable, orderly transition. Looking ahead the real challenge is not how to avoid ending up like Libya, but rather, how not to end up like present-day Venezuela twenty or thirty years down the line.”

    Does that democratic capital include competent politicians from both sides? Because frankly, I can’t see them…

    For example, on oppo super hero and poster child Pizarro:

    https://twitter.com/jcsosazpurua/status/872934145793679361

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    And also, I can assure you 2017 Libya is in a much worse shape than 2017 Venezuela, hence the comparison. It is a very real and plausible scenario. But yes, we also don’t want to be the current Venezuela 30 years down the line either, but that would be an unknown/unknown, not so much the case for 2017 Libya.

  3. La constitución chavista sigue siendo un cadáver pestilente y presidencialista que así como tiene los susodichos mecanismos de “control interno”, también está plagada de esas asquerosidades que le han permitido al chavismo usarla de papel tualé para fregar al país por dos décadas.

    Igual no importa, lo que importa es sacar a los invasores cubanos y a sus lacayos del país, ya se verá después qué se hace respecto a los demás chavistos que andan bufando porque les quitaron el guiso, que sí, ciertamente nadie está buscando “prohibir el chavismo” en Venezuela, pero ellos por mucho que les duela, van a tener que aceptar dos cosas:

    1- Que el chavismo fué un movimiento que destruyó a Venezuela hasta sus cimientos, por lo que todo el que conozca sus acciones libres de los lentes distorsivos del hegemoncorp terminará odiándolo con todas sus fuerzas.

    2- Que el chavismo no volverá a tocar ninguna instancia importante de gobierno en por lo menos 50 ó 100 años, los “chavistas arrechos” como Cliver Alcalá, MRT, Evans y la misma Ortega lo que están buscando es ver en qué puesto del nuevo gobierno se pueden enganchar para conseguir nuevos guisos y seguir robando, eso es un hecho, y tiene que ser impedido a toda costa.

    Venezuela no tereminará como Libia por varias razones, siendo algunas de ellas:

    – No existe una tercera fuerza externa que esté intentando hacerse del control del país como lo es el daesh allá, acá en Venezuela la fuerza invasora tiene el poder desde el año 98 y se llama partido comunista cubano, el caso acá es que Venezuela fué invadida y hay que expulsar y exterminar a los invasores.

    – El régimen no es apoyado por la mitad de la población como pasó en Libia, que a pesar de que el cagaffi tuvo comiendo a la gente de una letrina por cuatro décadas, todavía le lavó el cerebro a suficiente gente como para que lo adorasen como a un dios, el apoyo duro a la dictadura chavista no llega al 10%, es más, ese número es muy alto, como siga la situación el chavismo verá reducido su apoyo a menos del 5%, que será la cantidad de apoyo que tendrá para siempre luego de derrocar la dictadura, conocido también como el “porcentaje de imbéciles del país”. Así que esta lucha no es del 50/50, es de 95/1.

    – No existe ningún interés transnacional que quiera derrocar al chavismo, los venezolanos están sólos en esta lucha, esa ha sido otra razón por la que ha durado tanto el régimen, sumado a que se dilapidaron miles de millones comprando gobiernos chulos para que apoyaran incondicionalmente al chavismo.

    – No existen suficientes “duros” que estén dispuestos a financiar guerrillas terroristas para tratar de retomar el poder en Venezuela, la mayoría de los bolibasuras lo que harán será salir corriendo a tratar de esconder lo que se robaron en algún país, principalmente en Estados Unidos y España porque los chavistas son hipócritas a más no poder.

  4. Pedro, excellent analysis, the Constitution, properly interpreted by an IMPARTIAL TSJ, works, except, should be modified to a Pres. term of 4 years/no re-election. FR’s analysis is questionable, like Cisnero’s (yes, he who sold out VeneVision to Chavez, with Carter’s “impartial” intermediation, and who sits (sat?) on The Council For The Americas (money talks)), who called for Cuba (his family-abandoned homeland) to be part of a negotiated solution to Venezuela’s crisis. Ula, magnificent all you said, though I fear Chavismo will linger at more than 5%–the imbecility/ignorance of “Er Pueblo” cannot be underestimated (as M. Rubio stated in a recent post comment, “I’ve lived in many places all over the world, and never have I seen so many people who believe in a free lunch.”

  5. The fundamental I see … let me put it as a question: Do you guys envision a government which without question permits importation of parts and supplies for production (i.e. no exchange controls), and which under no circumstances permits government “expropriation” of private enterprise? Part of the reason, it seems, that enchufados “live well” is that they can bypass exchange controls and make their purchases from private businesses that have escaped the worst of government meddling and blockage, that is, they live in the “private sector of free-market capitalism”, while subjugating the rest of the country to socialism.

    Private foreign investment does not seek to own any country, it just wants a decent return on investment. Industry hires and trains and pays salaries and wages out of that return on capital, out of that profit. Your street vendor of raspados during protests knows the return on capital equation: he invests in a cart and ice-shaving gear and jarabe and cups, and prices his raspados so he can turn a profit. The orange peelers and vendors know how it works. It is the same equation for “big business”, but somehow mankind has an ugly trait of envy and avarice which makes some perceive big business as some kind of thief, even when it is turning no more percentage profit than a hotdog vendor, and makes lives work for “the common man” through employment and training. Why some perceive that as “bad” is explainable, but it goes into the ugly side of mankind.

    My opinion only, not from any PhD dedication to intensive accumulation of impressive amounts of data, is that Venezuela could get a significant jump-start infusion of capital if that capital was guaranteed 100% with no qualifications. It is really messy right now because so much is owed, but capitalists can see opportunities, and recovery is possible down the road. Clorox, for example, might possibly be persuaded to reinvest if their plant and equipment were returned and government adopted a serious, very serious, “no government hand shall ever touch thee” law. They took a big write-off, but by pricing a few cents more on each product, they can work it out to recover those losses over a decade, then shave those extra few cents off their prices. One would have to look at their books to get the equation, but the idea is clear.

    Everyone wants a profit, a benefit from exchange, even a husband and wife each gain from each other’s companionship, and there are “rules of the game” there, too (any married man knows that). Those who try against all evidence to deny that profit or gain from fair exchange are either stark hypocrites or absurdly insane.

  6. Francisco Rodriguez is asking us to show to chavistas the kindness they have’t showed to us. The clique knows that the only way to go unpunished for their crimes forever is by not losing power. Any amnesty can be overturned in the future. Holding to power is not up to them tho, their permanence in power is determined by the submission or loyalty of the middle ranks whom we have to target

  7. Can anyone imagine where we would be now If chavez had never happened or had died 5 years before he did…….even with the current constitution we would be in much much better shape than we are now , the problem is not the constitution but the people that are entrusted with honouring and interpreting its provisions , we put too much importance on the texts and not enough on how people of different tempers and pasions applyit…!!

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