Snatching the Stability Argument; Building an Inevitability Narrative

Chávez has been running on “stability” for years. His oft-repeated threat that an opposition win would spell certain civil war is, in its own twisted way, an appeal to people’s fear of instability.

Sure, the stability Chávez peddles is the same kind a mafioso is peddling when he tells you “it’s a nice shop you have there, it would be a shame if anything should happen to it”. And people buy it for the same reason they’ll pay off a racketeer: the threat seems credible, and not worth messing with.

One critical task for Henrique Capriles between now and October 7th is to upend that calculus, establishing himself not just as a “safe pair of hands” but as a safer pair of hands than his opponent’s. Manage that and his election begins to look not just likely, but inevitable.

This will take some doing, but it’s far from impossible, particularly in light of Chávez’s renewed illness.

The likelihood now is that Chávez will gradually fade from view in the coming months as he fights cancer. Now that the promise of a single, uncomplicated recovery has been shattered, the core of Chávez’s stability pitch – that he will personally be there to keep the peace over the next six years – lacks credibility.

These are the lemons the race has given us: time to make some lemonade.

However long Chávez’s battle with cancer lasts, and whatever its ultimate outcome, his ability to referee disputes between chavistas will almost certainly be diminished for months to come. As that ability fades, people will more and more come to realize that a vote for Chávez is not a vote for the country to be run by a guy they love, but rather by his cronies, whom they hate, and who don’t get along with one another at all.

As Chávez ails, the factional disputes that have been bubbling away just beneath the threshold of public perception will start to burst out into the open. Chavismo’s one and only mechanism for settling such disputes – presidential fiat – will function badly, if at all, between now and October.

The Tricolors’ task, then, is to subtly, gently remind people that in voting for Chávez they’d be voting not for the father figure so many still respect but rather for his no good, squabbling, criminal children.

“Vote Chávez , get Cabello” needs to be the message. Or, rather, vote Chávez get Cabello fighting with Jaua fighting with Maduro fighting with Rangel Silva fighting with the Cubans.

People intuit that a government of chavista factions at constant war with each other would be nasty, brutish and short. Faced with that prospect, Capriles needs to establish himself as the stability candidate. And that’s a process, not an event.

His job now is to make that case not through some grandiloquent declarations but by subtly underlining the everyday chaos chavismo leaves in its wake and pointing out the real “Mesa de Alacranes” brewing on the other side. He’ll have to do this carefully, gingerly, letting the evidence before people’s eyes speak largely by itself. Much of this is about “don’t think of an elephant”ing the message – something Capriles is great at. (For one thing, every time Capriles wishes Chávez a speedy recovery, he subtly brings back to mind just how sick he is.)

Capriles-as-guarantor-of-stability is a message for multiple constituencies: not just the electorate at large, but portions of the chavista political, judicial and military elites that stand to lose more than almost anyone from open factional warfare within chavismo as Chávez fades from view.

Capriles will be in a position to issue guarantees to chavistas worried about losing the factional wars that no one in the government could match for credibility. And in the armed forces more than anywhere else, the prospect of avoiding open conflict is an overwhelmingly powerful incentive, given the alternatives.

For Capriles, stealing the stability mantle is plausible, because the fact is that the country really is ungovernable in the hands of chavismo-sin-Chávez.

Chavistas know that, opposition folks know that, the army knows that, everybody knows that.

And given that Chávez is unlikely to be well enough to make chavismo-con-Chávez a realistic prospect, Capriles sure starts to look like the only hope for stability in the medium term. Slowly, gradually as Chávez’s weakens visibly right in the public eye, Capriles can leverage that fact to make the transition from “plausible” to “inevitable.”

And once that dynamic takes hold in earnest, the desbandada over the talanquera is going to be hard to contain.

44 thoughts on “Snatching the Stability Argument; Building an Inevitability Narrative

    • The counter-threat should be that if the military “step in”, they might last a bit longer than Carmona Estanga. But will go down even worse in history, and be hunted far and away, with North Korea being the only likely place of refugee, and give every chance some constitutionally minded people (which I fully support) need to perform some surgery, to make sure the military will never ever “step in” again, as in the quadraplegic and the hamstrung cannot really step much.

    • Nope. One faction of the military will step in…and have to face off against all the other factions, who fear instability and a shootin’ outcome more than almost anything else.

