Tuesday, May 29, 2012

No political trouble that cannot be solved by a tiny constitutional amendment

What to make of Chavez dernière boutade?  He simply just thought of it, an amendment to enshrine the Misiones into the Constitution.  That is right, all the social programs that he has been doing more or less legally since 2003, which have been his political lifeblood, suddenly he fells like he should put them inside the Constitution (1).  There is no need to discuss whether they should be enshrined: a mere law would suffice to make all of these Misiones legal.  The interest is elsewhere.

The circumstances

With all and diseases and all claims that he is well ahead in polls, the truth is otherwise.  Capriles has been steadily holding the political agenda and chavismo is reduced to counter react, something they are not used to and for which they have no ability.  No matter how brutal the campaign has been so far, no matter how much money has been thrown into the streets for buying votes, real pollsters give a tie of sorts and they predict it will eventually go the Capriles way as Chavez will be less and less able to pull the disease excuse to gain pity votes.

In plain text, with a Chavez that still seems unable to hit the campaign trail, his campaign has been using all its weapons already whereas Capriles campaign seems to get new weapons everyday as the disastrous record of chavismo keeps being revealed everyday (redundancy intended).  The reaction of Chavez in suggesting an amendment is a reaction to the successful proposal by Capriles to make the Misiones into a law, offered by the opposition in the National Assembly, after a signature drive.  Chavismo simply cannot refuse to discuss such a law because people, no matter how chavista they may be, would not understand it and would start wondering why did chavismo never made it earlier into a law to begin with.

Hence the amendment, to try to regain the initiative, but which looks DoA if you ask me because if the opposition supports it, then there is no political advantage for chavismo.

The real circumstance?

Me thinks that there is something else at play here.

The real, real problem of chavismo is how to make sure that the bolivarian piñata lasts longer.  The higher up nouveau riche of chavismo have a stake.  The Castro brothers have a stake.  The narco generals have a stake.  The third rate politicians have a stake. The dredges of Venezuela have a stake.

All of these people have been very busy for a year trying to find ways to survive and so far they are not even surviving the internal succession wars of chavismo.  So we are talking here more than an amendment, maybe a constitutional reform as Chavez himself mentioned today.  There are many ways in which such a constitutional change could work.  The way to be chosen will depend on the time table and the real objective pursued.  In any case, the amendment to enshrine Misiones is just the carrot accompanying what would surely be the real amendment/reform, a big stick.

Case 1: Chavez is sick and at best can hope to get reelected

That is, he knows he cannot finish his term.  The objective here is to make sure the revolution survives and to do so it is essential to avoid early elections after Chavez resigns or croaks.  The solution here is to make the vice-president permanent.  If Chavez dies then the vice finishes the mandate.  That ensures 6 years more of chavismo even if Chavez were to die a few weeks after his reelection.  The vice can remain freely appointed and removed by Chavez, but whomever is in office when he dies, he finishes the term.  I use HE because I am willing to bet anything that it will not be a SHE, unless the constitution is also changed at the same time to allow for a relative to be named vice president (his daughter?).

The problem here is the time constraint.  I think it is too late to launch an amendment to be voted BEFORE October 7 so it would have to be voted at the same time.  Not a bad idea to hold the carrot vote at the same time as Chavez vote.

Case 2: Chavez is sick but he thinks he can hold long enough to effect the definitive changes

This is really an expansion of the preceding case except that now the vote can be held after October 7 if necessary, but preferably BEFORE regional elections.  We would be talking here of a constitutional reform rather than a mere set of amendments.  The problem here is that since the 2007 reform was rejected, on paper he cannot call for a new reform until he is inaugurated in February 2013. But surely the high court would rule on his favor declaring that mere reelection is enough to allow for a new reform.

The objective of that reform, in addition to make the vice the heir for the whole term if needed, is to gut the regional powers.  As such it would seek the annulment of the governors and mayors to be elected between December and April 2013.  There are many ways to gut these functions so let's not speculate on which technicality may be preferred.    The point is that Chavez has been now challenged twice by successful governors and he needs to put a stop to it.  Period.

I have already discussed in the past such scheme, so this is not a novel idea.  What I am curious about it why now, so close to the vote, with all the implied risks.  But the reasons exist to pull what would look as a desperate measure.  Mainly, if Chavez campaign is not doing well, the campaign for regional authorities of chavismo is doing worse.  We are at barely 6 months of the regional elections and the opposition has all of its candidates up and running and chavismo is not sure of its candidates, may still pull out at least two of its top names in Carabobo and Miranda, etc....  True, a defeat of Chavez in October will make him stop caring whatsoever about what happens next.  But you would think that the PSUV would discretely try to make Chavez know that he can only be that diffident.

Of course, more could be added to it but I doubt it will,  After all, they published three weeks ago a new labor law and for Chavez to launch already an amendment proposal proves that in chavismo pollsters focus groups the labor law has not been received with the hoped for results.  Clearly the workers do not buy the candy of that new law and the regime needs to impress them further before Capriles words sink in them irreversibly.  Offering a complete and complex reform of the Constitution could in fact backfire badly.


I am not too optimistic about Chavez success on such an adventure.  I think it is too late and that too many people will see right through it.  A mere amendment for the misiones could help if held on October 7, the more so that more and more misiones are tanking; thus an amendment could reassure people that they eventually be retaken and renewed.

What Chavez needs to do to ensure his reelection he is unwilling or unable to do.  He has chosen the radical path and this time around people may believe he means business and get turned off at the perspective.  An unnecessary amendment is not going to be enough to carry the day, but that surely would not stop desperate people that have run out of fresh ideas.

1) He really said it, that he just thought, it just crossed his mind to change the Constitution:

"se me ocurre que la AN proponga una enmienda o una reforma para que las misiones estén en la Constitución"


  1. Anonymous1:32 PM

    Good article. Thanks
    Now, would it be possible for you to write an article about WHAT the Misiones are? There is a lot of propaganda material in the web, including very thin material in Wikipedia. But it is very hard for people overseas to understand what the misiones are, their real and perceived benefits, as well as drawback and damn lies. In particular, do they pay salaries? How expensive are this programmes?
    And more important, what institutions (existing or not) should take care of those functions to ensure a long term approach rather than "un operativo"

  2. A few years ago, the IACHR Report on Venezuela mentioned that one weakness in the Misiones programme was (I paraphrase) "Absence of any public criteria to determine who may benefit from the programme." In other words, it is welfare, but only if Chavez likes you.

    1. Which is exactly what the opposition is doing by promoting such a law: to unmask the real purpose of the regime with the Misiones. And it works.

  3. Well Daniel you have written a masterpiece.

  4. One thing I will never understand ( as a basically artistic type I adore the irrational) .....but in matters where common sense is mandatory I like to aspire to some basic level of rationality....why would anyone believe that in a country as corrupt as Venezuela whose president is as determined to stay in power as Chavez, and with interest groups as greedy as drug dealers...we could we have honest polling? This to me is irrational thinking....Some say they even know how to calculate the fear factor.....yeah sure...this is not hard science.Think especially of the barrios where you could feel you might lose your mission benefits and other gov handouts if people suspect you are not Chavista.

    Now on the other hand I have my own radar ( friends and family in Venezuela) who lead me to believe that Capriles is more popular than Chavez.I have good reason to believe them....

    It is a known fact that in Venezuela there are many irrational people who like to vote for winners ( not wanting " to lose" their votes), so it is quite easy to win many votes by appearing to be in the lead.


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