In naming Maduro as new VP, Chávez indicates preference for successor

Fresh off his reelection after nearly a year-long and tough-fought election campaign against Henrique Capriles, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez yesterday named Nicolás Maduro as his vice president.

The move clearly establishes Maduro as a favorite successor for a president who’s also over the past year received treatment abroad for cancer and whose new presidential term runs fully until January 2019.

As such, one of the questions looming over Sunday’s election was whether Chávez would even survive until the election (he did, of course), and if so, whether he could groom a successor who would both stand on his own among the Venezuelan people as a champion of chavismo after Chávez’s death (or retirement) and whether the various factions of Chávez’s ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV, or United Socialist Party of Venezuela).

Maduro himself is a former bus driver and trade unionist (unofficially, however, as trade unions were not permitted in the 1970s and 1980s), and became politically active on the Venezuelan left.  He helped found the PSUV and its predecessor movement, he was a key aide in Chávez’s winning election campaign in 1998 and was elected that year to the Chamber of Deputies (which preceded today’s National Assembly, which was introduced under Chávez’s 1999 constitution) and has been a member of the National Assembly thereafter, serving as the speaker from 2005 to 2006.  Since 2006, Maduro has served as Chávez’s foreign minister, and has been generally known as a loyal, but moderate, member of Chávez’s inner circle.

A very juicy (and perhaps wine-soaked) internal email from the private intelligence group Stratfor from 2011 leaked by Wikileaks earlier this year pinpointed Maduro as the likeliest candidate:

Maduro is loyal as a dog to Chavez. (the source knows Maduro personally, from the days that Maduro was a driver of the metro bus.) At the same time, maduro is seen as the most pragmatic in the regime. If Chavez’s health deteriorates significantly before the scheduled Oct 2012 elections, expect him to proclaim Maduro as his successor in one way or another. You can already see him propping up Maduro in a lot of ways. This is less risky than Chavez going through with elections, winning, suddenly dying and then a power struggle among the Chavistas breaking out. It will be much harder in this latter scenario for Maduro to assert himself against rival Chavistas like Diosdado Cabello, Rafiel Ramirez, etc.

Maduro is seen as more of a Lula candidate. He has a following, he has charisma, but he’s also a balancer. He’s the kind of guy that would open up to the US and keep tight with everyone else, but that still makes Iran nervous. The source seems to think that Obama in his second term would open up to Maduro (and this is something that he is actively working on.)

The e-mail claims that both Russia and China — and possibly Cuba — support Maduro as the preferred successor to Chávez.  Sure enough, Maduro has true roots in the movement for social progress that represents the best of what the Chávez regime has accomplished since 1998, and he has sufficient charisma to carry forward that project in the 2018 election, and sufficient moderation to be a calming influence on each of the United States, Russia and China, even as he has worked to develop closer ties to the Castros in Cuba.  Even Juan Cristobal Nagel at Caracas Chronicles, not exactly a partisan, has some nice things to say about Maduro, but Maduro is not quite the second coming of Lula (nor even, apparently, as open to LGBT rights as the Castro regime in Cuba is fast becoming).

So who loses out with Madero’s elevation?

Most obviously, the outgoing vice president, the largely technocratic and humorless Elías Jaua, who is expected to run against Capriles for the governorship of Miranda state, now seems less likely to be seen as a potential Chávez successor.  Jaua, who has served as vice president since 2010, was previously minister for land reform, where he oversaw the redistribution of privately held property.

The other two most-discussed potential successor are Chávez’s younger brother, Adán, and Diosdado Cabello.

Adán Chávez is widely considered to be as radical, if not more so, than his brother, and he has an incredibly strong relationship with Fidel and Raúl Castro.

Cabello, for his part, is currently the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly and, like Maduro, has been a key Chávez ally since Chávez’s 1992 coup against the Venezuelan government.  In addition, Cabello is seen as having strong ties to Venezuela’s military elite as well as to the shadowy, if lucrative, drug trade, although he lacks much of the popular support that Chávez commands — he actually lost the 2008 gubernatorial race to Capriles in Miranda state.

In the meanwhile, Chávez is left facing several difficult issues in the six years ahead: a horrific nationwide crime rate, crumbling infrastructure and an economy that remains subject to fluctuations in oil prices.

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