Venezuelan Presidential Candidate Profile #4: Nicolas Maduro

Amid severe economic problems, can the incumbent convince voters that he is the man to bring better times?


What is his background?

Nicolas Maduro is certainly the biggest name in the 2018 presidential race and is undeniably the candidate with the longest political trajectory.

A former bus driver and trade union organiser, Maduro (55) got involved in politics through left wing groupings such as Rupture and the Socialist League organizing in the mountain shantytowns of working class west Caracas.

Though an avowed catholic, Maduro’s left-wing trade unionist family has strong Jewish roots on his father’s side. He is father to one (Nicolas Ernesto Maduro) and is an avid baseball aficionado and salsa dancer.

Thrown out of school at 15 for organising a student protest, Maduro later finished his studies and turned to politics, working as the bodyguard for leftist journalist Jose Vicente Rangel during the latter’s unsuccessful 1983 presidential run. He later continued his studies in political training schools in Habana, Cuba.

In 1990, Maduro began working in the Caracas metro before switching to driving public buses (1991-98). Whilst a bus driver and union organiser, he was a founding member of the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR), visiting Hugo Chavez in prison in 1993 where he met his future wife, Cilia Flores. From Yare prison, Chavez assigned him his codename “Green”.

After Chavez’s electoral victory in 1999, Maduro held prominent positions including member of the Constituent Assembly (1999), a deputy to the National Assembly (2000-06), president of the National Assembly (2005-06), foreign minister (2006-12), first vice president (2012-13), and interim president after Chavez’s death (2013).

Three months before passing away, President Chavez urged his supporters to vote for Nicolas Maduro should new elections be called, helping to assure Maduro’s narrow victory in snap presidential elections on April 14, 2013 (50.61% / 49.12%).

Since then, Maduro has led the country through tumultuous and uncertain times, including two violent civic uprisings against his government (2014 and 2017), increasing international exclusion, escalating US-led sanctions, a collapse in global oil prices, and one of the severest economic crises in the country’s history. .

As successor to the legendary Hugo Chavez, Maduro has faced significant criticism from both the left and the right. His leftist critics claim that he has abandoned Chavez’s vision of the commune as the path to socialism, while on the right he is regularly lampooned as an enemy of private capital who is a weaker and less intelligent version of Chavez. What is certain is that he has struggled to fill the enormous shoes left to him by Chavez and that Venezuela is in a worse state today than in 2013. Where Maduro’s supporters and foes differ is in the degree of responsibility which should be assigned to him.

Which political parties are backing him?

All of the left and centre-left parties which make up the Great Patriotic Pole (GPP) Chavista coalition that also backed him in 2013.

This list includes: the United Socialist Party (PSUV), the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV), the Tupamaro party, Homeland for All (PPT), Popular Venezuelan Unity (UPV), the Authentic Renovating Organisation (ORA), the People’s Electoral Movement (MEP), We Can (Podemos), among others.

It is also worth noting that in March, Maduro signed on behalf of the PSUV electoral agreements with the PCV and the PPT, which includes a series of commitments to revolutionary policies on the part of the government. The agreements are the first time that a presidential candidate has put his name to such a document with another party, with verbal or informal promises always sufficing in the past.

What are his proposed policies for Venezuela?

Maduro claims to be “more mature and better prepared” to rule for this next six-year period, but he is definitely the candidate of continuity rather than change.

Several robust government-led actions in the last few months can give us clues about the direction of a second Maduro mandate, such as the high-profile intervention in the private bank Banesco, the hugely successful anti-corruption drive in state oil firm PDVSA, the more efficient focalization of state social protections through the Homeland Card system, and recent support given for campesinos in their struggle against large landowners.

His flagship policies of the last two years also include the Local Production and Supply Committees (CLAP) which distribute subsidized food directly to organized communities, the Chamba Juvenil youth employment program, and the Great Venezuelan Housing Mission which is closing in on its goal of three million homes since 2011.

The base document for Maduro’s Homeland Plan 2025 includes important political reforms that Maduro has frequently talked about but which have yet to seriously materialise.

