President Chávez's choice
President Chávez's order was quite clear: "If I am not present or able to rule, Vice President Nicolás Maduro should become Venezuela's President." Some people considered the opportunity to negotiate; nevertheless, for members of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, the priority is to fight the enemy
The impact caused suddenly by Nicolás Maduro to the world was one of a circumstantial nature: the big boy sitting on the left of Hugo Chávez, almost with his head down, and the hands hidden below the table. He was a Nicolás Maduro of drooping shoulders, just as if the burden of the new responsibility that he had to take was bringing him down.
Since then, his past as a driver of Metrobús was highlighted with surprise in the huge numbers of biographies written about him. But interestingly enough, they missed out a key element for a country like the current Venezuela: Nicolás Maduro is a civilian. The civilian who has reached -helped by destiny- the highest rank in a power project surrounded by militaries.
The singular hierarchy of Chávez's government is not only based on the distribution of official vacancies. It is indeed much more important how much someone take care of the president commander. And Maduro has been able to win in both fields. In October 2011, he was appointed Vice President and at this bad time, he ended up becoming Hugo Chávez's political heir.
On Saturday, December 8, 2012, in a mandatory nationwide radio and television broadcast, President Chávez informed the country that he had to come back to a Cuban operating room right away due to the reappearance of cancerous cells in his body.
Right there, in front of the cameras, Chávez gave the instruction: "If by any chance, something that could make me incapable of ruling happened, I repeat, Nicolás Maduro must finish the presidential term as the Constitution establishes it in such situation-. Besides, my clear, sharp request, total as the full moon, irrevocable, absolute, total, is that in such scenario which forces to call presidential elections as the Constitution demands, you choose Nicolás Maduro as President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela."
That night, Diosdado Cabello, current Speaker of the National Assembly was sitting on the right of his commander. He is one of the strongmen in the revolution because of his leadership skills in ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Psuv) and his close link with the military field. That is why in the speculative theory, comrade Cabello fitted more as the most likely successor. Nevertheless, the leader's will was otherwise and nowadays, Maduro is the one who benefits from his political capital, the one responsible for maintaining the work on track.
Maduro's obedience to the commander, however, does not seem to abide by the given instruction this time. While Chávez spoke of calling new presidential elections, the Maduro-Diosdado team opted for an alternative way: to continue in the power.
During the 1998 presidential campaign, Maduro was one of the personal assistants of candidate Hugo Chávez. In 1999, when Chávez was just starting his presidential term, Maduro formed part of the Constitutional National Assembly, and in 2000, he was elected as deputy.
Six years later, his comrades appointed him as Parliament Speaker and some months later, President Chávez appointed him Minister of Foreign Affairs, in spite of having no experience at all in the diplomatic field. Nevertheless, Maduro proved during all this time that he is able to learn quickly and on the go.
As a foreign minister, he has greatly shown publicly his "anti imperialist" position and his stance against the United States' Government, although he recently admitted publicly that by the end of 2012, he did some tasks -authorized by Chávez, he clarified- in order to improve the relationship with the US government.
For those experts in the subject, his years in the Ministry of Exterior represent a period of de-professionalization of the country's diplomacy. Anyhow, some foreign delegates secretly acknowledge in him an understanding speaker, someone who is willing to listen and who establishes links in a political environment that only knows of allies and enemies. Furthermore, Maduro has been the main operator of the alliances with China, Iran and Russia, which are fundamental in the geopolitical strategy of the revolution.
From his time at the Assembly, reporters remember his thoughtful and well-mannered attitude. "It is the most decent in Chávezism," a journalist maintains. "He keeps his thoughts to himself, but he is not a lout, he has always been a gentleman." "He introduced order in the functioning of the National Assembly," another journalist asserts.
His career, however, is not faultless. In 2002, opposition congresspersons accused him of embezzlement. The denunciation was practically shelved and five years later, the cause was dismissed.
Neither this nor that
Analysis, made in a rush manner by the opposition sector, foresees a tough battle between Maduro and Cabello for the conquest of the presidency in the absence of President Chávez. However, such prediction is not contemplated inside Chávezism. Chávez sorted things out in his inner circle ensuring this way the unity necessary to maintain the socialist project on board. And the balance of this game lies in the dexterities attributed to Maduro and in Cabello's rank (ascendant) among the military officers (Elías Jaua, recently appointed as the new Foreign Minister; Minister of Defense Diego Molero Bellavia, and Minister of Petroleum and Mining Rafael Ramírez also make their input to the equation).
"There is something important to understand here" Rocío San Miguel, coordinator of NGO Citizen's Control, explains: "The Military High Command does not object and will not object any decision made by Chávez." And she adds: "Although the existing distance of Nicolás Maduro from the military scenario is glaring, Maduro has shown great adaptation capacity."
"At this point, there are no military threats of any kind," the expert asserts. "An era under Maduro awaits us in Venezuela, an era we are not familiar with."
Luis Vicente León, director of pollster Datanálisis agrees: "The last thing that military officers will want to do is to conduct a coup. That would only be an inevitable measure as a response to the loss of their privileges. Otherwise, they will have the chance to negotiate and Maduro is that needed negotiator."
She also sees in such qualification the potential to cool things down: since he does not belong to any confrontation groups, Maduro is -in theory- the considerate man, the one called to conciliate and bring peace in troubled times whenever the commander is not present: "His speech is somewhat primitive in regards to the use of terms and adjectives of attack on rivals, but the truth is he is more of a conciliator and more open than the other options that Chávez had on the table."
Assuming that Cabello is regarded as a tough, intransigent military officer and Elías Jaua is viewed as a hardcore leftist with little charisma in electoral terms, the conclusion is then quite obvious: "Maduro was the best resource Chávez had at hand."
According to the Cable News Network (CNN), Heinz Dieterich, a sociologist and analyst of Chávezism believes more or less the same: "There were no other better choices. I do not claim that Maduro is the most suitable candidate; however, in what this political environment respects, he is a person loved by the Venezuelan people, and such fact will ensure his beating in the presidential election opposition leader Henrique Capriles, which constitutes the first most important step in this journey. Secondly, he has abided by the basic guidelines designed in the Bolivarian project."
His recent declarations, however, have not been actually of a conciliatory nature. Almost in every public speech he has delivered, Maduro has not missed a single chance to verbally attack opposition leaders and certain sectors of the local and international media.
If anyone was expecting that "diplomacy" entered the stage with Maduro, then they will have to wait. It is clear that Chávezism is not interested in building relationships at this time but in getting more supportive groups and reinforcing its causes instead: the loyalty to Hugo Chávez and the necessity to keep his "legacy," besides insisting on adhering to the thought of a common enemy that waits for any weakness sign.
If such strategy worked for Chávez, why should the tandem Maduro-Cabello fail? Anyway, in keeping with their style, the fact of the matter is that they have no need to smooth their speech: here, the priority is of another nature.
Translated by Adrián Valera Villani
Cristian Fonseca, a businessman in La Candelaria district downtown Caracas, was doing the accounts in his small shop office on Sunday December 21, 2008. The Christmas shopping season kept him working late hours into the night. It was around 11 p.m. and his phone rang. A friend broke the bad news to him over the telephone.