Opinion and Analysis: Bolivarian Project
Venezuela: Maduro in Chávez’s Shoes
A politically refined reading on the presidency of Nicolás Maduro starting with a recognition of the morass of circumstances he has had to face as the country’s leader.
Source: Mision Verdad
To begin with, and with no desire to rain on a flood, Maduro took the place of someone who possessed an absolute leadership previously unknown throughout the country’s political history. Without seeking it, he put himself in Chávez’s shoes, as Chávez himself was the one to put him in that role. That circumstance already implies a comparison with Chávez, and politically implies understanding the national dynamic between the ambiguity and confusion in the great vacuum left by the Comandante.
On the other hand, there is the well-known circumstance of specific attacks on the economy and destabilization of the country, guarimba barricades, threats of sanctions, and constant international attacks. Maduro has been on the receiving end of an absurd amount of internal attacks by Chavismo factions (the same four opinionated critics who used to attack Chávez so much) who have contributed a great deal to the ultraright’s script, debilitating Maduro’s image and eviscerating Chavismo. Maduro’s situation is complex, as it would be for anyone who assumed the role of conducting the Chavismo Revolution without the physical presence of Chávez.
Without a doubt, the legacy of Maduro’s recent but extremely turbulent presidency is based on constructing a leadership with its own characteristics: its own attributes, its own styles, its own errors, its own incongruities, in a context of structures, as well as new circumstances. But there is something we must not ignore about what Maduro has in fact done: his emphasis on maintaining the political connection identifying Chávez’s work, and this in spite of the contradictions, as even Chávez himself had them. The sociopolitical outcome of Maduro’s leadership can be appreciated by basically examining the sensitive elements of issues that Chávez never dealt with or did inconsistently, correcting Chávez’s mistakes, elaborating on what Chávez did or continuing what Chávez left unfinished. The elements that stand out and are worth knowing about are:
- In 30 years of intermittent currency control, under a system of redistributing dollars gained through petroleum revenues through subsidized pricing to individuals, never, repeat, never, not even during 15 years under Chávez, has there been a large-scale referral process involving the General Treasury of the Republic or the nation of reporting or accusations of currency fraud.
The largest source of corruption in the country, heretofore untouchable, is now at the epicenter of hundreds of cases referred to the courts by Cencoex [The National Foreign Trade Center] involving billions of dollars in fraud committed by corrupt businesses and officials. Cadivi’s bloodletting is the preamble to the first and only large-scale legal case of corporate fraud in 100 years of petroleum profits in Venezuela. It is a case that no one would have brought – except for Maduro.
- During the Fourth Republic, the only prisoners who became involved in politics were from the Left, including Chávez. It was a time when there really were political prisoners. During the era of the Chávez presidency, the coup-mongering Democratic Coordination leadership and later the MUD [Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, The Democratic Unity Roundtable] were allowed to enact fascism, coups, petroleum sabotage, and destabilization with impunity. Throughout this period there was never a notable political prisoner arrested for crimes openly committed.
When Maduro became President, Leopoldo López was his most notable counterpart, reaching a higher position than even Capriles in the opposition. López began to use his enormous political licence as a licence to kill openly and with impunity. He challenged Maduro to imprison him, and now he is being held. We must ask ourselves how many opposition politicians, coup-mongers and murderers on the scale of Leopoldo Lopez were imprisoned during the Chávez era.
How many? We could say that the circumstances were not the same, but obviously the circumstances surrounding Maduro are not at all easy. Another question we must ask ourselves: Is Nicolás Maduro weak, or is he being underestimated by the right and some other Chavists?
- Any member of the country’s commune movement knows, and can testify, that there has been a radical change in the Government’s political will to leverage and accelerate (without it becoming by Government decree) the consolidation of the Communes. There have been huge advances over just the last year. The communes, a political legacy of Chávez and part of his fundamental idea of revolutionary transformation, have been dormant, mired in bureaucracy and considered vestigial. Maduro has taken on the task and the situation is changing.