Such reforms include transforming the bourgeois state structure, consolidating political stability (in relation to right-wing destabilisation), national peace, and overcoming the oil-dependent economic model which has bought so much harm to the country over the past century. The country is also awaiting a new constitutional proposal from its National Constituent Assembly, which has a mandate to operate until 2019.

In the economic arena, he pledges to increase national production, end import dependence, and with the Petro bypass international sanctions in order to achieve greater autonomy vis-a-vis the Wall Street-dominated global financial system.

Internationally, we can expect more of the same from Maduro: pushing for a multipolar world, solidarity for embattled nations like Palestine, close ties to China, India, Russia, and South Africa, attempts to halt the neoliberal disintegration of regional blocs like UNASUR and the CELAC, and counter measures to Trump’s blockade and sanctions against the country.

Maduro in a quote?

“We will show the oligarchy that it’s the people who really run this country.”

Who is his typical voter?

Chavistas, those who followed and continue to follow the politics of ex-President Chavez. This includes a vast range of revolutionaries, Marxists, nationalists, anti-imperialists, community leaders, LGBT activists, feminists, fishermen and women, campesinos, public sector workers, indigenous citizens, and even nationalist large business owners or landlords.

Maduro can expect to get plenty of support from Venezuela’s poor and working class communities, which have most benefited from his social programs such as the CLAP Homeland Card system. These sectors will likely find themselves torn between their all too valid criticisms of the incumbent administration and their staunch rejection of right-wing efforts to take control of the country’s natural resources and reverse the Bolivarian process. How this contradiction is resolved may decide the election.

Maduro has also announced support for productive economic proposals from the evangelical community in a clear attempt to win over rival presidential contender Bertucci’s support base.

What is his election slogan?

“Together anything is possible” and “Let Get Going Venezuela”.

What will he try to make the elections about?

Trump’s blockade on Venezuela and anti-corruption efforts.

Having already nicknamed his main competitor Henri Falcon as Henri Fal-Trump, referring to the latter’s proposals to dollarize the Venezuelan economy, Maduro is conscious that the anti-imperialist nationalism which swept Chavez to victory in 1999 remains intact and crosses party divides. It even appeals to important opposition sectors, including sections of the lower middle class impacted by the effects of US-led sanctions.. In this sense, the Chavista incumbent will attempt to keep the focus on external threats in order to unite his wavering supporters.

Maduro will look to steer clear of a thorough evaluation of his past administration, especially his economic management as well as the state of the health and education systems a which have suffered severely from the crisis in recent years.

He will look to emphasise his statesmanship and national/international experience, as well as his repeated calls for national dialogue and peace as the counter position to the opposition drumbeat for confrontation, foreign intervention, isolation, and blockade.

He will also look to leverage Chavez’s enduring popularity to rally the expansive Chavista political bloc behind his leadership. He has already achieved significant victories in this respect by uniting allied leftist parties behind him amidst growing discontent and rumors of parallel candidates.

Finally, in light of regional corruption scandals which have seen hundreds arrested and presidents toppled (such as Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in Peru), Maduro’s recent anti-corruption push has been widely applauded and we can expect him to make these efforts a centerpoint of his campaign.

What are his main challenges?

Unless Maduro can convince the country that he brings new economic ideas and not just more of the same, he will struggle. The economy continues to be Venezuelans’ number one concern, and his main competitor, Falcon, is bringing bold proposals to the table.

Criticisms of Maduro are not hard to find and he has done little to dampen them. The right-wing blames what they perceive to be his inefficiency, stubborn refusal to reform the country’s forex regime, and hostility towards the private sector for the current economic situation, whilst those to his left criticise what they view as his lack of decisive economic action, reformist sympathies, and conciliatory attitude towards class enemies.

Maduro doesn’t necessarily need to win over traditional right-wing voters, many of whom will end up abstaining anyway, so his battle is to galvanise his natural supporters rather than convert new ones.

He must attempt to shake off an image of inefficiency, corruption, and slow-mindedness which has increasingly superimposed itself, and convince the country that he is capable of resolving the economic crisis and continuing Chavez’s revolutionary project, a tough feat after 5 years of mounting hardships, dashed hopes and so many unfulfilled promises.

Where can I read more about him?