It’s hard to overstate how destabilizing Nicolás Maduro’s decision to convene a Constituent Assembly has been. Every aspect of it seems consciously designed to turn up the heat on a pressure cooker that’s purposefully had all its safety valves clogged up. Rammed through illegally, with no previous consultation, with no referendum, on the basis of patently unfair election rules in a way that guaranteed the opposition would not and could not participate, it represents a brazen, undisguised attempt to shut down any remaining vestige of constitutional democracy in our country.

From the start, I’ve been convinced this whole thing is too crazy to work. One important reason is that, by its very structure it creates a series of crisis points each of which seem barely survivable to the regime: moments when the minds of democracy-minded Venezuelans can’t help but be focused, dates when the reality of the threat becomes too evident to will away.

Putting a countdown clock on democracy is stress testing the chavista coalition like nothing ever had before.

The first and worst of these, it seems to me, is July 30th: the day when the members of the Assembly are supposed to be “elected”. (The scare-quotes are necessary because the bizarre simulacrum of democracy that will take place that day resembles the real thing about as much as a Dicom auction resembles what happens at Sotheby’s.)

The farce on July 30th —when people will be asked to “elect” from long lists of names they don’t recognize all of whom are ardent supporters of dictatorship— looks very much like a point of no return. Allow this to happen and you can put a fork in the republic, it’s done.

This is scary, yes, but also to be welcomed in some ways. The hard deadline of July 30th injects a level of clarity into the public sphere that it’s been lacking. The slow, gradual turning-up of the heat on the frog cooking pot finally ends that day, and the already well heated frog is put into the microwave on full blast.

Over the last year we’ve made a big effort to talk to sources who don’t usually talk to journalists.I’m not comfortable going into the details here —if you’re interested you should subscribe— but readers of our Political Risk Report already know about the extreme pressures the constituyente has created inside the military and within PSUV itself.

Putting a countdown clock on democracy is stress testing the chavista coalition like nothing ever had before. It’s very far from clear it’s a stress test a government this widely loathed can survive.

There is serious, serious dissent across the governing coalition right now. Nevermind what the opposition thinks: most PSUV activists are uncomfortable with the proposal. Extraordinary efforts are being made to extract obedience from an activist base that realizes wedding itself to a proposal this blatantly authoritarian could doom their political prospects decades into the future.

There is precious little popular enthusiasm and zero constitutional legitimacy to Maduro’s power-grab, and the pressures it’s creating are causing more damage to the government side than to the opposition’s. Embarrassing though a U-Turn would be, damaging though it would be for Maduro’s credibility, it offers at least some hope of stabilizing the country. Doubling down on this madness can only mean open-ended instability years into the future, if not a descent into outright civil conflict.

Which is why I still think the most plausible interpretation is to see the entire constituyente thing as an elaborate head-fake: an involved bit of brinksmanship destined to be withdrawn in return for concessions before July 30th.

I may be wrong, of course: God knows it wouldn’t be the first time. But I think it’s worth going out on a limb, because absolutely nothing is more obnoxious than political observers who hedge their calls to within an inch of their lives.

So, when the decision stopping the constituyente comes, do remember where you heard it first. Chavistas may be incompetent at virtually everything, but they have a real knack for staying in power. And time-bombs may be great as movie plot devices…but nobody actually plants one under their own seat.

45 COMMENTS

  1. Concessions? They control practically everything. What more? A promise not to go outright Al-Bassad on the country. Or for the Nomenklatura to live out the rest of their lives in La Orchila eating botuto & lobster? Murderous blackmail.

  2. Because the government is so untrustworthy and the lack of any authority to enforce a negotiated agreement, it seems that the opposition is in a bind and cannot engage in serious talks. The government has its macho image at stake and is unlikely to back down absent major concessions (which of course are unwarranted anyway). With this dynamic it appears inevitable that both sides will jump off the cliff trying to strangle each other on the way down.

