Is Venezuela’s Maduro Gaining Strength or Losing His Grip?

The Inter American Dialogue’s daily Latin American Advisor ran a Q&A on the implications of the removal of Planning Minister Jorge Giordani. Below is Hugo Pérez Hernáiz’s contribution.

The contributions of Javier Corrales, Daniel C Hellinger and Asdrubal Ontiveros can be read here.

LAA: Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in mid-June removed Jorge Giordani, one of the main architects of Venezuela’s system of currency and price controls and a staunch supporter of Marxist economic policies, from his long-time post as planning minister, along with several other ministers in a cabinet shakeup. In a public letter after his dismissal, Giordani blamed Maduro’s administration for allowing corrupt practices to continue, sentiments that Héctor Navarro, a fellow leftist and PSUV party leader, endorsed publicly as well. Does Giordani’s departure signal big changes to the country’s economic policy? How are Giordani’s removal and vocal challenges from the left of his party affecting Maduro’s strength and power to control economic decision-making?

HP: Like Giordani, Maduro is a convinced socialist and believes in a planned and controlled economy, but he is being forced by circumstances to make difficult economic decisions, and Giordani’s exit could facilitate economic reform. The economic consequences of the issue are significant, but the political side is also serious. Even if Giordani and Navarro are not power brokers within the PSUV or the government, they are still respected leaders for the rank and file and give voice to the radical left of Chavismo, critical of what they perceive as a ‘turn to the right’ on economics and politics. Maduro could pay a price for his overreaction to criticisms in terms of future electoral support from the radical left. But this is not an electoral year, and for now Maduro seems to have the support and loyalty of the military and the party/state apparatus. In the near future, however, we could witness a struggle over who is the real and legitimate interpreter of Chávez’s political/religious legacy. Maduro is still banking on his legitimacy of origin as the designated heir of the ‘eternal leader,’ but he could soon be challenged by other Chavistas. An event to watch this month will be the Third Party Congress of the PSUV, for which the leadership has been insisting on the need for unity, loyalty and discipline. Party leaders will try to closely control the public side of the event, but displays of discontent related to the Giordani affair are likely.“