What do we really know about Maduro?

No volverá a pasar, número uno.
No volverá a pasar, número uno.

In my TNR piece on the launch of transition, I stress the idea that we don’t actually know anything at all about Nicolás Maduro,

Although he’s held a string of high-profile jobs since 1999, including speaker of the National Assembly, foreign minister and, now, vice president, Maduro long ago figured out that the Prime Directive for an aspiring Chavista pol is never ever to be seen as out of step with the president. The president-in-waiting is Chavismo’s consumate Yes Man.

The trouble with Yes Men, of course, is that you can never tell what they’re really thinking. Maduro’s resume provides only limited guidance: A Caracas bus driver turned radical union organizer for bus drivers, he’s seen as a champion for the civilian side of the Civilian-Military divide, a split typically described as pitting more radical, leftist, pro-Cuban civilians against more conservative, corrupt, nationalistic military men in the upper echelons of bureaucratic Chavismo.

The reality is that, like every pol who’s managed to survive a decade and a half of splits and purges within the Chávez movement, Nicolás Maduro is a political minikin, part of the flotsam left behind after every Chávez supporter of substance and integrity either walked out or was thrown out.

For the moment, Chávez’s explicit endorsement ends what some had feared would become a messy fight to succeed him. But how lasting will that peace prove to be, once the comandante is out of the picture? After all, the skills it takes to remain in an autocrat’s favor over an extended period of time have little in common with the skills it takes to keep the governing coalition intact—to say nothing about running the country. Maduro is the acknowledged master of the former, certainly, but his aptitude for the latter is untested. What’s clear is that Maduro lacks any source of legitimacy apart from the president’s favor, and that inevitably raises questions about his electoral viability.

Juan thought that was over the top, but when we get right down to it, what do we really know about Nicolás Maduro?

Can you name a single policy, idea, stance or decision we associate specifically with him? I struggle to – the closest I’ve seen is this from Juan Forero in the Washington Post:

But it has been as foreign minister that he has won even the respect of some of the government’s adversaries. Maduro worked to build close ties to powers such as Russia and China, which has given billions in loans to Venezuela. Officials in Colombia, meanwhile, say Maduro has played an important role in President Juan Manuel Santos’s nascent peace process with a 48-year-old communist guerrilla movement.

Even then, you could question whether Maduro took the initiative on this, or simply followed an order. We just don’t know.

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      • Considering he was Foreign Minister for so long, and Chavez doesn’t even need a foreign minister, it’s unsurprising that we can’t. However, if you want to take the time to listen to all of Maduro’s verbal contributions in cabinet meetings and elsewhere, you’ll discover that he thinks along the same lines as his boss, again unsurprisingly. Was he groomed for being a yes man, or because he shares ideological positions and fits the role of successor? You’ll inevitably say the former because that fits your narrative. However, look at any well-run organization. Succession works the same way.

        • Right. So in 14 years of intense personal collaboration, Maduro sincerely, deeply, personally agreed with EVERY thing – big or small – Chávez did, said or proposed. All of it. Um hm. Right.

          Is it that you don’t see that you’re getting played or that you don’t mind getting played?

          • Not sure what you’re getting at. Either Maduro’s at fault for being a yes man, or at fault for not publicly speaking out on matters where he doesn’t agree.

          • Transitions in Leninist party systems like PSUV are always difficult. Centralism–which they call “democratic centralism”– requires party leaders to suppress their own beliefs, in favour of the party line. The latter is in practice set by the Great Leader of the moment, whose actual personality and beliefs are allowed to be expressed in public, and who may win a personal following as a result.

            Almost always, the designated successor has no personal legitimacy, since he has had no public personality to speak of. Further, the hermetic secrecy of the system means that no one can know what side the successor has taken on the great questions of the day, either. Those positions are hidden away in party archives.

        • “to all of Maduro’s verbal contributions in cabinet meetings and elsewhere, you’ll discover that he thinks along the same lines as his boss, again unsurprisingly.”
          Sorry but you, of all people a chavista, somehow dismissing Maduro is kind of ironic. Of course he is always following the party line dictated by Chavez to a tee(That’s problably his single merit for being the succesor). The thing is that after Chavez is gone, HE wil be dictating the party line and we don’t know absolutely anything about how he thinks about many issues (currency control, subsidies, political prisoners) and if you think that Maduro thinks exactly the same way about all of these issues as Chavez, then you are extremely naive.
          Maduro is a very strange character for me. According to what has been published he comes from a middle class family from los Chaguaramos and is a comunist since his teens, but as a typical middle class lefty, never enrolled as, for example, a sociology major in the UCV. Why becoming a bus driver (a terribel one by all accounts by the way)?

          • “Why becoming a bus driver ..?”

