In the days ahead of the December 2015 elections for the National Assembly, one big debate among the Venezuelan opposition was about how the government would react to this strange new reality where they didn’t control every branch of the government.

On one side were the nihilists like yours-truly who thought they would never, ever accept an accommodation with an opposition-run National Assembly, that the one thing we could be sure about was that chavistas could not, and would not, share power, ever. On the other side, there were people like my friend Dorothy Kronick who thought that given a bad enough result Maduro & Co. would swallow hard and find a modus vivendi with a fully empowered National Assembly, and that at any rate acting as though they might was in our best interest.

Knowing what happened over the next 18 months, you’d think I’d feel pretty good about my side of the argument back then. But I never have, because I think the logic of Dorothy’s reply has never really been put to the test.

Quico has written that, even if faced with an unambiguous choice between compromise and irrelevance, chavista politicians won’t negotiate not in public, not in secret, not ever. They never have, and therefore they never will. But desperate times, desperate measures: mothers bench-press cars, climbers self-amputate with dull knives. An oppo supermajority would change PSUV incentives, and incentives, they tell me, shape behavior.

For Dorothy, past reactions couldn’t really predict how chavismo would react when it was really up against the wall. And the fact that Maduro remains in power is all the proof anyone should need that their back hasn’t really been put up against a wall. Dorothy’s argument, in other words, hasn’t really been refuted. We won’t be able to say chavismo definitively won’t budge until it genuinely faces an existential threat: negotiate, or lose everything.

This was the debate that was on my mind as I watched Maduro hurtling head-first into the total disaster of a Constituent Assembly now scheduled to be elected at the end of July. The Assembly proposal is so crazy, so destabilizing, so plainly untenable, that it’s always seemed to me to be likely to be an unconventional bit of pre-negotiation positioning. The proposal is too unpopular inside chavismo, inside the government bureaucracy and inside the armed forces to be treated as something they actually intend to do. The risks are way, way too great.

I buy him two Big Macs if elections for a Constituent Assembly go ahead as planned on July 30th.

To press forward with an Assembly the country plainly doesn’t want is to invite the kind of civil conflict that I don’t believe the people around Nicolás Maduro actually want. It’s to court the next wave of Oscar Pérezes, this time inside the Armed Forces and organized, to attempt a power play. It’s to invite a situation so explosive and uncontrollable that no politician with a working self-preservation instinct could want it.

And for all the ways I find them distasteful, I do think the ruling clique possesses the rock bottom ability to calculate rationally how to seek to preserve itself.

Which is why I was happy to take Raúl Stolk up when he proposed a bet: I buy him two Big Macs if elections for a Constituent Assembly go ahead as planned on July 30th.

I still think I’ll win that bet, because I’ve come to accept Dorothy’s logic from as long ago as 2015. I think when faced with an existential threat they probably will negotiate. And I think the civilian and military disorder that would follow if they double-down on a Constituyente this month is so dire, it does constitute an existential threat to chavismo.

Are they spinning this psy-op out to its craziest extremes? They sure are. That’s how brinksmanship works!

But if I’m wrong, and Maduro doesn’t intend to call off the Constituyente elections ahead of July 30th, I still think I have some Mickey-Ds coming my way: because I think the shitstorm that will ensue in that scenario will be so intense they won’t be able to hold the election. There’s no Plan Republica on earth that can safeguard an election 86% of the country opposes and 30% of the country is militantly committed to stopping. It isn’t possible.

Come to think of it, I think the last time I had a Big Mac was like 2003 or so. It’s been years and years. They were pretty good, too, if I remember right. Can’t wait to sink my teeth into those two…

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.


  1. Personally, I truly believe that the most radical of Chavismo would truly prefer to burn the country to the ground, themselves included, than give up power. Their hatred runs deeper than their will to live.

