He has four objectives, no doubt recommended by his battle-tested political operators from Cuba:
• To gain time.
• To end the street demonstrations of rejection nationwide.
• To split the opposition between pact-minded foes and insurgents.
• To restructure the State so as to eliminate all vestiges of liberal democracy contained in the 1999 Constitution.
Maduro believes that he needs time to improve his image. He continues to drop in all polls. The latest, the Hercon Poll, gives him barely 10.9 percent of popular support. That fact is important but it doesn’t determine who will lead. When Lenin seized power in Russia, he had only 50,000 solid supporters in a population of more than 100 million. The Mensheviks were four times that number. Lenin wiped them out. Besides, Maduro dreams that a stroke of good luck (a war against Iran, for example) will raise the price of oil to more than 100 dollars a barrel.
The street protests have gone on for a long time and the young oppositionists are getting bolder, not weaker. They’ve taken to the streets for more than a month. The uprisings of “the Arab spring” didn’t last that long and succeeded. The Venezuelan dead now number 35 and the boys have learned to fight against armored cars. Between the Molotov cocktails and the cans of paint utilized to “blind” the armored-car drivers, they know how to deal with those deadly enemies. Maybe they learned that, unwittingly, from the Hungarians’ anti-Soviet revolt of 1956.
Maduro (and the Cuban experts) know that, for them, it’s vital to keep the opposition from consolidating. They infiltrate it. They sow slander, spread rumors, build false leaders. The social networks, which are used to bring the oppositionists together, also are useful to disperse them. The counterintelligence has very skillful agents to do that. They work ceaselessly. They have special units devoted to those tasks. To control society is a nauseating skill they know only too well. They don’t know how to produce goods and services, much less to provide a decent administration, but they conjugate the verbs “to dominate” and “to punish” better than anyone else.
The State is founded on a Constitution — or can be re-founded on another. The law of laws can be an expression of the people’s sovereignty or an instrument of the ruling group. The 1999 Constitution contained contradictory elements, such as the separation of powers or that Article 350, which allows for rebellion when the government tramples on the democratic principles. All this is very dangerous for Maduro. To establish a truly socialist regime, Chavism has to overturn that text.
But Maduro cannot clearly say what his purpose is. His model is the Stalinist Constitution of 1936. Chavists have to introduce economic rights (work, decent housing, adequate food and other siren songs), along with the fundamental freedoms we all know (association, expression, etc.) But “any legislation or behavior will be subordinated” to the aims of the socialist State, to the Bolivarian principles or to any deliberately vague formula they come up with. That’s the language. The vaguer it is, the better it will be for the militant judges who will crush the citizens under the weight of draconian sentences.
How can the Chavists impose those norms with 80 percent of the country against them? They did that in 1999, though on a different scale. They won 52 percent of the votes and installed 95 percent of the Assembly’s constituents. Maduro intends to impose most of the lawmakers by replacing universal suffrage with corporative selection. The Chavists will hand-pick the representatives from the countryside, the proletariat and whatever inventions they need. In Franco’s fascist Spain, the “Courts,” as the Parliament was called, were three in number: family, labor and municipal. They did not have the power to legislate freely but were limited to approving the standards set during the Council of Ministers, presided by El Caudillo. That process was called “organic democracy.”
What’s clear about Maduro’s intentions is that he’s not willing to surrender power under any circumstances. “The Cubans” wouldn’t allow that. Raúl Castro has decided to fight to the last Chavist. To the dictatorship in Havana, this is also a matter of life or death.
*Journalist and writer. His latest book is the novel A Time for Scoundrels.
Published in Spanish by El Blog de Montaner on May 6th, 2017.