Political Players in Venezuela
Nicolás Maduro: Hugo Chávez’s hand-picked successor defeated Henry Capriles in a special election held in April 2013 to determine who will finish the six-year term of the late leader, who succumbed to cancer in early March. A former bus driver and union activist, Maduro played a key role in securing the release of Chávez, who was imprisoned for his role in a failed attempt to overthrow the government of President Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1992, and was a founder of the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR), the predecessor to the PSUV. While serving as Chávez’s foreign minister, he built a reputation as a pragmatist with a knack for achieving results, and, prior to his selection as Chávez’s running-mate in 2012, he was viewed among members of the local business community as more moderate than his mentor on economic policy issues. However, his comparatively weak mandate will limit his flexibility, especially in the early going. Maduro built his campaign almost entirely on his relationship with Chávez, and he risks alienating the pro-Chávez base and his legislative allies if he attempts to chart a more centrist policy course. His Cabinet choices suggest that he will move very cautiously with regard to reducing the large outlays for social programs and subsidies that have left state-owned enterprises starved of investment capital and that he has no immediate plans to tighten monetary policy. Likewise, political pressure to prove himself worthy of his status as Chávez’s successor will limit the scope for an improvement in the government’s relationship with the private sector, and foreign-owned businesses will likely remain a favored target of populist attacks.
United Socialist Party of Venezuela: Formed in early 2008 around a core of Chávez’s MVR, the PSUV holds a comfortable majority of seats in the National Assembly, but no longer claims the two-thirds majority required to make changes to the constitution without the cooperation of the opposition. Although the PSUV is not immune to factional strife, it is expected to remain sufficiently united to provide Maduro with the support he will need as long as his policies do not stray too far from the principles of Chávez’s “Bolivarian revolution.”
Coalition for Democratic Unity: The MUD is an electoral alliance formed by the anti-Chávez forces ahead of the 2010 legislative elections. Although the coalition nearly matched the PSUV in terms of votes at the last legislative elections, electoral reforms implemented by Chávez ahead of the contests resulted in the MUD winning just 64 seats, compared to 96 for the president’s allies. The maintenance of a united front behind the candidacy of Henrique Capriles at presidential elections held in October 2012 and April 2013 attests to the alliance’s staying power, and with a victory at the 2015 legislative elections a real possibility, the MUD will have a strong incentive to stick together. However, the opposition will need to avoid pressing the new administration so hard as to foment widespread domestic disorder, a development that could trigger the intervention of the military and/or a suspension of the constitution.
Jorge Arreaza: A former minster of science and technology, Arreaza was chosen by Maduro to fill the vice presidency following Chávez’s death, and stood as Maduro’s running-mate at the April 2013 election,, a decision no doubt influenced by the fact that Arreaza is Chávez’s son-in-law. Arreaza’s position as first in line to succeed Maduro will provide the president with some insurance against a push by the opposition to legally remove him from office. That said, the vice president could emerge as a rival for de facto political control if Maduro fails to retain the full support of the PSUV.
Diosdado Cabello: A former army officer who played a role in Chávez’s return to power following the aborted coup in April 2002, Cabello was installed as president of the National Assembly ahead of the 2012 presidential election, making him arguably the second most powerful political figure after President Maduro. Cabello is a Chávez loyalist and a committed supporter of the Bolivarian revolution who will be an invaluable ally for Maduro, but could become a dangerous enemy, particularly given his ties to the military, if the president were to adopt a more moderate policy course.
Military: The rebellion by military officers in April 2002 that led to a short-lived coup against Chávez’s government and the nearly immediate counter-coup laid bare the existence of divisions between the top-level leadership of the armed forces and the middle-ranking officers. The subsequent purge of the top leadership in the aftermath of the coup, the careful selection of government ministers with responsibility for the armed forces, and generous state spending on defense enabled Chávez to establish firm control over the military, but the politicization of the armed forces makes it impossible to discount the risk of unconstitutional actions by officers if Maduro should have a falling out with the PSUV or prove unequal to the task of preserving domestic order.
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