  2. The major factor that stopped Maduro and company from sharing power, isn’t the fanaticism that drives their desire for power, it was simply avoiding prosecution for all of the crimes committed and hidden from the public while they were in complete control.
    The old adage about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely is so true.
    The Mud made a very wise decision to hold a plebiscite. It is generally accepted that the regime will report whatever numbers they need after the vote. With no oversight, to contradict the regime they assumed they could push the new constitution through.
    Mud will be able to show real numbers. Perhaps the realization that more than 50% of the eligible voters have expressed their displeasure with the regime’s attempt to mimic Cuba, will cause the schism within the armed forces that has long been hoped for.
    I still think Maduro and the merry band of lunatics that surround him will try to push the referendum through. Castro has strong influence on Maduro. Maduro’s fight for survival is also Castro’s fight for survival. No other country is going to assume the welfare payments that Cuba is currently receiving from Venezuela.
    I truly hope that the delicious irony of Cuban intervention in Venezuela results in the collapse of the Castro regime also.
    I admit that I thought the regime would have collapsed by now. The Constituent is Maduro’s last stand.
    International pressure will shut Venezuela off from any markets and seize the spoils of their criminal activity.

  3. En definitiva: solo sabemos que no sabemos nada. Hay que esperar entonces los acontecimientos para poder dejar de elucubrar y saber finalmente qué está ocurriendo tras las cortinas. Que de buenas a primeras liberen a Leopoldo López indica que se cuece algo importante pero hay que seguir esperando para saber qué.

  4. In 1,2,3… TSJ declares plebiscite illegal and gets out all their forces to close down all the polling stations.

    Later today???

    • Another possibility is that they will use colectivos to disrupt the polling stations. My take is they will use both tactics.

  5. It’s funny because the big Mac isn’t being sold in Venezuela for the longest time, they made up something called the big melt, but even that one is in short supply

  6. Once again, I believe the ANC will be held as planned, unless… (wild card). It’s really NM/cadre/Cuba, with everything to lose (freedom/wealth/political power) against wild card true-believer Chavistas who aren’t dirty enough to lose much–who really has the greater power right now?–probably the former, but we could be surprised by the wild card. Risking the ANC/possible crash-and-burn for NM/cadre is probably preferable for the Maduristas to the certain crash-and-burn for them of not holding the ANC. We will see which faction (Maduristas/Chavistas) holds the most power when we see, probably this week, what happens with the TSJ/LOD impasse.

  7. What can the government negotiate the ANC for? Nothing that would be acceptable to the opposition AND would not make them lose power that, by now, means for them to go to prison. Hence, they will die on the ANC hill.

    • I tend to agree with Quico that they’ll negotiate and don’t want the constituyente, but I have this same doubt: what happens if the opposition doesn’t accept their terms? What can chavismo accept that the opposition can rally around? Would amnesty be enough? I do think they’ll do anything they can to maintain their power, but negotiation probably ends in them eventually giving up power (either immediately or in the next 1-2 years). So, based on that logic, would they see negotiation as a possible path forward for them?

  8. Retroceder pa’lante. They will run their July 30 election, even if patently chucuta. I can see them open a few polling places say in Fuerte Tiuna and one in Miraflores and call it a great success.

    Over the tenure of Chavismo they built a military that is on its own image. Make no mistake, this is not Venezuela’s military it is THEIR military. Rocio San Miguel deflated my expectation of schism in it with this inteview:

    “Chávez ya tenía el control de Petróleos de Venezuela, el pilar económico del país, y necesitaba controlar el pilar del poder de fuego del país. En esa segunda purga fueron apartados entre 1.000 y 1.200 oficiales, que luego serían dados de baja, definitivamente, por la vía jurídica. También en ese momento comienza el slogan Patria Socialismo o Muerte, que es una pintura roja que se echa sobre la Fuerza Armada Nacional para que los incómodos, naturalmente, se apartaran. Posteriormente, se han hecho cinco reformas legales de la Ley Orgánica de las Fuerzas Armadas, la más reciente acometida por Maduro, que inserta, entre otras cosas, el concepto de la unión cívico militar”

    To me the most impressive feature of FANB (never forget that B for Bolivarian) is that they faithfully reflect Chavismo’s historic ignorance. If they only knew that communism does not work and if they only knew that the military always make for an nonperforming government!

