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Maduro isn't Putin

An electoral event is rising on Venezuela's horizon: primaries that will determine the opposition's candidate. The main premise is that said opposition will present just one candidate against incumbent Nicolas Maduro in 2024's presidential elections. Maria Corina Machado is leading the primaries race. Manuel Rosales, Henrique Capriles, and others less known figures are also participating. The official electoral authority (National Electoral Council or CNE) is not running the primaries, which in practical terms mean that the whole thing can be declared invalid and illegal by Venezuela's Supreme Court (TSJ). The leading candidate was disqualified (for holding public office) in 2015 for one year, however the Attorney General’s Office has not clarified, nor made any statements, declaring that Machado is fit to race. 

Then, there's no consensus among opposition candidates as to suitability of excluding the official electoral body from primaries. Most of Machado's foes within the opposition are ambiguous, at best, about the prospect. Others have already declared that not running things with CNE is futile. The quality of candidates is breathtaking, and includes Freddy Solorzano, caught spending humanitarian aid in booze and prostitutes, and Tamara Adrian, the lawyer who provided the Oberto Anselmi brothers with the "legal opinion" (for compliance purposes) that facilitated a $4+ billion money laundering scheme. 

Two CNE board members aligned with the opposition resigned recently. A (mistakenly) held belief was that they provided balance in electoral decisions. Maduro appointed a Committee tasked with selecting CNE's new board, chaired by first lady Cilia Flores. 

There is no sign that the opposition will succeed in filing just one candidate. On the contrary, it is almost certain that come 2024 the opposition vote will be divided between different candidates.

In the meanwhile, Maduro's eating popcorn. Despite being derided as an incompetent and inept president for over a decade, he's gotten the measure of the opposition's quantum to the finest point and controls them better than what Hugo Chavez ever managed to achieve in the height of his powers. Maduro also saw through all of Donald Trump's microphone diplomacy, empty threats and the international coalition of nations that were going to rescue Venezuela from chavismo. He called it right from the get go, sat and just waited for his enemies to come back with tail between legs.

The U.S. government has had to reverse policy course. Maduro's narco nephews were freed. Maduro's Treasury-sanctioned other nephew was quietly taken off SDN list. Chevron got its license, and so did Trinidad. ENI & Repsol are soon to be approved by Treasury. Negotiations between President Joe Biden representatives and chavista officials continue, without Maduro having moved an inch on core U.S. government demands. Roger Carstens goes to Caracas and comes back empty handed. In practice, there is nothing the U.S. can do against Maduro. Yes, the Justice Department has Alex Saab, and tremendous amounts of intelligence about corruption, drug trafficking, etc., but none of that is going to either force him out of Miraflores, or change the dysfunctional opposition. 

Unrealistic expectation is the common denominator in nearly all aspects related to Venezuela's economy, politics, energy or democracy. Chevron, for instance, thought it would just open the spigot and crude would burst out. Trinidad sees a similar mirage. Iran thought that its technicians would fix El Palito in three months. Russia is demanding Chevron-like treatment using a shell company that doesn’t exist legally in Venezuela. Maduro thought that firing Tareck el Aissami and arresting his crew would bring back billions worth of cryptocurrency. Juan Guaidó really believes he is president. Machado thinks she'll see it through.

It is delusion of the highest order. In a world where Trump is still a free man despite promoting a coup, Putin launches wars, MBS ridicules Biden, and Europe protects criminal proxies of Russia it is a mystery how anyone can think anything straightforward can come from a country like Venezuela. Reality is unavoidable, is there like the sun, but bondholders think that a change of Treasury policy is going to magic $180 billion in cash in a destitute and bankrupted country. Chevron cannot send its VLCCs to lift crude in Lake Maracaibo's terminals because the channel has not been dredged in over a decade, and another one will pass before it is dredged again. Venezuela's largest refinery complex keeps shutting down. Dragon Field is a decade away from becoming operative.

Besides the long, very well documented, and unmissable destruction brought by chavismo since 1999, is there any example, anywhere, that could sustain this delusion that suddenly things will go back to "normal"? Is there any evidence with the current regime that Venezuela can become anything other than what it already is?

Take Tareck el Aissami's example. Thought by some to be a shrewd operative who was able to climb to multiple roles of critical importance. Once in command of PDVSA and seeking to circumvent Treasury sanctions, he came up with the idea that PDVSA's trade would be conducted outside traditional methods, i.e. crypto, with a host of shell companies registered in offshore jurisdictions. Having a university friend as head of SUNACRIP (Venezuela's crypto authority) was ideal, to control flow of payments. Tareck appointed a loyal military man to oversee PDVSA's off-the-books trade. What Tareck did not foresee was that those crooked partners he chose were not even contemplating paying back. Loses ran into the billions. United Petroleo alone (a shell allegedly controlled by Alessandro Bazzoni) got away with over $500 million. M & Y Trading got more: $1.2 billion. The funds are not stashed in a crypto wallet somewhere, but were never paid in the first place. The problem of dealing exclusively with the world's criminality is that when theft happens there is no recourse available to recover loses.

Unlike Putin, Maduro doesn’t have to deal with a Prigozhin, he's not running wars of agression against other nations, and doesn’t make nuclear threats. In the great scheme of geopolitical things, his irrelevance is a blessing. He will walk away with another term in 2024, regardless of who's in the White House. The opposition will continue being completely dysfunctional. PDVSA will never recover, and those responsible will never, ever, be brought to justice.


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