      Faced with that scenario, Capriles = Stability.

      • It’ll be like every other military uprising with different branches/factions fighting on different sides. It’d be interesting to see what branches Chavez has beefed up over the years and where all the Russian and Chinese weaponry has gone. Here we thought all these years (at least those of us outside VZ) that Chavez was buying the arms for a confrontation with Colombia when all along he was probably arming his factions within the armed forces. We all know that Rangel Silva (a.k.a. the big green submarine floating just beneath the surface of everything) is on that side but how’s the rest of the armed forces? If the proverbial poop were to hit the ventilador where and how would they align?

        • The vast majority would align on the side of avoid-a-confrontation-at-all-cost-before-things-get-out-of-hand. Capriles needs to be the vehicle for that.

  1. I can see how picking up that mantle makes Capriles stronger, but I don’t see how it makes him inevitable…

    • You’re right, that part is a bit undercooked. I’m still developing it, and of course I realize I’m way out on a limb here.

      But I think there’s a self-fulfilling dynamic at work once you’re widely seen as the best bet for stability. Capriles grasps the need to position himself as the consensus candidate not just of the opposition, but also of the losing chavista factions.

      This is a dynamic that will be much more evident 3-6 months from now than it is now. Let chavistas go at each other for a few monthswith Chávez out of the picture and you’ll see they’re just as interested in a stable outcome that safeguards their interests as we are.

      Lemons -> Lemonade

    • I was just talking to a visitor from Canada who had lived in Venezuela until 2004 for more than 20 years when she moved to Canada.

      She pointed out that once the wave of reform starts it’s hard to stop short of brutal repression. Chavista days are numbered either with or without Chavez. Will there be those who want to create chaos for their own ends – of course. But after a short time things will return to normal & cooler heads will gain control;.

      One thing about the pueblo is that they don’t stock up on food. Most buy day to day & will not last long if supplies are interrupted. They will demand normalcy.

      I fear the short term results but not the long term future of the country. We will all look back on these years as part of a dark age of Venezuela’s history..

      • HCR could have his Boris Yeltsin moment (and I’m not talking about the Boris Yeltsin moment where he’s wandering around Washington DC drunk and naked…)

  2. Now this is a post that should be read aloud to the whole Mesa de Unidad Democratica, and hung on the wall.

    “vote Chávez get Cabello fighting with Jaua fighting with Maduro fighting with Rangel Silva fighting with the Cubans” is a message that needs to be uttered indirectly, but clearly enough, with metaphor or two about zamuros rojos rojitos.

    Furthermore: As people become more emboldened to vote and Chavez’s carrot-and-stick of misiones/possible violence become limper… Do please remind everyone that it was Chavez and chavismo that knowingly engineered the civil war/military coup/guerrilla war/social explosion bomb. The very same bomb the MUD and Capriles are now defusing carefully, while critically ill and horribly irresponsible Hugo goes under anesthesia, a contented smirk in his lips and a dead man trigger he will never disarm in his hand. It will make for a perfect landslide.

  3. Great point. The fear of unstability is a key but often unmentioned factor in this election.

    Chavez has always placed blame for his failures on his staff and ministers. The turnover in these positions is fast and automatic. Even the vice-president’s position seems like a monthly detail rather than a permanent position.

    If Chavez is not present, then Venezuela will rely on Chavez unqualified staff. Unqualified by Chavez own actions and words. Chavism without Chavez will stir trouble and may make Chavez vulnerable by claiming he is the source of mismanagement.

  4. “Pueblo: si Chavez no es culpable de nada sino sus ministros, que creen que pasará cuando el no esté?”

  5. I am going to present a scenario you seem to be pushing more and more to the background:
    what if Chávez rebounds? What if he does recover, at least for October?
    I mean: even if chances are 1/3, what if? Do we have a plan? Because if he does, it will be the same thing as at the end of last year, “I have won over cancer”, blablabla… Chávez Super Star.

    • It’s never that simple with cancer. If there is metastasis, it can only be downhill from here. If not (so what is the surgery all about then?) then he has a couple of years of recovery ahead of him. As long as he looks like the Michelin doll, nobody will truly believe he is cured.

      Cancer that is survived is like a Stanley Kubrick movie: everything is slooooow.