    With the Leopoldo’s release Saturday one has to wonder who is the puppet master, but certainly Maduro is now a figure head for a military Chavista cabal which will probably take over after Maduro is disposed via constituyente.

    • And one more thing.

      Another genetic feature of Chavismo is its loathing for MUD. If you read Aporrea you see that as much as they hate Maduro for ‘betraying’ Chavez legacy they hate in equal manner la cuarta republica/escualidos/you name it by which they cannot tolerate making common cause with MUD. This effectively renders dissident chavismo feckless politically.

      This leaves the men in green thinking they are duty bound to restore the greatness of the authentic Chavez project, without the less civilians guevones.

    • The RSM article is a must read to understand the inner machinations of the Ven. military. Her 70% probability of a Venezuelan perpetual version of the Cuban model does not take into account the damage/destabilization this would mean for Ven.’s neighbors, and for the entire SA region, which, to forestall, or after already in movement, would by NECESSITY (caps for the cognoscenti readers) imply a decisive (like it, or not) corrective response by the Hemispheric leader(s)….

      • Then, as RSM says in so many words that they now don’t know, the Ven. men in green, to their chagrin, would forcibly be made to learn what it means to be “on the wrong side of history”

  9. I think that if you win, he owes you twenty Big Macs. Because this isn’t wholly about the actual odds. The other eighteen Big Macs are due to the fact that a cataclysm was sidestepped.

  10. If this were poker I would see your two and raise by at least two big macs. My read from afar is that Maduro is creating realities he can later bargain away when and only if it becomes absolutely a matter of survival. One of these realities is a new constitution. The election will take place and the drive to create a new Cuba continues. The international community, the Pope and other intermediaries will bargain to avoid bloodshed. Maduro has nothing to lose.

  11. “The one thing we could be sure about was that chavistas could not, and would not, share power, ever.”

    The whole Chavista racket was set up on a military, not a democratic, model, with Chavez, and now Maduro, as the commander and chief. The commander and chief GIVES orders. He does not negotiate those orders with the troops (the pueblo, MUD, et al). Listen to Delcy prattle on about how the constituyente will happen no matter what – because they said so (a direct order).

    So in my book, Maduro will never just negotiate his way out of power, in any away, to any degree, at any time. The financial crisis will sooner than later slam his back against the wall, then we will see some desperate times I’m afraid. As many have said recently, Maduro really has nothing to negotiate, and without the military covering his back, he’d already be gone. The question is how to limit the damage till this house of cards falls once and for all.

  12. I don’t believe that Maduro will call off the constituyente and then negotiate. It doesn’t appear that he is actually charge or has any power at all. It looks more like the Wizard(s) behind the curtain are just pulling his strings. I don’t believe he has the intelligence to perform the forward in debt thinking required to create and pull off the strategies implied in by this discussion. Lately most of his public speeches are basically incoherent babbling. It is just hard to correlate the two things shrewd political Strategy and incoherent babbling.

    So it appears to depend on the Wizard(s) behind the seen to determine the next step. They are not “Chavismos”. They are only using that as flag to wave and a curtain to hide their real identities (Cubans, Drug Lords, Thugs/Criminals of various flavors, etc.). As long as they control the forces with the guns they’ll move forward. If they lose that they will just cut their losses and run.

  13. Can I be a part of that bet too? I want a Big Mac.

    Anyway, I think Maduro wants to hold the Constituyente, as I’m sure I’ve told you before.

