Sacudón Chronicles: The Big Shakedown

Rafael-Ramirez-vicepresidente-del-Area-Economica-PDVSA-Venezuela-06162014-4-800x533So what do we take away from last night’s Sacudón? First, as Kanako put it to me, that Rafael Ramírez’s power turned out to be the political equivalent of the bolivar’s value: at the same time enormous and basically nil.

Oil minister, PDVSA chief, vice-president in charge of the economy: on paper, Rafael Ramírez had all the power he could’ve wanted. Officially, his power over the economy was at Bs.6.30/$. But when it came down to it, he couldn’t even implement the policies he’d already been cleared to announce. Seems that, around the cabinet table, his power was trading at the black market rate.

This, to me, is the real take-away from last night: the crazy opacity of the policy-process in the post-Chávez Era. There’s simply no telling what the government will do next. Official announcements are no guide to likely next actions. Official titles reveal next to nothing about the relative power of different players. An outsider has no way to look into the black-box that is the chavista policy-process at all. The scale of uncertainty this creates is enormous. 

While Chávez was around, the policy process was, in its own way, transparent: you tuned in on Sunday mornings at 10 a.m. and, ta-daaaa, there was your policy process. Autocracy is its own form of predictability.

In the post-Chávez era, all such certainties are out the window. Who vetoed the “Plan Ramírez”? Why? What were the terms of the bureaucratic battle that ended up with him being shoved sideways to Casa Amarilla? Who was on whose side? Who demanded what? Who watched Maduro’s speech last night with a smile on his face and who with a frown? We have virtually no insight into any of these questions, because the policy-process has now tumbled to Kremlinesque levels of opacity.

What’s clear is that there isn’t a winning coalition in this enormously murky system for a minimally competently administered set of economic reforms.

Here, Omar’s return to Distortioland is a huge boon, because the guy still manages to write about these issues with uncommon lucidity.

Is a “currency-unification-cum-devaluation” still likely? Probably, though perhaps  less so than 24 hours ago. Is that likely to bring macro-stability? No, not really.

27 thoughts on “Sacudón Chronicles: The Big Shakedown

  1. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ramirez decided he’s ready for a cushy re-assignment and was happy to be “shoved aside” for a cushier position dealing with foreign politics. Reasons? Tired of the same-old same-old (been there/done that/mission accomplished). Shield himself from fallout for the economic crapstorm that is reaching nuclear proportions. Or perhaps his new appointment reveals that Maduro and co are increasingly more concerned about Venezuela’s increasingly shaky international status.


  2. I wouldn’t say Ramirez turned out to be a paper dragon. After all, they appointed Del Pino as his successor in PDVSA, who is of Ramirez’s “absoluta confianza”. Having a PDVSA President focus entirely on his task may be an indication the government is serious about increasing oil production.

    And sure, they did not implement the adjustments proposed by Ramirez, and sure, they appointed someone from the military as new Economic Vice President. But it could be that they are polishing Ramirez so he can be Maduro’s successor.

    I think we should wait and see what actual policy changes come about with the “new” cabinet before we call it a victory for the radicales/diosdadistas/ramiristas/cubanistas.


  3. Isn’t shakeup a better word? I thought a shakedown was extortion along mafia lines. Of course, I am sure a lot of that is going around.


  4. I think you nailed it, Quico. I have been saying for a while that RR did not have that much power, as people tought of. IMHO the power in Venezuela is in military hands.


  5. They can only shift these guys around. They all know too much. Only in Venezuela is the title of foreign minister the only alternative to being disappeared. Kanako’s observation is brilliant.


  6. Ramirez political defenestration ( coming so shortly after Giordanis defenestration) shows that in the ruling clique they are all powerless to do anything other than destroy each other or whats left of the country , The powerlesness is covered over with tons of cheap incessant rethorical gesticulation !! One needs to have a strong stomach to wade through a full hour of official rethoric.

    The plate d jour , was of course Ramirez sorry fate but the real plate de jour should have been Maduros show of absolute impotence to even grasp what situation the country is in !! It was pathetic to see how he tried to covince his audience that he was valiantly addressing a monster problem which he couldnt even understand with showy bureaucratic manouvers of no consequence whatsoever. !!


  7. A few theories came to mind:

    1) Ramírez was told that his proposed economic policies, while urgently required by a failing State, bear too high a political price for the government to pay one year before parliamentary elections – elections that could, if lost, bear the beginning of the end for chavismo. Seeing this as the final stop before rock bottom, Ramírez used his klout to step out of the Chabenomic spotlight and avoid becoming the person in charge of counting beans when the shit finally hit the fan.

    2) Ramírez fucked something up, badly, and needed to have diplomatic immunity issued ASAP – not so much as a way of keeping him safe, but as a way of keeping his knowledge of international financial crimes by the chabe regime under lid… I wouldn’t be surprised if he ‘suffers a heart attack’ in Geneva or NYC within the next 18 months.

    3) Least likely of all, but if memory serves me right Maduro was chancellor when chabe named him as heir to the throne; perhaps previous chair-holder Jaua fell out of favor with the Cuban powers that be and Ramírez’s naming signals a new succession line has been instated.

    4) I might be mistaken, but Ramírez actually has a decent academic and professional resumé, speaks English and perhaps French, had some managerial experience before chabe came to power, and knows how to handle himself when in a room with foreign dignataries and MVPs much better than Maduro or Jaua or almost every other chavista heavyweight; perhaps these qualifications were considered by the Cubans to be more valuable for their current international propaganda strategy in the Foreign Ministry rather than in PDVSA.


    • “elections that could, if lost, bear the beginning of the end for chavismo.”

      Elections will not be lost. The machinery will see to that. Meanwhile, chavismo is in transitional mode to a hybrid, with Cuban overlords a little more visible than before, but still sotto voce, while they continue to consolidate power and divert wealth from the Vzlan state.


      • “… continue to consolidate power and PLUNDER wealth from the Vzlan state.”
        There, “divert” is a soft euphemism to disguise what those bastards are doing to Venezuela.


  8. Was Giordani watching the announcement? Jaua thing was a demotion? Who is the person that really talks in diplomatic circles? Because if Oil is/was our passport, if he is not holding the key to all PDVSA accounts, what he is going to do as a Foreign Minister? Some people is saying that is not a demotion, but if he is not The king of the oil (+ all the family that manages even the lawsuits against PDVSA -The mother in Law) ? Who is it? I already have a headache Venezuela territorio de lo posible….


  9. There is one indicator that seems to always nail it with these bastards: The Carometro.
    Ever since the rumors of Chavez’s disease the Carometro hasn’t failed us, I specially enjoyed CC’s take on those most honest faces.

    Ramirez didn’t look happy, his faced turned red and he had some weird smirk…like a tight half-smile with his eyes about to implode. I’m not sure he was even well informed of these changes…but I’m not sure he’s a Giordani…he’s still in the loop somehow.
    But I’m convinced this wasn’t his choice, and he was definitely not happy about it.
    Not that it matters much anyhow…


  10. “Official titles reveal next to nothing about the relative power of different players.” Probably because decisions are taken by someone else… elsewhere?


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