Juan is the Loneliest Number

Here's a short extract of last Friday's Political Risk Report. Venezuela stakeholders are moving on—and away—from the idea that was the caretakership

Although the subject of Venezuelan politics is usually stale, if you look beyond the telenovela hijacking our public opinion right now, you’ll be able to see how the different stakeholders are starting to realign for 2022.

As November 21st approaches, regional elections have taken center stage in the Venezuelan political arena, with little to no talk of the Mexico negotiations.  Last Sunday, October 10th, the CNE held an elections drill with the presence of, among others, a Carter Center delegation tasked with assessing whether they should send an observer mission in November, to join the mission announced by the European Union.

The Carter Center will bring bad memories for myriads of skeptics about elections under chavista rule: the think tank founded by the former Democrat U.S. president is associated in Venezuela to the international recognition of the recall referendum that Chávez won in 2004, and the appeasement policy that the U.S. and the international community embraced—according to scholars like Miguel Martínez Meucci—to deal with the chavista movement, which grew stronger after prevailing in the conflicts of 2002 and 2003.

The drill was as messy as you could’ve imagined, but what sucked in the attention was the reaction of Jorge Rodríguez and the CNE to a statement by Josep Borrell late last week. During an “informative breakfast” for Nueva Economía Forum in Madrid, Borrell said the following: “If the opposition decides to go (to the elections) and that is a path that helps to obtain more institutionalization of the opposition, am I going to say that I’m not going to send an observation mission because the elections are fraudulent?” Rodríguez took what was given to him and basically said that it was a violation of the MOU and that if that was the EU’s stance he’d rather not have the mission in the country.

Borrell seems to have said out loud what he should’ve kept quiet—unless there was some ulterior motive to tease chavismo, which doesn’t seem likely.

The other political development is the continuing isolation of Juan Guaidó, Leopoldo López, and their party, Voluntad Popular (VP). The Monómeros issue in Colombia has become the perfect opportunity for chavismo to reinforce its narrative of corruption in the Guaidó administration, as well as a cue for Primero Justicia (PJ) to distance itself from VP, now that the Colombia-based company was intervened by the Colombian government and the interim government-appointed board is suspected of mismanagement.

A statement issued this week by the Venezuelan chapter of Transparency International intensified the unease about the role of the caretaker government in the management of Venezuelan assets abroad, an unease that’s being tainted by despair. Things, of course, are more complicated. In an interview by Politiks, the former attorney general of the caretaker government, José Ignacio Hernández, said that more than “assets,” what Venezuela has are “liabilities” given the magnitude of the Venezuelan debt. And this is not a new situation. However, as pressure has been mounting over the protection of some of these assets by the U.S., the feeling of impending doom is unavoidable. This goes in line with the grim picture that oil expert Francisco Monaldi painted in his latest interview for Caracas Chronicles: it’s likely Venezuela will end up losing CITGO to its creditors.

The intervention and declaration of bankruptcy of Monómeros hint at how Colombia may be preparing for the end of Guaidó’s caretakership. In a timely move, the Maduro government lifted the three containers that blocked the main bridge between Venezuela and Colombia on the Táchira border. Those containers were installed as a barricade against the incoming humanitarian aid that Guaidó himself tried to get into Venezuelan territory in February 2019, in the old naïve times of the Cúcuta concert. Beyond some details around the reopening of the border, this is a powerful sign of the goodbye to the caretaker government era. Every day, more people join the chorus of players reminding that the Transition Statute expires in January. As it was expected, the failure to produce a transition has turned Guaidó’s caretakership into a straight jacket for many Venezuela stakeholders.

Chavismo, watching from its corner, is already thinking about the day after the regional elections, when a process to establish relationships with the rest of the world should begin, probably including some new faces in the PSUV leadership.

In the full report, you’ll find information on what’s going behind the curtains of the Venezuelan political struggle. You can subscribe to the PRR here.