  14. Quico, you are trying to describe things in such a way that you would never lose….which is a chavista thing to do.
    At least describe the shit storm. By the way: most of us who believe there will be that ANC also think there will be more chaos, so I do not know whom you are then betting against.

  15. In 1962 Fidel Castro demanded from the Soviet Union not to dismantle the missile sites. He would rather have Cuba obliterated from the map.

    So, it is in their nature not to care about country or people. They care only about their ideology which is their identity.

    So, Kronick was right in the paragraph you quoted. But she is wrong about communists because mothers bench-press cars because they love their children and climbers self-amputate with dull knives because they love themselves or have loved ones that need them. Communists simply do not care.

    You said: “I think the shitstorm that will ensue in that scenario will be so intense they won’t be able to hold the election”. I bet they will.

    And then their fight will begin for real, it has not begun yet because their survival has not been in danger yet.

    • Right on–their fight will begin post-ANC, but, let’s see for how long Venezuelans are willing to kill themselves for Cuba’s sake. In 1962, the U.S.-Russia agreement was to dismantle the longer-range missiles. But, shorter-range missiles capable of hitting S. Florida were left in place–the USSR unilaterally some months later voluntarily withdrew these missiles also, because they did not trust Fidel….

      • MUD called “la hora cero” and rightly so despite HRA not liking it called “hora cero”.

        I would rather say “hora cero con un corto tiempo de re reaccion”

  16. I’m getting the feeling from Kepler et al that Maduro is incapable of limiting the damage or even trying to survive the pending shit storm, when there’s no money left to even borrow and no food to eat and no medicine at all. Wonder how many others feel the whole Socialismo experiment has to simply meld down all the way – no matter the fallout – before any restoration can even begin.

    I believe we call that fatalism.

    • I am not saying that. I am saying that
      1 Quico is defining outcomes in such a way that he can say later whatever comes that he was right and
      2 Quico and others have said time after time that the end is nigh, comparing this and that with the Velvet revolution, with the Arab revolution, with whatever.
      This in my opinion is counter productive because it makes us blind to the important differences and to the efforts undertaken by thugs to keep the status quo.

      The change will take place slowly and it won’t be linear at all. The sooner we understand that, the more smoothly and shorter it will become.

    • Some say that Allende killed himself, some say that he was killed by his closest allies to prevent a surrender. That is the spirit.

      Let me quote:

      “A revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate. We must create the pedagogy of the The Wall!”

      Che Guevara

      • According to Allende’s secretary, who passed by his office just before, and soon after, his death, Allende killed himself–no Castro bodyguards, certainly no CIA around. But, Allende was a gentleman–not the type of calana running Venezuela.

        • In the days before the coup, Allende spoke several times of José Balmaceda, an autocratic reformer who was President of Chile in 1886-1891. Balmaceda provoked a civil war (with Chile’s Congress); when his faction was defeated he killed himself. Allende said he would follow Balmaceda’s example, and that he would never be taken alive. After the coup, Allende’s staff and family were flown into exile, and spoke of his suicide – until the legend of his assassination sprang up, when they all changed to the new Truth.

  17. Don’t know if it’s been discussed elsewhere on this site, but it was reported yesterday that narco-general Hugo “El Pollo” Carvajal has come out against the constituyente for the violence he believes will follow.

    One by one it looks like the alta-chavistas are peeling away.

  18. The ANC and its effects are being driven not by chavismo and the chavismo aparatik but by the puppet masters. Non of the big figure heads in play hold actual power, except a few big fish ike Aisaami, cabello, etc. For the rest they are all characters in a ply written and scripted and produced by the cubans. (financed with our own. money btw! how sad.)

    The plot goes this way: loot all there is to loot, for as long as it is possible, and when it is not longer sustainable, pull the self destruct button and flee.

    The ANC is the self destruct.

    Venezuela may be fighting for decades like the Central American region of the 80’s on back to back civil wars, spits, further invasions, debtor imposed conditions, etc. … and the criminals will be far away enjoying their looted booty.