- Maduro has proposed to transform the Government, the way it is run and the mechanisms for attending to the people’s demands. Candidates for Cabinet posts are not just part of a political moment, but part of a sustained and perennial process that Maduro has proposed as a formula to revitalize the Government, and transform it in terms of political efficiency. Reviewing goals, strategies, management methodologies and even officials’ job descriptions has been an ongoing task.
The old State has been an enormous counterweight to the Revolution’s politics, and to transform it first it must be demolished by its parts: the interest groups, cliques, factions, conclaves, overlords and patronages within the very same Government. Some may think this will lead to disputes, conflicts of interest and even fragmentation in leadership. In any event, one has to have the guts to seriously take on this political demand, to no longer coexist with bureaucracy and corruption. The solution to these structural vices is systemic, and only possible with an essential change in the conscience of the leadership, but there are reforms to be made in the Government as well. Maduro is taking them on.
- Creating economic equilibrium implies rigorous regulation in the process of foreign currency allocation to avoid a bloodletting, an extremely delicate operation that was once "untouchable" because it directly affects importation and supply. Blackmail used to be the precursor to deregulation and corruption, but that is no longer the case. Economic equilibrium also consists in taking on the issue of gasoline, also supposedly "untouchable" because of the threat of social unrest. Maduro is inviting debate on this issue and is sure that the way will be enacted. Regarding the question of PDVSA [Petróleos de Venezuela S.A., the Venezuelan national oil company] sustainability in terms of balancing its resources given the exorbitant cost of subsidizing gasoline, it will be done, requiring leadership and political will. Maduro doesn’t appear to be a “put off until tomorrow” type. He’s been accused of being "pragmatic." Others believe the importance of decisions varies with the will and consistency with which they are undertaken.
- Overcoming two coups d’états straining one presidency is not small thing. Although Maduro counts upon consolidated Chavismo that has "matured" [Madurado] politically, all of Chavismo’s consistency would be a house of cards if he had not acted with the political intelligence and consistency he did during these difficult times. At this conjuncture, he consolidated his leadership.
- The central orientation of the Government is also based on the sociopolitical orientation. In reinforcing the Social Missions System, the Chavismo projects’ egalitarian and inclusive structure was erected. Losing sight of this would be a political catastrophe for both the Revolution and the historical process. Maduro has understood this.
In contrast to theories (including those from Chavistas themselves) such as containing "social costs," Maduro has rather expanded prioritized attention to social matters, now with a strategy more directly focused on nodes of extreme poverty, which are structural and have been in existence during the more than 100 years of petroleum revenues. Maduro has taken on the social debt which Chávez had begun to pay.
Analyzing Maduro’s presidency as a political process in development implies recognition of the country’s own adverse circumstances, as well as the structural, sustained deficiencies of his Government. Expecting Maduro to eliminate corruption and bureaucrats with a stroke of the pen, is not only impossible but absurd. Expecting Maduro to not make any missteps is equally so. But there must be a reading of the substance of what’s happening. There are things underway that are of great value and meaning, that maybe because our own political myopia we are not analyzing and discussing thoroughly.
We who are taking on the responsibility for the Bolivarian Revolution as a collective process, without ceasing to be critical and aware, and maintaining the firm position that revolutionary cohesion must be unshakeable, also understand that the Maduro presidency and the revolutionary political leadership deserve our assistance, our effort, and our support.
Defeatist, fatalistic and demobilizing language contributes little to our historic task. Many believe Maduro must continue to surpass his contradictions, and continue to reorient his decisions and working teams, with an emphasis on giving a clear reading on what is happening in order to take on situations and critical issues in leading the country, but we are satisfied that there is a clear orientation.
Something Comandante Fidel Castro once said sums up all of Maduro’s important acts in Government: "Maduro has demonstrated the talent, integrity and energy that the great leader knew he had." Fidel doesn’t play children’s games. That’s why he said that, and many of us are convinced that he is right.
Translated by Danica Jorden for Upside Down World