The Cryptic Godfather

The most important political move of the last few weeks is also the one we know the least about.

Javier Corrales and Franz von Bergen have an interesting take on Vladimir Padrino, our new co-president, over in Latin America Goes Global.

Last week Nicolás Maduro named Padrino to oversee basically all government functions. Every minister, every public office, now has to report to the general, in effect making the Defense Minister Venezuela’s #2 –some would say #1– power player.

Corrales and von Bergen are calling this a “remarkable event.” They say that after December’s sweeping loss at the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello was significantly weakened. Chavismo, fearing further losses in public opinion, seems to be turning to the only other guy with any of Hugo Chávez’s political capital.

Corrales and von Bergen remind us that Padrino caught Chávez’s eye back in 2012, and ever since then he has quickly accumulated military power. The choice bits:

Now, in retrospect, it looks like Chávez made a dual succession before his death: a civilian succession (by naming Maduro) and a military succession (by leaving a group of military leaders in positions of authority). Padrino López was part of the latter.

This wing of the military that is loyal to Chávez represents the sector of chavistas who see Maduro as ruining, maybe even squandering, Chávez’s legacy. Those military loyalists may well have decided that Maduro’s chance to lead and save the revolution had expired and they needed to step in.

They go on to claim that this is a new form of coup, one where co-existence is the prelude to the final displacement of an inept President.

Whether this is true or not, we do not yet know. It seems clear that Padrino’s appointment is the result of some sort of pressure from within chavista forces. Whether it signals the military’s willingness to step in and wrestle power from him, or whether it is a way to ensure a transition into the opposition and fresh elections, remains to be seen.

Our take is rather that the move to favor Padrino is a shift away from the civilian wing of chavismo, which is top heavy with far leftwing lunatics, and an empowerment of the military wing that tends to be more pragmatic about where Venezuela is headed.

Whatever the end result, one thing is clear: Padrino has somehow become the most important person in Venezuela … and also one we know very little about.