How Internal Chavista Tensions Impact the Mexico Talks

Here's a comment from our PRR team extracted from last Friday's report

The talk of tensions within chavismo has been in the air since the latter days of the Chávez era. They’ve been an object of study, and for some analysts, even a possible cause for the government’s eventual demise. Chavismo’s implosion, they call it. But eventually, we learned that even with core differences between factions, the government party (PSUV) is able to fall in line and cocoon to protect itself when attacked. The question still remains, however, what happens during the times when they are on the offensive.

We’ve explained in our Political Risk Report how inner tensions within chavismo reduce the chances of the regime and opposition agreeing to anything. This week, we come back to that subject in the context of the Mexico negotiations. According to sources within PSUV, Diosdado Cabello is aligning himself with the grassroots and paramilitary wings of the regime against the deals that Jorge Rodriguez could broker in Mexico with the U.S. and the Venezuelan opposition. Lately, he’s been under pressure to restore the political clout he has lost in recent years—evidenced by the lack of support his candidates received in the PSUV primaries.

If he does so, he’d be repeating a pattern we’ve seen in Venezuelan politics for years. It was, after all, Diosdado Cabello who torpedoed the recall referendum in 2016, with small-town judges loyal to him issuing decisions to stop the process.

By sabotaging negotiations, the radicals (yes, there can be radicals within radicals) in the ruling alliance—way more influential than opposition radicals—contribute decisively to the political stagnation in Venezuela: while they work to defend their own positions in the chavista power ecosystem, they feed the vicious circle that stimulates human rights violations and political persecution, which causes more international pressure, increases radicalization, and dissolves the population’s ability to recover their political rights and improve living conditions in the country, year after year.

Nicolás Maduro and his inner circle have been working to assemble their own faction within the military with members of the Armed Forces of proven loyalty, in a move designed to push back against the interests and influence of Diosdado Cabello and Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino. Moreover, their move looks to reinforce the position 

“The rift between Maduro and Cabello adds to growing tensions in the government and the ruling party (PSUV) regarding what’s to come after the November elections. Cilia Flores argues that the chavista leadership must remain mostly civilian, given the widespread rejection of the population and chavista grassroots of the military. Regime sources point to Jorge Rodríguez—current speaker of the National Assembly—and Tareck El Aissami—vice president for the economic area, and Oil minister—, close allies to Maduro and civilians, as two of the most powerful and influential members of the government, who will certainly play key roles in any future power structure. As discussed in a recent PRR, El Aissami has been the driving force behind the timid—but notable—change in economic policy in the past two years, during which the government stopped enforcing price and exchange controls, and allowed the U.S. dollar to flow freely and progressively replace the bolivar as the currency of choice to set prices and wages. According to a source, El Aissami, who faces charges for drug trafficking in a U.S. federal court, would be more than willing to sacrifice some of his former allies (including Cabello), in an attempt to improve his image before the United States. He’s also said to be trying to lower his profile—if not his power—within the government, for the same reasons.”

When chavismo is on the offensive it’s a free-for-all, it seems. Their rifts widen and they’re more open to make power moves on each other, which in turn makes them look more vulnerable. The problem is that in these instances (as well as in times of peace, if there ever were any), the outcome rarely brings down a prominent regime figure but a somehow convenient stalemate for the status quo which doesn’t allow them to make assertive moves. For instance, there’s clear support for El Aissami’s economic strategy. But why don’t we see a stronger push in the National Assembly for the oil industry reform?

There’s been a lot of talk lately on tensions within the opposition and how internal negotiations are key to define a path towards a defining strategy, but it’s nothing compared to the black box on the other side—which is the one full of surprises.

In Friday’s PRR we dove deep into what’s going on behind closed doors as both government and opposition take on the Mexico talks and the November election.