  3. This is a clusterfuck of epic proportions. What is not clear to me is where does the Diosdado ANC powergrab fit into all this. I have a hard time seeing him backdown…

  4. I understand your reasoning, and respect your willingness to go out on a limb. But I still don’t share your view, for various reasons. If this is all an elaborate hoax, how many are in on it? And how are they managing to keep the truth from all those die-hards who are conscientiously working on a project they don’t know is designed to be discarded? Did Francisco Ameliach for example – who so far as I know remains a close ally of Cabello – resign as governor of Carabobo knowing his candidacy for the ANC was a sham? What about all the other people who gave up real jobs in exchange for a chance to be elected to an assembly that is not intended to be installed? Do they have a guarantee they’ll get another job at the end of it? If they are being fooled, what will be the consequences?

    Then there is the question of the viability of the ensuing negotiation. If Maduro says, OK, I’ll give up on the ANC if you stop the protest campaign, is there the slightest chance the MUD would go for it? Could the government imagine they would? If they did, would opposition supporters accept that? What else would Maduro have to offer? Wouldn’t the offer in itself be such an admission of weakness that the MUD would naturally press home its advantage with further immediate demands? Doesn’t any kind of negotiation at this point require external guarantors? Etc..

    I agree that the ANC is a time-bomb. If asked to put money on it, I would say it is going to explode under Maduro. Everything seems to point right now to the ascendancy of Cabello, who probably calculates he can take control of the ANC and is already increasing his grip on vital elements of the FANB. Pushing things to breaking point has long appeared to be his core strategy, presumably on the grounds that when everything falls apart, the one with the most guns is going to win.

    • I agree here. I think you also have to factor in what could this spell for the other powers that be in the international stage. Perhaps we might not be a geopolitical priority for Russia or China, but I can imagine they can reap benefits from a unstable Venezuela causing problem in the direct sphere of influence of USA.

      • I don’t think the Chinese have any interest in an unstable Venezuela. They are not in the market for geopolitical destabilisation. What the Russians are up to is a more interesting question. They are moving in on Latin America in a way that suggests not merely a desire to take advantage of a fire-sale but perhaps acquiring bargaining chips for later use. Vamos a ver.

        • Yeah, Russia is scaring me more and more as time passes by. Not only in regards to Venezuela, but in the world in general.

  5. He who controls the firepower wins. Airborne (paracaidistas), army special forces, infantería de Marina, and the mechanized infantry. Navy is defanged and Air Force on the fence because army has the capability to shoot AF down. GNB and law enforcement are wild cards but as Phil said, Diosdado is the man.

    • drogadado is being grabbed by the balls by the DEA, the moment he dares to do anything against narcolázzz and his cronies he’s put in the next flight to USA in a package with a ribbon so they can shut his ass in a cell forever.

  6. You’re an idealist. Chavistas will hold the ‘election’, the Constitutional Assembly will be seated and proceed to strip the National Assembly from power “in order to be able to work”.

    The process will continue until the country is “pacified”, i.e. permanently.

    You can wait until June 30th, but be prepared to launch an armed insurrection on the 1st. That’s the last recourse you have if you want your country back.

    • What he said, though I’d add that they’ll rule that Maduro can remain in power without an election as long as “crisis conditions” reign and we all know what that means.

      What will be scrapped are the elections in December.

  7. If that was just a negotiation ploy by Maduro, it was very ill considered. He has destroyed what little remained of his political legitimacy. Thinking about it, though… it does seem like something DC would pull. It has his ham-handed style to it, and he would probably figure that he can hijack control over it anyway. But, it could only work through repression so brutal as to make what we have seen so far look like a picnic. The public would have to be terrified into submission through genocide. And that would provoke an international intervention. So, I am still failing to see their logic. Are you sure that they are, in fact, still rational? They may just be mad as hatters by now.

  8. Sitting in the US and trying to understand the crisis in Venezuela, I do agree that the deadline for the vote is a ticking bomb.
    If it does occur, I think that it will be the end of peaceful protest.
    This has the possibility to drag the country into a true civil war. Latin America is awash in weapons. The UN rankings of the world’s most dangerous countries sadly shows how violent Central and South America have become.
    The students that have bravely risked their lives against the weapons of the regime, will not need much motivation to exchange rocks for firearms.
    The people need to come out by the millions and completely shut down any access to the voting places and make this vote impossible to accomplish.

