Thursday, August 13, 2009

El Triumvirato: Chavez, Cabello and Chacon

The other night in search of news for the day I caught the end of Alo Ciudadano. But I was left thinking about weirder things than the news.

The guest was an old faculty guy at the UCV, Antonio Pasquali that I admit I had not heard of before. It really does not matter, what matter is that he stated Venezuela today is ruled by a military triumvirate composed of Chavez, Diosdado Cabello and Jesse Chacon. And that explained what was happening in Venezuela today, rulers militarily barking all sorts of orders to try to solve what are the political problems of a regime that started its long and painful decline.

Not only I think the guy is unto something, but there is a lot of stuff he is not telling. For example one implication he could have gone into is that all triumvirates in history ended up in political conflict and even in civil wars until only one of the triumvirs remained alone in power. That power, by the way, was never a sure life long tenure because if Augustus did reign for life, Cesar was knifed and Napoleon met his Waterloo (though it is not clear how much of a triumvirate Napoleon really set in 1799 as he was top man from the start; but I digress).

Let's explore this hypothesis.

The triumvirs

Chavez. Brought forth by a lot of people he managed slowly but surely to remove any independent thinker from his entourage retaining only the sycophantic core along the prospective killers to be used as needed. He brings charisma, political skills, the right connections in Cuba, showmanship endurance. He lacks managerial skills, and he is a wimp, unable to commit the necessary crimes himself but very willing to send others to kill as needed. This was seen as early as 1992 and verified regularly since.

Entourage. The famiglia, a set of relatives and friends who have become immensely rich since Chavez is in office. Note, they became rich by" trickle down" economics, only a couple of them seem to have some business skill of any significance that could remotely explain their good fortunes.

Jesse Chacon. The murderer of November 1992. Had no qualms shooting to death defenseless civilians that were only too willing to surrender. Has been in and out of office since 1999, but never far from Chavez. He is strangely quiet these days as the minister of science and technology. Admittedly he is probably one of the few chavista in today's entourage that is able to understand some of the technological stuff that is required to set a tight control over the country. He is feared and certainly not loved as his electoral defeat last November clearly show. Has no charisma, moderate managerial skills at best, not a good politician but he is decisive and knows exactly what he wants. Terribly marked by acne or something and has a slip/slur in his speech, probably explain in part his psychological profile.

Entourage. A brother, Arne, who has been bold and has become one of the wealthiest man of Venezuela by buying banks out of a retired military paycheck. You draw your own conclusions. Rumors of violence also float around that brother. Curiously Chacon does not seem to have any significant following within chavismo, kind of a lone operator whose main skill is to be essential to Chavez when nasty deeds need to be done.

Diosdado Cabello. Also one of the 1992 coup. Has been in charge of a lots of things including vice president in 2002 at the time of the coup for which he did not demonstrate any good skill and was even rumored to have been ready to negotiate. He has been always around the ministries that manage the most contracts, currently holding the public works one, a choice plum. However his 2002 lackluster performance seem to have distanced him form Chavez for a while as he sent him away as governor of Miranda in 2004, through a very controversial vote. As a matter of fact he was a lousy governor, presiding a very corrupt administration and spending most of his time in Caracas governmental and "business" circles, watching his back. As such he was squarely, and somewhat surprisingly, defeated in 2008 for the reelection. But in a regime that values you only on loyalty to the Supremo he came back to the government at a times when Chavez needs a political operator.

Indeed Cabello excels at political maneuvering, constituting for himself a certain following that included even Lina Ron, and many of the nouveau riche of the regime. He is rumored to have become probably the richest man in Venezuela, through a variety of of "testaferros", fronts controlled by his brother who does not seem to have the skills of Chacon's brother. This did not stop the Cabellos to be accused of some form of violence too to get rich.

The common objective

To remain in power forever, or at least until no one will dare sue them for the rapid rise to riches. If chavismo where to leave office tomorrow, the day after investigations would start falling on them and their associates and a few would end up in jail. That must be avoided at all costs. Thus they watch each others back. Still, there are nuances in their styles and someday that triumvirate could break up even though until now it has been rather successful.