            For proletariat street cred reasons, to shake off the middle-class imprimateur. It’s like US citizen, Ms. Cort Greene, aspiring to live in the 23 de enero. That tells me she has a lot of demons to shake, while she aims to belong to a movement that pretends to give her the direction she seeks and finds nowhere else in her immediate environment.

          • Crikey, yo-yo. The short answer is: HISTORY OF COMPETENCE, OR NOT. Demonstrating competence has nothing to do with how well one fervently defends the economic failures theorized by Marx or put in practice by Mao. Nor does competence have anything to do with how well one attaches onto other cults of personality, in order to hide one’s history of incompetence.

          • It has to do with the fact that, besides having mastered the art of testicle pulling in the last few years, Maduro has been for the most part of his live, an underachiever and an incompetent, a person with no academic or professional credentials to occupy the highest office, except being the most unthreatening and subservient cabinet member of the Chavez era. And his background of unpunctuality, laziness, and unreliability does say a lot about his character.

          • Sorry, but… should we take pains to answer a guy whose “nome-de-plume” is “Yo-yo”? I I?

            Besides, he is surely bipolar, going up and down, up and down, “amarrado de un guaralito e’ loco”…

        • I’m having a hard time reading pass this statement:

          “Considering he was Foreign Minister for so long, and Chavez doesn’t even need a foreign minister, it’s unsurprising that we can’t.”

          Really? Chavez doesn’t need a foreign minister? According to whom, Sean Penn? LOL

          Oh wait, I forgot that chavistas really think that he doesn’t need any of the other ministers either, he knows everything because he reads two books in one night (wasn’t Soto Rojas who said something similar?).

          Yeah, who needs anybody else when there is so much knowledge in the supreme leader?

          • Your got it wrong: he actually “read” two books: The title and then the back cover… That’s quite an effort, you know, when you have so many tugging at your scrotum every night!

  1. According to high place sources in the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry, MRE., Nicolas Maduro just follows orders in all issues, MRE never takes the initiative and all policy comes down from Chavez directly, in effect Mauro is just a soldier, a very good soldier, does the job well, and its personality helps him to reflect a mature and serious posture in all issues.

  2. I think it might go a bit deeper than Maduro simply not being seen as promulgating some grand plan or policy. As noted, he is a survivor and must have a share of guile, or he’d long have since been gone. With an autocrat, to implement your own policies, you simply give it to them as their idea. He may be more king-maker than king.

    Something to take into consideration, and I know Mr. Octavio touched upon part of it…

    If I were part of the Chavista ruling circle…and that is essentially what will come into play once/if Chavez is gone, I would circle the wagons and support Maduro to crush the opposition, then back off and let him fall once the economic consequences take place. And come those consequences must. The result will plunge Venezuela into an economic nightmare and financial chaos that makes Argentina’s recent “issues” look trifling by comparion.

    The reset is just a matter of time and then, once Maduro is disgraced (after all, what better way to detach the rank-and-file Chavistas than by stripping them of what little they do get due to fiscal bankruptcy – Mr. JC, you may get your wish with the misiones in this scenario), present an alternative figure that is associated with and promises to return to Chavez’s putatively core policies of socialism for all and redistribution for many? Let the oil-wealth flow once more!

    I can think of one particular snake in the grass that I can easily see doing this, given his connections on both business and military sides. A snake with the patience to let things play out for a year or two if it will secure him 12+ years later on. A snake with god-given hair.

    • I think it might go a bit deeper than Maduro simply not being seen as promulgating some grand plan or policy. As noted, he is a survivor and must have a share of guile, or he’d long have since been gone. With an autocrat, to implement your own policies, you simply give it to them as their idea. He may be more king-maker than king.

      Oh that’s entirely plausible. But my post was really about the epistemology of Maduro. How can we be sure that what we think we know about him is right? I don’t think we can be, at all.

      I like you’re god-given snake hair theory, btw.

      • Fair enough. I will grant you that he truly is an unknown; although given his background he must have some skill sets. Survival is a handy skill after all. Hopefully he is more (or willing to become) pragmatic and even-handed towards the opposition than his future predecessor, although I am underwhelmed by this start.

        If the snake-theory is right, that’s his only opportunity for survival. It will take both sides working together to survive Venezuela’s fiscal cliff.

        • Oh, he certainly has a given skill-set. Surviving in the maelstrom that is the Alto Gobierno Chavista is no mean feat. I’m just saying that the key capacity it takes to do so – the capacity to never ever even once be thought disloyal by the top guy – is not one that’s likely to be much use to him in the years to come…

          Habrá que ver.

        • I wonder if the opposition will be mature enough to help chavismo in the case they are still in charge to prevent us from falling off the fiscal cliff, or will they push chavistas (and all of us) of the cliff?

