Succession, But Make It Chávez

Just like every Monday, here's an extract of our Political Risk Report. This week, however, we had to infuse it with an extra oomph just to keep up with everything that happened during the weekend

This was the only good quality picture we could find of Arreaza with Chávez

Weekends have become quite prolific for Venezuelan political nuttyness, but we just had one for the ages. On one side, we have the opposition trying to rebuild itself by playing Jenga, and on the other, we have chavismo exercising… chavismo.

Let’s take it from the top, and in bullets:

  • After Freddy Superlano was rebanned from running by the TSJ and the Barinas election was scratched, the quick fix to finding a new candidate to run in the January revote was the familiar route of “appointing the wife” as a new candidate. This was done in the past in Táchira and Zulia, with Daniel Ceballos and Manuel Rosales and their respective wives, as well as in the San Diego municipality in Carabobo after Enzo Scarano were sent to jail. However, after rejecting visa extensions for the EU observation mission (in practice they kicked them out), the regime went full Daniel Ortega on team Superlano, and barred Superlano’s wife from running and Julio Cesar Reyes as well—who was the next in line. 
  • In turn, after Argenis Chávez resigned from the Barinas governorship and said he would not run for a second term, chavismo went out and got the saddest Chávez to run: Jorge Arreaza. Arreaza is Chavez’s ex son-in-law and perhaps one of the people who have been bumped around the most from post to post in the Chávezdom. It seems that for the government it’s imperative that a Chávez relative of sorts must rule Barinas. Our own Caribbean version of Succession.
  • The parallel government-leaning opposition appointed a parallel Superlano to run for the Barinas governorship. Adolfo Superlano was the person who filed the challenge against the election which resulted in the TSJ barring Freddy Superlano. This would confuse many voters, since they have the same last name and the parallel Superlano will run under a parallel opposition card similar to the one under which Freddy ran. 
  • And now… it seems that the AD currently controlled by Bernabe Gutierrez (the parallel Acción Democrática!) appointed the one and only Claudio Fermin (who doesn’t live in Barinas either) as its candidate. This was fascinating to see: the CNE website didn’t allow Fermin to register because he didn’t live in Barinas, and in a short time, he was miraculously habilitated. 

  • Meanwhile, the opposition has generated its fair amount of noise as well. During the weekend, Julio Borges, who was Foreign Minister to Juan Guaido’s caretakership, announced he would resign to his post. Isadora Zubillaga and Antonio Ecarri Bolivar are taking charge, from Europe, of the interim government international relations. Although it was expected for a while, as we’ve discussed in detail in the Political Risk Report, Borges sort of went out with a bang. Not only did he say that the caretakership had to end and reaffirmed his recommendation that the assets it controls should be placed in a trust, but he was very vocal about the problems with mismanagement and corruption within Juan Guaidó’s caretaker presidency AKA the “interim government,” particularly regarding the Monómeros scandal. He also spoke about the urgency of retaking domestic politics instead of depending so much on foreign aid. But honestly, more than a push to restructure the opposition it felt more as if Borges was finally heading the advice of his lawyer to take distance from an upcoming splatter.
  • While the war between Voluntad Popular and Primero Justicia went public, Guaidó was occupied supporting the Superlanos in Barinas and most likely didn’t have time to react to it. Leopoldo Lopez, however, suggested during a TV interview with Colombia-based NT24 that Henrique Capriles may have links with the government and hidden interests (referring to his inclination to negotiate with government-leaning opposition AKA the alacranes). 

Mexico Goes On

This section is an extract of our Political Risk Report. If you want to read the whole thing, you can download a free sample here.

This course of events doesn’t mean that returning to Mexico is out of the horizon. We expect the European Union to insist on restarting negotiations, despite the harsh preliminary report of the MOE and the fact that the government didn’t extend the visas for the observers to complete their planned mission in Venezuela. We expect the opposition to be in Mexico no matter what, even after the opposition candidate in Barinas, Freddy Superlano, was deprived of his well-earned victory by the regime and its court. Why would they want to go back to Mexico, if chavismo didn’t keep its promise of respecting results, or allowing formerly banned candidates like Superlano to participate? Because the guys teaming up with Henrique Capriles believe Mexico can open a way to organize a recall referendum that could serve to reorganize the opposition behind the former Miranda governor, and because the guys with Guaidó (or with the Biden administration, more precisely), who regarded these regional elections as little more than a distraction from negotiations, still want to see whether the best card they hold—sanctions relief—can actually get them what they want from the government: a free and fair presidential election before 2024.

Does the Maduro regime still need that negotiation? Yes, it would be useful to get some sanction relief, and now they have more leverage with the results of the regional elections. More than anything, chavismo knows the others need to negotiate, so it’s an opportunity to get something valuable in exchange for little. And the Mexico negotiation is a tool to drive a wedge between the different opposition factions, by demanding a seat at the table for the parallel opposition figures the government wants to empower. The negotiation process also helps Maduro maintain control over the chavista coalition, with only those enjoying the full trust of the presidential couple aware of what’s being negotiated and, crucially, what and who Maduro is willing to deliver in exchange for sanctions relief.

Now that both chavismo and the opposition are going through a transformation, to some degree, leadership is determined by who is in a good position to be relevant in 2022. Inside chavismo, Maduro continues to solidify his control over the coalition, while Diosdado Cabello looks to have failed in his attempt to strengthen his power base through the regional elections. And in the opposition… ¿cuál oposición? Please go ahead and read Jeudiel Martinez’s piece on opposition politics: Venezuela Has No Opposition Left.