It gives me no pleasure to tell you that you really ought to watch the video above carefully. Sadly, it’s becoming imperative to do so. Why? Because Rodríguez Torres is not your average dissident chavista.
With his roots firmly planted in chavismo’s military and security aparatus – he’s a retired Army General who participated in Chávez’s 1992 coup attempt, as well as a former head of the Intelligence Service and the guy in charge of the security services as Interior Minister during the 2014 intifada – MRT is ideologically miles opposed to the leftwing civilian faction that’s been responsible for most chavista defections over the last few years.
MRT has been plotting his move for years. His website is copyrighted 2014. He’s a deliberate, careful operator, and his challenge to Maduro is now virtually open. Don’t believe me? The guy is allowing himself tweets that…don’t leave that much to the imagination:
El Referéndum es un logro de la Revolución!!! Quién dijo miedo??? #DesafíoDeTodos
— M Rodríguez Torres (@RodriguezT4F) March 18, 2016
In a context where plenty of chavistas, especially in the military wing, see Maduro as more a problem than a solution, he’s pitching himself in a seller’s market. Despite his blacker-than-black Human Rights record, MRT is pitching himself as a kinder, gentler kind of chavista. He goes on and on about national reconciliation, about the books his priest gave him to read, about dialogue the human soul’s capacity for forgiveness. I wouldn’t trust him as far as I can throw him, but that’s his line and he’s sticking to it.
Despite the obligatory, ritual denials that he’s seeking the presidency, Rodríguez Torres is hardly subtle in his ambitions: he’s calling for a “refounding of chavismo” and for the resignation of PSUV’s national leadership. On the policy front, he’s arguing for unifying the exchange rate, for ending price controls and moving towards income support aimed at families, and a series of other policy apostasies – embarrassingly, his is a more coherent and complete policy prescription than any opposition spokesperson has dared to voice.
For the growing cadre of chavistas, including many regional leaders, looking for a viable figurehead to pull them out of the quagmire that is the Maduro presidency while ensuring impunity for the abuses of 2014, Rodríguez Torres offers a particularly compelling package.
How far will he get? Time will tell.
One thing is clear to me, though: MRT is not a Nicmer Evans or Jorge Giordani style figure Maduro can safely sideline and ignore. In the present context, this stuff has to be raising alarms in Miraflores. Watch this space.