This is quite a piece of news, of the astounding sort. For me, the shock is the incredible realization that Nicolas Maduro, a general failure in life has managed to reach two of the highest offices in the country strictly on his servility merits to El Supremo, a.k.a. Hugo Chavez. But also, as a strange relief of sorts, we are left to admire how a totalitarian regime sets itself in place.
There is really nothing positive to write about him. He is a failed union leader, from the Caracas subway system if memory serves me well. He never did anything smart in his life, and since the press got him as a source of news in 1998, there is nothing I can point that he did that showed creativity, originality or even hard work. He gained weight and got known for his escapades to visit his guru in India, first class ticket of course, at tax payer expense one may presume since he never bothered showing the receipts and even for an assemblyman paycheck, first class tickets to India is quite a bundle.
However he is a semi gifted opportunist and in a political movement full of nullities carried by Chavez own charisma (plus the general management of Cuban advisers) that was a big advantage. He understood very, very early that the way to go was to accept anything that Chavez will do or order. He was handicapped at first because he comes from labor, from the civilian sector that Chavez wanted to destroy the most at the start of his rule. It took Chavez quite a while to trust Maduro. To gain the trust Maduro did several things. One was to live maritally with Cilia Flores, a talibanic pasionara of limited intellect but vociferating abilities and overly dyed red hair. She also was one of the few lawyers that volunteered to help Chavez in 1992. Reports of their trips to the US for shopping sprees, kids on tag, have been numerous.
The second thing Maduro did was to choose wisely his revolutionary career. I suppose that we can give him credit for his self knowledge on his limited managerial skills. That would explain his choice of a parliamentary career, never trying to go elsewhere. Not for him to exert in running for governor, mayor or indicating a wish to work in the executive branch. Maduro knew that for someone lazy, with little interest in day to day management, a seat at the newly formed national assembly was the way to go, in particular with a regime that primed the executive more and more. A sinecure so to speak.
The third thing Maduro did was to organize the “civilian” group within chavismo. In this meaning, “civilian group” meant organizing non military folks that were willing to be as devoted to Chavez, no questions asked, as the military that Chavez so obviously favored. Which admittedly was not much hard work either as all were only too willing to imitate Maduro. Leadership by example if you please. He kept gaining weight.
But Maduro always failed to shine, failed to reach higher positions. This started to change some when he sat patiently at the negotiating table in 2003 to nail the conditions for a recall election. We know what happened, but at least Chavez grateful that his delegates took the heat for him started rewarding them. Maduro abilities for stone walling (due to his poor intellect contrary to what people might believe) were certainly handy for an increasingly authoritarian regime who did not want to discuss any parcel of power.
Maduro started moving up and for the last year of the assembly he became the speaker of the house. By then of course the national assembly had become a redoubt of chavismo where the main objective was to stall the remaining opposition, something that Maduro had shown interest for and some ability in doing. In all fairness under the baton of Maduro things did function better in the assembly in that the opposition was less able to start discussion on law projects as a parliament is supposed to do. Chavez appreciated the lowered noise from the National Assembly and the passing of several controversial laws that one had to pinch one's nose to vote for. Maduro surely noted who did pinch his or her own nose and those ones did not get the nod to seek a reelection.
Of course after the assembly became monochromatic in 2005 Maduro was confirmed as speaker and speedily made the National Assembly into the Notary Public of the executive, a place where law projects are sent to be speedily voted, no questions asked. Maduro was now a star of the regime, always starved for people who do as told, without any discussion.
Nicolas Maduro Foreign Minister?
I mean, how can such a non-dialogue person, someone that cannot even speak proper Spanish, someone that probably knows little geography, less history and has no obvious ability in understanding complex international issues be named Foreign Minister?
Well, again his only known qualities: stonewalling and straight face when saying utter nonsense.
It seems that the latest excursion of Chavez has brought some lessons home. With the semi death of Castro (and his imminent death anytime soon no matter what) Chavez has decided to stop any pretense and play his hand on the foreign stage. What this means for Venezuela I reserve for a future post, limiting myself to sate the obvious, that the December election are more compromised than ever, that the international project of Chavez not only cannot contemplate ever losing power, but that the opposition must be shown as not being able to get even a 20% of the vote, the real meaning of the “10 millones por el buche” as we can now fully understand. “Unanimity” of the Venezuelan people is a must for the trials to come, even if such unanimity must be gained on abstention and gross electoral cheating..
The thing is that Chavez has cast his lot once and for all. He is bidding for Castro’s mantle, he is bidding for the leadership of the anti US world crusade, he has declared open support for all regimes severely to totally lacking in democratic value and he must himself degrade the embers of his own democracy to show his new allies his sincerity. The days of Mr. Nice, of trying to pretend to negotiate treaties and stuff are over. He does not need a foreign minister anymore: he needs a parrot like Perez Roque in Cuba, someone that will say the darnedest things with a straight face and limit himself to repeat them as often as needed. He needs someone who will justify what is about to happen in Venezuela without batting an eye, without opening himself to any shred of discussion. Chavez needs a messenger that can only read the script and is absolutely unable to take any weird initiative.
Maduro will be perfect: the anti foreign secretary, the anti negotiator.
The comic moment
But as usual, we, of the peanut gallery, are rewarded with telling moments.
I cannot conceive of the speaker of any real great democratic parliament relinquishing what is the second highest office in any country (when not the highest) with the glee that Maduro did today. In democratic countries, reaching the leadership of the parliament is the crowning of a career, it is the second most important position after the prime minister or the president, it is the one that maybe has the densest net of contacts, or pork barrel appropriations, of grateful subjects. You leave such a position because you become vice president, prime minister, president, governor of your bigger state, or something like that. Foreign Minister is a step down for you who even control indirectly the workings of the foreign committee of YOUR parliament! No treaty or agreement will be signed without you, no ambassador can be named or received without your knowledge and agreement, no foreign potentate will visit your country without paying respects, if anything by chatting with you a few minutes at some state dinner. And all presidents and prime ministers will at some point fear you when you threaten them with the schedule of the parliamentary debate. Only your electors can run you away: the president can do little against you.
That Maduro leaves this seat so easily means that either Chavez is in big trouble and needs his help or because the chair of the National Assembly is obviously now a totally boring and ceremonial position. After you look at the career of Maduro above, only the second explanation can make sense. If anyone still thought that the monochromatic National Assembly of Venezuela had any license, they needed only to look at the joy of Maduro leaving his job to be set straight. Today will not be counted as the end of Venezuelan democracy (this boat as sailed long ago) but it certainly will be considered as one of the most symbolic moments of its demise.