The means

In this party Chavez is paradoxically the weak link: for all his charisma he simply cannot do it all and needs Chacon and Diosdado to do the deeds. They seem irreplaceable in the current situation, but so seemed Miquilena, Rangel and others. His debt to them is increasing and at some point as he has done with everyone who he owed to, Chavez will be too tempted, even in dire need to get rid of his triumvirate. What might make this more urgent is that this trio could be somewhat hidden in the early years of the regime, but now that so many people have been displaced they have no one to hide behind. Yet political needs will force Chavez hand sooner than later.

We already see that with Diosdado Cabello dispatched to execute what will probably turn out to be the most unpopular decision of the regime: end the radio plurality of the country. Venezuelans love their radio, in particular outside of Caracas, and love to listen to more than one station. They also get a lot of their information form the radio and will be sensitized when that information becomes the lone line of the regime. Even among chavistas that crack down will be resented.

Diosdado has accepted the mission even though he cannot ignore that he will pay for the broken glass and go down in history as the public official that did the most to curtail freedom of expression and information. Probably he does not care since he is himself an uncouth military who cannot be bothered with dissent of any type. But Chavez also knows all of this and could at a given time make Diosdado pay for the complete political price. And then what?

Diosdado is someone who has been rumored for the longest of time to have personal ambitions, the presidency of Venezuela not scaring him. Chavez knows that and that is why he put Diosdado in charge of the referendum campaign of last February, forcing Diosdado to campaign for Chavez eternal reelection. Now he is tarnishing forever his image with a majority of the country. Will Disodado react? Or will he decided his national ambition is screwed and thus limit himself to milk his government jobs until the last drops? The paradox here is that due to his business connections for all of his nastiness and even studied brutishness Diosdado is the one from chavismo who could cross the aisle and talk to the opposition to organize a post Chavez era. He is the one with the chutzpah to say "hey, leave me my millions and I get rid of Chavez for you".

And finally Jesse Chacon. He knows his limitations, that he will never be elected president of Venezuela and that the only way he can reach that office is through Chavez elimination while he is the vice president, thus succeeding him. His following might be small but it is crucial (he has his entries in secret services and radical groups of chavismo). What is his game here? Is he sick of Chavez bossing him around and might be tempted to help Diosdado goals which would indebt Diosdado to Chacon forever? Or is he discreetly working with Chavez to get rid of Diosdado? Will he favor Chavez and encourage his foreign adventures so as to become himself the true ruler at home? Of the three Chacon is definitively the most mysterious of the lot, but probably the one with the most real power of the three as his skill is to hide that power, to keep it in the shades like a spider weaving his net.

What will happen?

Difficult to say. This triumvirate developed almost by default. True, Diosdado and Jesse were from the start close to Hugo but they were in the second generation to rise to the essential levels (from 2000 on). They never left them even as a third and final political generation came to the front after 2004, the truly radical group who completed its take over when Rangel, last survivor of the 1999 generation left in December 2006.

For all practical purpose that triumvirate has been ruling the country since 2007 and became public, so to speak, when a defeated Cabello and Chacon just came back to the ministries as a reward for their political defeats. As such we can maybe accept a certain malice of Chavez, keeping them close to him as a way to remind them that they are nothing without his blessing.

But it could be a dangerous malice for Chavez because these two guys know that Chavez cannot control the country without them and if he were to get rid of them their replacements would be called Jorge Rodriguez, Jacqueline Faria or post 1992 military guys not as easily trusted.

And thus at a time of tremendous complexity, perhaps the most difficult that Chavez is going to confront as he effects the final transition to a no return regime, he can count only on two other military without flexibility but with that most precious quality for Chavez today, a steady hand around the knife, and a willingness to use that knife. Even against Chavez if necessary, with the support of the military that both Diosdado and Chacon seem to court assiduously.

No matter what, history tells us that triumvirates never last long and always end up with a single one in charge and often the other two dead. Neither me nor my devoted readers who reached this far can do anything about it, thus we might as well sit down, relax as much as possible and observe how this no love lost triangle will play itself out. Surprises are the only sure thing.

-The end-

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