  9. I really don’t see how the government is bluffing with the Constituyente. There may be signs of dissent from some chavistas, but Maduro and everyone loyal to him (including the super important CNE, TSJ and Padrino López and his thugs at the FANB) seem to be going all in for this proposal. And if we keep thinking it isn’t going to happen and we do nothing about it, the consequences might be disastrous.

  10. We ought to put a ‘quiniela’ together for this. My bet is that Chavismo is not bluffing. They will go full forward on the power grab and damn the consequences.

    Chavismo is authoritarianism with a thin and fading patina of democracy and lawfulness. Proving this is the only tangible success of the opposition so far. Most importantly, Chavismo has had 19 years to corrupt the military to its own image.

    When you interact with Chavistas, including the Chavista military, you realize that reason is beyond them. I see fanatics (read some Aporrea) or criminals too involved in corrupt practices from which they have no way out (tell me what will Reverol do in retirement?).

    At this point, one ought not to make a distinction between the military and the government, they are one. The path forward will bring only more violence. I expect ‘los guerreros’ or ‘escuderos’ to evolve into a full blown urban guerrilla.

    The only event that may cause a military change will be the lack of funds to pay the goons which may be imminent. Such an event will unleash a civil war between the military factions. It may be a one battle civil war, but a war it will be. Just remember the recklessness of 92, Chavistas have no reservations on waging war and now the own far more guns.

    Lord have mercy.

  11. You are wrong Mr Toro, in so many ways. You also need a bit of humility when reporting on this unfortunate situation.

  12. The ANC is a very dangerous gamble. Right now ,with all the abuses and all the stuff they do, the opposition can still more or less agree that the rules of the country are what is in the current Constitution, and just demand respect for them

    If that phony ANC comes out, the only path of opposition is insurrection. There is no other way. You can call it civil disobedience or whatever, but at that point every single Venezuelan not willing to just be a slave of the PSUV has no recouse to anything, not even the theoretical rights that the system gives you, but to just act in any possible way as to ignore and oppose everything the ANC says or do. At that point is just surrender or fight for their dissolution, no “dialog”, no nothing.

    Maybe they are counting on it being a bloodbath and winning. But well ,since when they are shy of running risks where the price is paid by the people and the benefits are just for them?

  13. Francisco you tend to be more optimistic than most. unfortunately I don’t see any political cost for going through with the ANC. The OEA can’t do anything and internationally they will be able to say they held an election and the opposition chose to not participate. The people will go back to their life because they need to work and eat and for the government it was kind of cheap only 80 people killed without a large massacre.
    The US has too many problems to deal with to really do anything significant.
    I honestly don’t have any hope for Venezuela…

  14. My view is that Maduro will only cancel the ANC if he gets something in return.

    Since that “something” will not come from MUD, then it’ll have to come from the FANB (who likely want the ANC cancelled) and other chavistas. I think Maduro would be willing to cancel it if he gets two things from the military/chavistas: green light to replace Ortega Diaz through the TSJ with a friendly new Chief Prosecutor, and a promise from the FANB high-command that they’ll keep repressing protesters. These two things would allow Maduro to fight back against MUD: a new Chief Prosecutor that will charge and issue arrest warrants against opposition leaders and activists, and a repressive force in the streets.

    That would be the government’s 2014 game plan all over again.

  15. Also, while I really hope it never gets there, a lot of people, a whole lot of people should start researching what “clandestinidad” means and how to get to operate there.

    Just in case

  16. At this point, the ANC is purely for internatiomal consumption. “See,we’ve held elections, the opposition refused to participate, so we’re going forward with the will of those who participated”.

    No one here, not even chavistas, believe this is anything other than chavismo’s last rabbit to pull out of the hat.