    • +1 RT @Kep
      ‘Way I see it, the reasoning is too triumphalistic and early. Not to rain on anyone’s parade here, but last time I checked, a bed-ridden, cancer infected Chávez who was not campaigning at all was tied at 50% with an all-out Capriles.
      So I’m just wondering what’ll happen when he gets shot up with steroids and drags himself into campaign mode, even if it’s for just a month. Yeah, he might die right after that in November, but it’s not like he cares too much…
      Not to compare (yet again) with US politics, but the “McCain will croak and you’ll have to stick with Palin as President” didn’t give the Dems any push at all in the surveys, if I remember correctly.

      • The difference here is that Chávez – not the opposition, Chávez – has spent years undermining the image of the people who would take charge after him if he died with the constant defection of blame from him to his ministers.

        The other difference is that McCain was old, but not visibly dying.

        And the other difference (between the likely scenario in August, September and where we were in January) is that Chávez is likely to be so incapacitated he can’t step in and arbiter between his ministers in August/September, whereas he wasn’t quite so out of it back in January.

      • Coupla tings, mon.

        1) Bed and cancer ridden Chavez got 50% with a lot of sympathy in that 50%. How much less will it be if word gets out his goose is cooked? How many will jump off the bus, as it were, if they really believed Chavez’ time on earth could be measured in months? That 50% against Capriles was before the primaries were done and when nothing was certain. It would be interesting to see now where Capriles stands.

        2) Chavez will croak and you’ll be left with Either Jaua, or Maduro or Diosdado or whomever does not compare to McCain – Palin. For one thing, nobody considered McCain as the be all and end all of politics, he was just a candidate whereas Chavez is a goddam myth to some folks in our Land of Grace. Survey after survey shows folks love Chavez and do not love his government (read cronies, er, incompetent loons I mean). No es lo mismo, or should I say mesmo?

        I don’t agree with Quico when he says that Chavez will fade out in the coming months. “Todo lo contrario” I would say. They must milk Chavez until their hands get cramps, whether or not he lives or dies or turns into a zombie. You’ll see Chavez in and out of the soup, on pinatas, some guy will sell a piece of toast on Ebay with Chavez’ likeness on it……. They’re gonna sell the hell out of Chavez in the coming months because that is the only pony they have.

        Capriles should continue saying things like he did today, “you want to fight, you’ll have to look in the mirror because I’m all about work and solving problems. Here’s a nice basketball court for our youth, let’s shoot some hoops”. In this, I do agree with you, Quico.

  6. Capriles himself should never say it, but a campaign theme which suggests that “Venezuelans, not PSUV, should choose our next President” strikes an imoortant chord. Or maybe it should be “Venezuelans, not Diosdado Cabello, should choose our next President.”

    • Yup, this is what surrogates are for.

      Step one -Focus group a bunch of variations on this message, see which one riles up NiNis the most.

      Step two-Get Teodoro, Julio Borges, Pablo Pérez, MCM, RGA, etc. to put it out there.

  7. Unfortunately, chavismo has the resources to manufacture chaos in the event they lose, turning the tables on the MUD. It’s no coincidence that a wave of invasions has followed the strong opposition showing in Miranda. Remember that the gap between election day and inauguration is three months. If Chavez or his successor loses, they will have plenty of time to wreak havoc in all sort of fields (massive invasions in oppo states, strikes, riots), and then say “We told you so”.

    • That’s the stupidest thing I’ve read in months.

      The point is that most of Venezuela’s foreign assets holdings aren’t in Central Bank reserves, they’re scattered through Fonden, the Fondo Chino, and a bunch of others. They can be shifted back into reserves just as easily, if need be.

      Capriles’s campaign estimates their net foreign assets holdings at this point at $72 billon.

      http://caracaschronicles.com/2012/02/23/a-roadmap-out-of-cadivi/

      #ABCFail

      • There’s a reason why the government is selling its soul to China: they’re cash strapped and in dire need of money. Francisco Faraco was interviewed yesterday and his analysis was on line with what ABC reports.

        Such apocalyptic economy predictions are just number crunching. I have heard that many times in the last few years and it have never come to that. Countries don’t go broke. They keep on borrowing money until they can’t. Then, somebody else pays for it: foreign investors, the citizens or both. Just take a look at Greece.

