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The way that [the scandal] plays out will reflect who holds the key to power within chavismo: either the heavily corrupt, nationalist military wing headed by Cabello or the radical, pro-Cuban wing that Silva represents. Early indications are that Silva is backtracking on all the claims he made on tape and even suspending his show for unexplained “medical reasons.” Though still early, Silva’s apparent self-immolation suggests Cabello’s power inside the revolution is remarkably resilient.
As disturbing as the revelations are, they are not terribly shocking. Authoritarian regimes seldom find it easy to handle succession when a larger-than-life leader dies. It happened in Russia with the de-Stalinization process after the death of the dictator. It also happened in China when Mao Zedong died and his successors quickly acted against the “Gang of Four.” Something similar could be under way in Venezuela.
Then again, this could also mark the beginning of the unraveling of chavismo. This echoes what happened in Peru in the year 2000, when a series of videos of politicians being bribed leaked by an intelligence mastermind led to the toppling of Alberto Fujimori’s regime. The opposition has said more videos are on their way.
Another possibility is that nothing happens. Venezuela is a country used to scandal, and with chavistas showing remarkable tolerance to corruption within their own ranks, no allegations against chavismo ever seem to awaken the institutions from their slumber. For example, a few months ago a former justice in the Supreme Tribunal fled to the United States, claiming that the entire judiciary was run like a criminal organization. Nothing came of his claims.