  17. FT will probably lose (as per recent U. S. “experts think tank” low probability of a peaceful ANC scenario) his 2 Big Macs to Raul, but, hey, all is not so bad–FT is saved from the added cholesterol. When your: backs are against the wall governing Venezuela; alternatives are imprisonment for narco-trafficking/gross human rights abuse; “Pueblo” 80% of population is lining up docilely for scarce foodstuffs/necessities (many even laughing at/criticizing the Guarimbero protesters, very few even understanding what the ANC is/its implications, many in the Consejos Comunales even welcoming the ANC to give them added power in their local communities, especially against the “Escualido” comerciantes/property owners); military/Colectivos/TSJ/CNE thugs still support you with firepower; and your puppet-master has successfully employed a similar ANC to control a similar uneducated/servile populace successfully for 50 years, what do you do?–you go ahead with your Asamblea Nacional Constituyente.

    • if you read the terms of the constituyente you inmediatly conclude that thinking that you can participate on minimally fair conditions is wishful thinking, if you only show intention to participate in it you would only give it the legitimacy it couldnt possible have. And when you see that Tibisay works so incredibly diligently after her criminal performance for the 2016 RR you see that she’s going to do everything she can to destroy the minimal chance the opposition had to transform 80% of support into a majority of seats.

  18. Qui protest?

    Imo the clicking time bomb the ANC is only benefits the one party securely holding power at this time. The cuban occupation.

    It allows internal rifts to open and new radicals to double down. If they helo on to power new razias and new more committed aparatiks will be employed (40 k new repression jobs for mission chamba juvenil anyone?)

    The Opposition has change to fuck up again given its lack of understanding and the fact that it is deeply infiltrated and controlled.

    Raising the pressure to the pressure cooker (amidst EPV failing) is the work of a mad man. One that only cares about its power, its looting and not he country…

  19. The ANC is a must for Maduro. That’s the only “legal” way the can cancel the presidential elections next year and stay in power for good.

    Lo demás es paja.

  20. Francisco,
    Haven’t you thought Maduro and his regime will sell this like the 2005 elections? The economic situation is dramatically different now, but he has the military and everything to lose if Chavismo is out.

  21. Bad POKER: when you have a slightly chance to win a hand you only risk few chips, check or fold but going all in is a BAD move that will likely cost all of your stack.

    The govt committed almost all their remaining chips with the constituyente because without it they had:

    TIME. They would’ve remained in power until 2019 and still being a legitimate govt. Furthermore, they would’ve gone like a bad govt but still the tsj and the fiscalia under their control to avoid prosecution.

    STABILITY: after the mishap of the revocatorio people accepted that this govt would remain in power for two more years.

    STAY IN POWER: their CNE could’ve opened the path to position a pro-govt candidate to run for presidency. They could’ve banned the best candidates of the opposition, even divided the opposition and so many other tricks and had a real shot to at least having a puppet there.

    Enjoy DISNEY: they wouldn’t have faced any serious international accusation.

    CREDIBILITY: they would’ve kept chavismo alive and together.

    MORE Stability: they would’ve kept international recognition based on their legitimacy.

    SECOND REFLEXION. Reaching the July 31st (D-day). Their LIFESAVER?

    Basically the govt set a timer and the people’s reaction is (as shown everyday in the streets) that they must oust the govt before the D-day is here in order to survive.

    THIRD REFLEXION. After D-Day. The JORDAN river.

    What if the govt remains in power with its own constituyente? will clinch them in power, will be the promised land finally theirs?

    Well, they will have all the power to imprison, shoot, silence, ban and steal. TRUE. But what they win will be null (ZERO chips) because they’ve already been doing that (nothing to add here) without any constraints.

    They will have a peaceful country and the surrended people will abandon the streets. FALSE. People are in the streets because they are starving. People will leave the streets either dead or with food (or a new govt which will give them hope). This constituyente does NOT produce food and only produces loathe. Therefore expect more and more unrest in the streets. The govt will win ZERO chips again.

    All in all: THE GOVT WILL WIN NOTHING.

    (Even worse the govt loses more chips: popularity, legitimacy, more reasons to be prosecuted, and the image built of their “socialismo XXI” only darkens more)

    FOURTH REFLEXION: why did they go all in?

    One sentence: THE GOVT DOESN’T HAVE A CLUE.