        As for the Fonden, Fondo Chino, anything that you can say is nothing but speculations. There’s no way to know how much money is left in Fonden, much less in Fondo Chino. According to Faraco there is a HUGE amount of money missing in FONDEN. moctavio wrote about that a few months back.

        We hope for the best but we should be prepare for the worst. El que vive de ilusiones, muere de desengaños…

    • Quico’s right. This article is not credible. It is like saying that someone is bankrupt, because they happen to only have $20 in their pocket at the moment, without reviewing what they have in their various bank accounts and assets.

      • We should not forget that Venezuela – unlike Greece – still have a more or less reliable income source, i.e. the oil industry. However, there is some risk attached to it. First, although we have one of the largest oil reserves in the world, our production capacity is in pretty bad shape after a decade of mismanagement. Second, a sizeable amount of our future income is already compromised because of those shady deals with China and loans that the government have taken.

        What ABC describes is the worst case scenario. It does no good to be so pessimistic, but we should not see things through rose-colored glasses either. Truth is that we won’t be able to forecast anything until we know what’s going on inside Fonden, Fondo Chino and PDVSA. What we can say without such information is nothing but chewing the fat.

        • We have now 36 billion dollars in loans from the Chinese. The guys won’t let go of Chávez so easily.
          The same for the Russians. No wonder both groups are sending their best doctors (and fighting each other to show theirs are the best) in order to prolong the life of our little autocrat.

  8. Another way of framing this is with Chavismo´s lack of managerial skills, as explained in the “Love Chávez; Hate the Government” post.
    Tying that post to this one, not only makes the case of Capriles based on stability, but more importantly on having a team that gets things done (resuleve los problemas de la gente).

  9. Two observations: 1. How the bond market responded to Chavez’s “lesion”… Positive!
    2. The economy has been running by increasing debt… and that is running out! There is no future in continuing Chavismo policy.

    Let me point out, that those in power, who have been profiting up to now, have the funds to profit best on a bull market from here on.

  10. I am not sure how to get the point across the masses, but stability comes when the institutions are stronger than individuals. The story of Chavez is a case history of why this is so, I am still not sure of how to convey this message.

    Venezuela needs its own version of Colombia’s Antanas Mockus Šivickas. Not to be president, but to give lectures on Civics 101 that people will actually listen to.

    • This is a huge task that will require several Mockus. If names come to your mind…

      And next Presidential period. Apart from stitching said institutions and making them work again (or for the first time ever)…

      They have to develop an effective communication strategy. They are surely infinitely more confident and competent than chavismo, which was after all and can show Venezuelans how deeply screwed they were under chavismo, not to justify failures but to show precisely how and why.

  11. Just a thought: How about a pledge from Capriles that, in spite of the change to the Constitution, that he would only serve for two terms maximum?

  12. I’ve been wondering if it worthwhile pursuing a strategy that attempts to break this “Love Chavez, hate the ministers” mindframe. Is it advisable to remind people that someone (Chavez) is ultimately responsible for the problems at hand? (Si, esta bien, los ministros no sirven pero quien los escogió?, Quien es el que manda?)

  13. One consideration that need airing is if war brakes-out with
    Iran and Israel, and or the US what will Chavez do?
    If he doesn’t do something he looks as he is, a paper tiger,
    and his ALB cronies will see him as he is, a fair weather friend.
    My betting is he cuts of oil to the US, if he does that he may
    then declarer.a state of emergency and that would give the military
    and excuse to keep power if he croaks

    • HIstory with Libya suggests that he would (1) spout some anti-imperialist rhetoric, (2) deny the facts on the ground, (3) declare his undying support for the dictatorship, (4) offer to “mediate” a solution and/or provide asylum for whatever war criminal is at risk, (5) do absolutely squat.

      If Rick Santorum is in the oval office at that time…well, I have no predictions about that scenario except that it clearly will not involve sex, and I won’t know anyway because if that happens I will be living in some remote village above the arctic circle with a supply of food, some arsenic pills and some guns.

  14. A government that understands that state is not a personal instrument of revenge but a space where the society and its different groups can resolve their conflicts is a HUGE step in the right way.
    I think that HRC should be focusing on that. The state should not be a personal instrument for a narcissistic egomaniac. It shoud not be a piñata petrolera. It should not be a well-oiled patronage machine. It should be a round table where all sides – even chavismo and the disenfranchised – can air their differences and help the head honcho to make the best call.

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