A Pair of Twos

After yesterday’s referendum, the government’s left with a horrendously weak hand. But I’ve seen enough Texas Hold’Em to know good players win with a pair of twos all the damn time.

It was an exhilarating day yesterday, culminating in 7.186 million reasons why. But it was also just a prologue. As the clock ticks away from July 16th and inches towards the 30th, how will moods change in each camp?

MUD and chavismo know how high the stakes are: the loser risks annihilation. We may hate the winner-take-all aspect of our politics so often described as the root of our crisis, pero esto es lo que hay. If the opposition wins, chavismo is ousted and its hierarchs tried. If Miraflores wins, everyone who protested ends up in prison, exile or the re-education camps Maduro’s so keen on setting up.

Chavismo has one final hand to play, and despite the huge stakes, all it takes is a well played bluff to buy it a bit of time until it can install its Constituyente.

Back in the day of the Texas Hold’Em frenzy, when even transnational sports broadcasters like ESPN bought the TV rights for a game of cards, I learned how valuable a good poker face is. Hold’Em relies more heavily on deceit and coercion than in the more gentlemanly poker you’re used to. In the game’s jargon, a tight-aggressive strategy is favored. It feels bloody.

Having the stronger hand ought to be all that matters, but in Hold’Em as in Venezuela, it just ain’t so. You’d think that 100+ days of protests, over 90 deaths and a general loathing for the trimardito would be enough, but life ain’t fair.

Time is on no one’s side, really. It just ticks.

It’s been some time since chavismo was dealt a good hand, to the point that movement is likely to implode if sent packing. But they have scraped off meager wins here and there, buying them three years of a presidency that was thought to be stillborn. These guys know how to win on a shitty hand.

On July 16th, the flop the first three common cards— was revealed. MUD has a solid hand that can win in a heartbeat if it were up to them. Maduro’s holding a pair of twos, the weakest of all possible combinations, but good enough to bet on if your life depends on it.

Now Maduro has to keep his poker face on long enough to see the government through July 30th. He has to convince MUD with what Germans call turteln, the whispering of sweet nothings: empty promises of concessions, a scaling down of confrontational rhetoric, caerles a paja pues. Zapatero will be happy; MUD moderates, surprised; and the radicals will feel just empowered enough to think they’ve got the bull by the horns.

But MUD, its supporters and the Armed Forces must be aware that for chavismo, the Constituyente must be at least perceived as inevitable. Just long enough to turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. If no one thinks the Constituyente can be stopped, nobody can stop it. Anything else achieved beyond that is a bonus.

With so much riding on it, resources will not be spared: CLAP bags, housing promises, pay rises for the troops, intimidation, threatened terminations, physical harassment, locking up a dirigente or two… These guys aren’t going to leave any trick unused in building the myth of the Constituyente’s inevitability.

You’d think that 100+ days of protests, over 90 deaths and a general loathing for the trimardito would be enough, but life ain’t fair.

In the game of turning votes into treason and shit into gold, they have the upper hand. As the clock ticks away from the 16th and nearer to the 30th, people will be waiting to see some concrete results.

Time is on no one’s side, really. It just ticks. Momentum might lead you to believe it beats to the drum of chavismo demise, but does it beat in favor of a MUD that isn’t sure if the ANC is a bluff or not?

There’s still two more cards to be dealt, and it’s up to the losing party to turn the odds in its favor. Two weeks after the popular consultation comes what might be Maduro’s last hand at poker, ever. Or the first of many, if he is duly crowned champion, after cheating his opposition into thinking that lousy hand of his is four of a kind instead of blanks.

People will feel cheated if after so much —and it really has been so much— nothing comes of it. Fighting on the streets will always be an option, even a popular one. But, for how long do we have the numbers to sustain that?

MUD has two weeks to turn —or at least spin— the outcome of July 16th into the beginning of the end. If trickery and bluffing buys chavismo two weeks, they stand to win the pot, remain champions, and keep Miraflores, por más pataleta que haya.

Two weeks in no man’s land is all chavismo needs to buy.