    Ok. Some people will wonder about this statement. So let’s review the recent history.

    First, Chvèz built a movement with a strong fanbase nationally and internationally, amassed all unimaginable power and past it to his sons (he used all the oil boom money, indebted and wrecked havoc to the country in order to achieve that)

    Second, his sons were chosen based on loyalty to him not based on skills (chvz had a lot of skills for a politician please don’t fool yourself)

    Third, let’s pick the best example of the political skills of the members of the current govt:

    Back in 2015, the opposition won 112 seats in the parlament to reach the 2/3. In terms of constitutional power 111 seats is similar to 84 seats, or mayoría simple. By the other hand 112 seats means overehelming power to change the remaining powers institutions. So denying the opposition the last seat was a must for the govt and they tried but they couldn’t.

    This govt and its members didn’t have a CLUE. Only a tip: the govt invested a lot of money and time to get the Maracay circuit (1). They invented the fake ismael garcia, also invented min unidad party. They even created the “alianza para el cambio ” (loudly marketed as a opposition party but the votes were afded to the psuv). They bundled all kind of tricks together as they thought they were going to sweep everywhere But they lost. And they lodt badly, even the aforementioned circuit by 20 points. 20 POINTS! And it happened in the same state where they lost the last circuit by less than 100 votes. Even more, Aragua was ruled at that time by the now vicepresident.

    Imagine Chvz getting 44% of the popular vote and with all the power he controlled, including the puppets of the cne, the likely outcome would’ve been totally different. Back in 2010, Chvz with 48% of the popular vote got 60% of the members of the AN (and claimed an indisputable win) and this govt with almost the same percentage got only half of it (and received an indisputable defeat). They couldn’t even steal the seat 112 after three days trying to figure it out how to steal only a bunch of votes.

    CONCLUSION: the same CLUELESS strategists think they will sweep the opposition in 2017 as they wrongly thought in 2015 but the difference is that this time they put ALL THEIR STACK IN RISK.

  22. Grenades tossed on the Supreme Court building by a stolen CICPC hilocopter tonight, and tanks on the streets around Miraflores. Things are getting interesting, fast.

    • granted I am not a big twitter person but from the first video I watched with “venezuela helicopter” it seemed apparent that the video guy knew the helicopter was going to turn left before it tracked that way. I could be wrong/watching the wrong feeds or whatever but it looks to me like a Erdogan move.

  23. Things were a little stale lately until this breath of fresh air… Miraflores? Anybody there? Don’t you feel a nice fresquito in the back?
    We want to see Rodriguez Torres’ dossier on the drug dealing VP and Godgivenhair.
    Do not bet against the Attorney General releasing some good stuff from her own stash.

  24. Por supuesto que la constituyente va en serio. Estos tipos siempre van en serio. Es una jugada ofensiva y defensiva al mismo tiempo. Si funciona, acaban con todos sus enemigos de una vez. Si no funciona al menos forzarían una negociación que les permita mantener el poder hasta el 2019.Puede ser un error de cálculo o una apuesta arriesgada pero definitivamente no es un bluff.

  25. la constituyente es una farsa flagrante , nadie cree en ella , la pueden usar para mal disimular un acto de fuerza que ya han decidido para aferrarse al poder por que no les queda otra alternativa ….., es como MPJ declarando que el gano las elecciones del 53 contr jovito…., a nadie engana ni fuera ni dentro del pais , los sentimientos de los venezolanos no cambian por que cumplan con los vacuos rituales de una formalidad , el odio esta alli, y seguira alli , peor que cuando MPJ por que toda la comunidad internacional los condena y la gente adentro esta arrecha por la pesima situacion (se permita manifestarlo o no)…..es una herida purulenta que hiede y empeora….., ademas el pais enfrenta un crisis economica que se agrava y al reventar puede traer muy seriaas consecuencias ……………con o sin constituyente la intencion del regimen es instalar un despotismo , que escenifique un auto golpe tampoco cambia las cosas a nivel de lo que la gente sabe y siente…..el gobierno quiere instalar una fortaleza de violencia sobre un piso cenagoso..

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