Sunday, December 02, 2007

Dec 02/07: What Comes Next? Some "Factoids" in Lieu of Scenarios

Nature at its best, or a big precipice?
Take your pick.

Dear friends and readers of PMBComments,

Over the last weeks I have spent a great deal of time responding to many individual calls and emails. The single subject of all exchanges has been one: What will happen in Venezuela in the next couple of days?

I have generically touched on that question in a number of my recent mailed comments, but I have not been too enthused about circulating a "scenarios" paper. The main reason is that I believe there are as many variables as there are constants in the complex equations (i.e. mess) one must resolve to assign any sort of credible probability to one or other scenario. So beyond stating that there are almost no good scenarios for the short term governability (i.e. peace and stability) of Venezuela, I think the best contribution is to share with you some "factoids" that you must keep in mind as you try to build scenarios or assess developments in the days to come.

  1. The vote that will take place in Venezuela tomorrow is the most momentous election since the fall of Venezuela's previous dictator in 1958. The fact that it is taking place at all is a testament to the obtuseness of Lt. Col. Chavez, BUT the fact that all polls now project a massive turnout a is result of the contagious courage and uncorrupted freshness of the student movement - a previously unknown phenomena.
  2. By now you should all be aware that Hugo Chavez is not a crafty politician but an amoral, mid level military officer devoid of the requisite tools to confront the gargantuan political crisis he unleashed on 26 million Venezuelans. To him there are two options: glorious victory or humiliating defeat. There is no grey in this paint palette and to negotiate is to lose. Keep this top of mind at all times.
  3. Anyway, there is nothing to negotiate. What is being voted on is a radical document that cannot be altered in a smoke filled room. This is not Chávez's campaign platform or wish list, this is now a "take it all" or "leave it all" proposition that can hardly be imposed without a sizeable mandate.
  4. Every single credible poll shows the NO (against the proposed Constitutional Reform) ahead. All of them indicate that the higher the turnout the larger the margin of victory over the SI (for whatever Chávez says). There is not a single scenario in which the SI can win by more than a couple of percentage points. It is impossible for the SI to win by the type of margin implied in point 3. above.
  5. Polls notwithstanding, let's be serious, Hugo Chavez CANNOT afford to lose this election. It was always critical for him and much more now that he has turned it into a plebiscite. The political, economic and legal implications of losing are immeasurable and the world has watched an uncouth man lose what remained of charisma and decorum in the past weeks. This is not a sign of confidence.
  6. Cheating - even at the risk of being caught - might be better than letting the will of the majority be known a few hours after the polling stations close. As per point 3. above, the cost of losing is TOO big, so they might simply say "why not take the risk and see what happens".
  7. There are NO arbiters in this contest. No OAS, No EU. No Jimmy Carter. Disputes will likely be settled in the streets. And yes, there will be disputes whatever the outcome.
  8. Do NOT count on the Armed Forces to do their "traditional" duty. The Venezuelan military ceased to be a monolith a long time ago and the fracture lines within renders it useless for the SI, and for the NO (i.e. this equates to virtually the whole country). Venezuelans – and some foreigners who pay attention - have witnessed Hugo Chavez's reckless manipulation of this all essential institution of the state. If Chavez were to order them to defend the indefensible, they would split in various inoperative factions and the result could indeed be tragic, actually VERY tragic. Rebuilding this Humpty Dumpty might be comparable to rebuilding the battered oil giant PDVSA.
  9. Any scenario in which the NO wins would lead - sooner rather than later - to an implosion of the regime. Opportunists would jump ship faster than rodents and the legitimacy of various institutions: National Assembly and Supreme Court, first and foremost, would be called to question instantaneously as unrepresentative of the revised popular will. The Executive branch could hardly exist in a vacuum, much less when those fleeing the sinking ship might bear gifts in the form of valuable evidence of wrongdoing.
  10. A narrow victory by the SI leads to an impossible scenario as the losing side might be resigned to accept the loss but not the consequence: the imposition of the new constitution. It is difficult to imagine a forceful enactment of a "social contract" that would have been opposed not only by almost half of the country, but by the most democratic, productive and resourceful half of the country. Governability would approach zero in a nanosecond.
  11. Rest assured that: a) the opposition has no common game plan beyond voting NO and b) there are probably dozens of competing plans for "who does what if and when". No "shadow" government exists, no political infrastructure or leadership is respected and there is no filter in sight for rival ambitions.
  12. There is no doubt that "por ahora" the students are in the driver's seat. They changed the balance of this process, they confounded the regime and its apologists, but they too will have to navigate the treacherous terrain of Venezuela's political maze. Inspiring as they have been to millions – and they have impressed all - they are simply seen as facilitators by others - less pure and potable - waiting to pounce on the prize.
  13. Do NOT forget the foreign elements that have made Venezuela their sanctuary or their cash machine. Too many non Venezuelan have "velas en este entierro". The prospect of losing Hugo, or his cash, or both, is daunting as Fidel's scribes have clearly stated in the latest "Reflexiones" attributed to the infirm dinosaur. Just imagine what the fellows from the FARC, their rivals in other drug cartels, Ahmadinejad boys, Joe Kennedy, Rosoboronexport and the Kirchner couple might be ready to do.
  14. Finally, undoubtedly Venezuela was blessed by God in so many ways. Even though in the last couple of decades it might seem that we have had to pay a dear price for being so nonchalant about our fortune, there is a scenario in which God forgives us all and endows us again with the fortitude of spirit and purpose to do what is right and begin the long task of reconstructing a battered society and a wasted mountain of opportunities.

So there you have it, a lot of ingredients for you to keep in mind when building your own scenarios. Ignore them at your own peril. While the first 13 could give you good reason to project a dark future, do add a bit of 14 to the mix as worse moments have been conquered in history. Hopeful, yet extremely cautions and concerned, PMB