          Also, in an opposite scenario, where oppo is ruling, will chavistas be mature enough?

  3. I’m wondering if Maduro is only a step stone for another Chávez, Adán. Maduro is the loyal man that could do that, some kind of Putin-Rochade and there it is.

  4. Beautifully written THR piece, Quico. I totally agree that we know almost nothing useful about Nicolas. It’s interesting to look back in history to other yes-men who ended up in the top job. Joaquin Balaguer, for instance, was a soft-spoken historian who held the vice-presidency, the foreign ministry and even the puppet presidency under Trujillo. After the Goat was assassinated he had his house bulldozed and successfully stood up to all the generals, going on to run the country for a total of 22 years, even after he went blind and couldn’t walk. Mind you, Balaguer had the backing of the US Navy, which probably won’t be available to young Nicolas. Nikita Krushchev took part in Stalin’s purges and then went on to ‘de-Stalinise’ the Soviet Union. Our bus-driver friend is no Balaguer, much less a Krushchev, but surprising things can happen when the chivo mayor is taken out of the equation.

  5. Maduro’s political stance up to now may have been “*this* is what chavez wants, so it’s what I want”, but soon the first part will change to a much more powerful “*this* is what chavez would have wanted”, which can only lead to a more cult-like fervor than ever…

    We really need to step up the offering, and think less about who’se face will be the one on the ballot. Sigh. How low do things have to go before we decide to bring out our biggest gun (i.e., UCT)?

  6. We know that the guy is a major Jalabola. We know his homophobic. We know he can follow orders better than any other Chavista. We know than in 14 years he never opposed any decision made by Chavez/Fidel. We know his wife is completely corrupt. Do you need any more reasons to despise this Tipejo?

  7. How about the shenanigans with Paraguay’s military? It went off pretty bad for CH in the public, but it ended with Venezuela’s entrance in Mercosur. At the time, I could see Maduro trying to pull Paraguay’s support for Venezuela’s entrance in Mercosur as a milestone that would consolidate his leadership.

  8. Maduro just spoke on national broadcast. You know his speech is likely orchestrated by Cuban advisors. It’s so obvious they follow the “divide and conquer” guideline by how he expresses about the opposition:
    “….Enough with so much hate from the opposition. It’s just a minority, a minority as small as it is poisonous.” he said among other things.

    These guys clearly want to promote the idea the opposition is mean, inhumane, crude.

  9. He might survive by hoeing to the chinese model. Share power [anethema to his boss] but possible survival and growth to the system. The last fourteen years of chaos, gradually replaced by small fiefdoms guarding their own patches under the blessings of a disabled leader.
    All power within the government of the People’s Republic of China is divided among three bodies: the political arm, the Communist Party of China; the administrative arm, the State Council; and the enforcement arm, People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

  10. “What Do We Really Know About Maduro?”–He will continue licking boots, until they kick him in the face….A non-bloody/non-chaotic transition will need a traditional Junta Civico-Militar, with representation about equally from both Chavismo/Opposition. Any alternative will probably not hold, and will be of unforeseeable consequences….

  11. Quico, great post.

    One politician that comes to mind when thinking of the enigma that is Maduro is Joaquin Balaguer, the three time president of Dominican Republic. He came of age politically during the Trujillo regime, and must have been really adept a dangling from the spheres–and palatial intrigues–since he survived as one of the key Trujillistas throughout the dicatorship.

    He then managed to recycle himself as a key figure of Dominican “democracy” and was elected again and again… I really hope Maduro is not as brilliantly evil as Balaguer must have been, but…

  12. Deng Xiaoping (Pinyin: Dèng Xiǎopíng); 22 August 1904 – 19 February 1997) was a politician and reformist leader of the Communist Party of China who led China towards a market economy. While Deng NEVER held office as the head of state, head of government or General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (the highest position in Communist China), he nonetheless served as the “paramount leader” of the People’s Republic of China from 1978 to 1992. As the core of the second generation leaders Deng shared his power with the two most powerful men after him: Li Xiannian and Chen Yun.

  13. Did people on this blog make yet another series of false predictions? Why yes they did…

    Maduro would no doubt be a highly competent and worthy successor to Chavez who will continue Venezuela’s successful path of opposition to imperialism and development of the economy begun by Chavez. Unfortunately for the predictions of some on this blog a considerable amount of time is going to pass before that occurs.

  14. Before driving the Metrobus (Caracas subway bus system), he drove the buses from Chacaito to Chapellin in the late 70´s early 80´s. He seems to have been a “reposero” a person who gets permits fo allow him to be absent on work days, due to medical reasons, etc, a privilege of being a union reprsentative..


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