    All efforts towards defusing this ANC are in the highest national interest.

    After much thought, I have personally decided that participation in this plebiscito of July 15th is key to demonstrate such an in contestable 75% plus rejection of all things Regime, that might be this fuse to prevent ANC.

    It does not means Venezuela is saved, just that we survive to fight another day…

    The BATNA for Maduro et alias has to be flee and give up power, else stay put and face death or worse, justice.

  19. Don’t know if it’s been discussed elsewhere on this site, but it was reported yesterday that narco-general Hugo “El Pollo” Carvajal has come out against the constituyente for the violence he believes will follow.

    Reported where, Rubiocito?

    • A number of sites, quoting comments he made on his own website about the country being “at the door of a civil war” and not being ready for any election.

      I’d do a linky but don’t know how with this phone. Fortunately, google is your friend, Juancito.

  20. What about the possibility that the Constituyente could be a way of sidelining Maduro? After all, the Assembly – assuming it goes through – would have authority to re-organize the government. This could allow Maduro-aligned Chavistas to emerge as alternative power centers to Maduro himself. Mighn’t some Chavistas support the Constituyente as a way of turning attention *away* from Maduro – with the whole scheme leading to some re-branding of Chavismo?

  21. Quico: I think that your arguments are flawed because, at their core, they assume Maduro & Co. are POLITICIANS.

    I think they are not: They are just left-wing extremists that happened to seize power. Bargaining is out of the question, no matter what.

  22. Francisco, you are reading Maduro wrong. He doesn’t have the cunning and intelligence to plan the Constituent Assembly as a future bargaining chip. He doesn’t have the common sense to cancel it due to stiff opposition on the ground as he is so insulated from reality that he doesn’t know what’s going on. This is a man who thinks he is fighting “economic saboteurs” when he is really fighting market forces. The Constituyente elections will go ahead and only the army can stop it but it won’t. Get your 2 burgers ready.

    • Oh, he’s stupid.

      But I don’t think he’s stupid enough to ACTUALLY believe VZ’s problems are caused by economic saboteurs.

  23. I don’t get it:

    What if they hold their illegal election, and no one shows up to vote?Which is what’s going to happen.

    Didn’t Maduro just slit his own throat without realizing it?

    The illegitimacy of this Constituent Assembly will be deafening, not just in VZ but via international relations.

  24. This is the moment for 350.

    It would be great if Leopoldo Lopez does the same thing and defy Maduro by climbing on his roof and calling all Venezuelans to vote on Sunday, the video clip will go viral.

    Also for Antonio Ledezma and all others in house arrest.

    And also for Luisa Ortega to call for chavistas to go out and vote on Sunday.

  25. De qué lado cae la constituyente? Mazodando o la combatiente? O elegiran a un mediador?

    En la constiguyente de chávez, éste puso a miquelena por encima de peña para no correr riesgos.

    Si es la combatiente todo sigue igual pero si no, de pronto el país va a tener a un gobierno bicefalo con 9/10 de rechazo y además profundamente divididos.

    Opción 3: alguien tipo la delcy (se pronuncia dersi). Dersi podría servir de balanza entre dos corrientes de poder enfrentadas por el control total del gob y del país.

    Cuál opción le estira la permanencia en el poder a los hijos de chávez?

    La primera opción es la jugada segura de maduro que pudiera permitirle una purga incrementando la oposiciôn a su gob.

    La segunda dejaría la escena servida para un intento de autogolpe que terminaría con un bando eliminando al otro (verbatim).

    Con Dersi se podría equilibrar un tercer grupo que podría llegar a aliarse con uno de los dos bandos y ups … otra vez terminando de acabarse entre ellos.

    Conclusión: considerando que es un nido de alacranes, una purga entre ellos podría ser la consecuencia inmediata de la constituyente. Sin duda reduciendo sus chances de permanecer en el poder.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here