AS expected the rise of general Vladimir Padrino as co-president of Maduro has changed nothing. After all Venezuela has been a dictatorship for a while, of a new XXI century kind certainly, but a dictatorship nevertheless. It was all just a formality.
Padrino cannot succeed in his attempt at putting food on the table of Venezuelans. His multiple inspections, in combat drag, of food producers have revealed no scandal so far, no hoarding, no lack of manufacturing will. The reason why there is no food production in Venezuela is simple, it is because there is nothing to make food out of.
For better or for worse, and with chavista bred officers it is likely for worse, Padrino seems to have been put there to prepare, or chair, a transition out of Maduro's mess. We already have the first signs on how doomed this might be as clashes between radicals and pragmatists, military and civilians have come to the forefront this past week.
One, for example, has been setting up a system for forced labor. I kid you not. A decree states that the regime can draft workers from private agribusiness to work for up to 60 days (and 60 more if needed) in the state agricultural undertakings. That is right, I repeat, workers from agribusiness, even myself, could be forced to go to work where the regime decides. I am not insulting the intelligence of readers discussing the historical precedents that say that forced labor never ended up in something positive, and always brought different levels of tragedy. No, the details are more interesting in a decree that cannot be applied.
First, there is no provision as to what would happen to a worker refusing to go to a state run facility (employers MUST part with the employees drafted while preserving their social benefits and their penalty does not need to be expressed since we know by experience what the regime does to us). Second, those business that still produce something could well come to a stop if they lose their trained personnel. Where would be the food relief in the country?.
One chavista union official quickly went to say that no one would be forced to serve against their will. But that is quite hollow when you read the decree where only different forms of expressing obligations can be found (I highlighted them in the scan from the decree on the right, if you can read Spanish).
I find it interesting that besides being an extraordinary sloppy job of a decree it is also so direct and self assuming of its importance. If you ask me it is from the hand of a military turned bureaucrat, used to give orders and be obeyed. But in real life that does not work.
Another example of the confusion reigning inside the regime comes from a "debate" between the head of the state oil monopoly PDVSA and Elias Jaua, a representative of the more radicalo-communist wing of the regime. It all started with del Pino saying that the nationalization of the services of the oil industry in Maracaibo Lake by Chavez in 2009 was a mistake. It is a taboo in Venezuela: oil industry should belong to the state. At least some good sense had prevailed in letting competitive services manage a large chunk of the oil industry, usually the more delicate work that required nimbleness, something that was not a given even in PDVSA best days.
In short what del Pino was suggesting is that the private sector should not be banned outright from Venezuela's oil industry. Something very pragmatic since oil output has been dropping after 2009 and that with current oil prices and Venezuela bankruptcy we do not even have the money to keep the current level of production for much longer. That is anathema to the radical left that is unable to come to grips that the Chavez and Cuban models have failed, that the country is broke and that we have run out of food and medicine. In their minds there is a course traced by Chavez (Plan de la Patria) and it should be followed, period. Elias Jaua even goes one more stating that the said plan was discussed and voted upon and turned into law (it was an emanation of Chavez and thus was never properly discussed to begin with, and a monstrosity to read by the way).
And thus we see the plain division between the "civilian" groups of chavismo, between those who think that something should be done and those that think nothing should be done, that we are all doing fine and that the only thing needed are yet more regulations, more controls, and now forced labor.
It is interesting to note that even if one were to agree with the need for some strong initiative to restart production these come too late for Venezuela. When Chavez came to office in 1999 there was already a strong tendency for the state to rule over everything. On that aspect Chavez simply did one better, pushing the system to its last consequences, benefiting of disproportionate and undeserved oil rent to smooth things over and thus pretending that the private sector was not needed. Now there are voices inside chavismo that want to re discuss the model, and there are even admissions that only the private sector can take us out of the mess, After all, the forced labor decree is simply a way for the regime to force technicians from the private sector to work for derelict state companies. This is an admission, if any, that the public sector is incompetent, at least on that front to be charitable.