Maduro Solidifies his Leadership over Government and Chavismo

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz and David Smilde

Having successfully passed the political hurdle of the December 2013 municipal elections, Maduro has increasingly cemented his role as leader of the Bolivarian Revolution. The elections pushed to the discursive margins questions of his legitimacy and increased his political capital within his own political coalition.

Most concretely, the predicted struggle between him and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello has not been played out yet. Cabello has become a major power broker in his position as President of the National Assembly and First Vice-President of the PSUV (The “eternal President” of the PSUV is Chávez), but has not contested Maduro’s leadership. However, political analyst Argelia Rios argues that during the campaign for the December elections “Diosdado Cabello emerged as a relevant party boss, so much so that it has become impossible for Maduro to ignore him.”

Perhaps the most salient change in direction during Maduro’s first nine months in office has been the increased the military presence in the government. Maduro has sought to strengthen what he calls the “civic-military” union. Given the small margin of victory at the polls in April, and ambivalent backing he has received from leftist social movements, it makes sense for Maduro to see the military as his most important pillar of support.

As we have mentioned on this blog, the government’s institutions of citizen security are now controlled by military officers from top to bottom. The economy has also come under increasing military control.

This month Maduro eliminated the government’s price control agency INDEPABIS, thus leaving out of the government its director, Eduardo Samán, a popular figure within the radical civilian left. Under the new centralized Centro Nacional de Comercio Exterior, the competences of ousted Saman will now be filled by a military, National Guard Mayor General Luis Motta Domínguez. The new Ministry of the Economy will be led by Army General Rodolfo Marco Torres. All of this follows the creation of a military television channel, construction company and bank in 2013.

Maduro has had to face strong criticism from the far left of the Chavismo. The appointments of militaries mentioned above, especially the removal of Saman, was criticized via Twitter by leftists accusing Maduro of “selling out” to right wing influences.

Furthermore, Maduro has based the ideological legitimacy of his leadership of the Revolution in the fact that he is Chávez chosen political heir, he therefore is the legitimate interpreter of what chavismo is supposed to mean.

The President has strongly contested challenges to his monopoly of interpretation: In January 6 a popular columnist of the pro-government web page Aporrea, Toby Valderrama (who also writes under the name Antonio Aponte), published an article claiming the text of the Plan de la Patria, presented by to the National Assembly as Chavez´s political testament and blueprint for the transition to socialism, had been toned down by the “internal right” within the Revolution.

Maduro directly answered the accusations and publically claimed, referring to Valderrama, that “somebody seems to be preparing the way for a definitive act of treason against the Revolution.” He also insisted: “I know where I stand. [I say this] to those who underestimate me, from the ultra-left or from the ultra-right, I know where I stand…Nobody knows everything about how to construct socialism, so please, I ask a little bit of humility to some wise persons that have been talking lately…This is what is really written in the Plan de la Patria, and no matter the costs, we will advance firmly, together with the people. Let nobody doubt this, nobody from the ultra-left, or the ultra-right, or the most ultra of the ultras.”

Valderrama answered in a second article also published in Aporrea that, despites the attacks, he still supported President Maduro’s government, but insisted in his claim that there are two different versions of the Plan de la Patria: one left by Chávez and the other altered by the “internal right” of the Revolution.

In a recent public meeting with his complete cabinet (ministers and vice-ministers), Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro insisted that newly appointed members should leave aside their “personal agendas” and instead act with humility: “We have to break with all those false protocols, break with false bourgeois vanities. All that bourgeois vanity and idolatry of the self [egolatría] is now prohibited.”