How Delcy Became Delcy

The head of Venezuela’s all-powerful Constituent Assembly learned the hard way that if you want to snarl, you’re better off doing it in public than one-on-one with the leader.

It was on a trip to Moscow, in 2006, that the brash and inexperienced Delcy Rodríguez, then Hugo Chavez’s chief of staff, had the temerity to call him a “güevón” during a heated discussion. That outburst sealed her fate — or so she thought. Shortly after, she was sacked by the galáctico himself, and ostracized from his inner circle. Delcy Eloína would not occupy a top government position again as long as El Comandante lived.

Eleven years later she is, at least on paper, the most powerful person in Venezuela.

How did this remarkable turn-around come to be? What would the shunned Delcy have thought, during those dog days of 2006, if you’d told her that Chávez would die from cancer under secretive and bizarre circumstances, appoint Nicolás Maduro as his successor and rocket her to international fame by becoming, in succession, Information Minister, Foreign Minister and ultimately President of an Assembly no one can say no to?

Born in Caracas in 1969, Delcy’s Marxist pedigree is beyond reproach. Her father was guerilla fighter Jorge Antonio Rodríguez (whom she uncannily resembles), involved in the infamous kidnapping of Owens-Illinois CEO William Niehous in 1976. Rodríguez’ père died in custody after being severely tortured by intelligence agents, who were trying to wrangle information about Niehous’s whereabouts. The murderers of her father were tried and convicted, although the Rodriguez family claims otherwise.

This, understandably, marked her life and that of her brilliant, machiavellian psychiatrist brother Jorge. It probably shaped many of their views, grudges and paths.    

Delcy grew up in the working-class Caracas neighborhood of El Valle and, predictably, became a left-wing activist and student leader during her time as a law student in Universidad Central de Venezuela.

She was awarded a Fundayacucho scholarship to pursue a masters degree at Paris X University. Ironically, Fundayacucho was a scholarship program created under Carlos Andrés Perez’s first presidency, the period in which Jorge Antonio was killed.

The murderers of her father were tried and convicted, although the Rodriguez family claims otherwise.

There are contradictory claims about whether she finished her degree at Paris X, and she also claims to hold a master’s degree from Birkbeck College in London. She briefly practiced and taught labor law and, when her brother became Vice-President, she held several official posts, until becoming Chavez’s chief of staff for a few months in 2006.

On a personal note, she has never married and has no children but she has been romantically linked to ‘90s telenovela heartthrob and chavista Fernando Carrillo (!!!!???).

Her most important relationship, though, is the close bond she has with her brother. It was he who introduced her to the ruling elite and kept her employed in low-ranking positions, even after her fall from grace. He reintroduced her to the top once Maduro became President. Like Jorge himself, she sees no irony in chanting revolutionary slogans while exhibiting a taste for the finer things in life that come with being part of the chavista ruling elite.

As Foreign Minister, Rodríguez cultivated an extreme, belligerent and wildly undiplomatic persona, that made her a laughingstock in diplomatic circles. She seems to lack self-awareness and self-control; during her speeches, she can be so extreme that foreign audiences laugh defensively. Her reputation is, not to mince words here, of a deranged extremist.

But this kind of combative performance is just what Maduro wanted from his canciller. She gave zero fucks about diplomatic protocol, yes, but she also successfully blocked Luis Almagro’s attempts to apply OAS’s Democratic Charter to Venezuela.

We suspect the over-the-top speeches are a bit of an act. Diplomatic lore has it that, in private, Delcy is gracious and polite and knows how to deploy her flawless English and French (a rarity among chavista elite) to get results. She and her brother unsuccessfully tried to make a deal with the opposition before the election of the Constituent Assembly, and maintained a less radical approach to negotiating than Diosdado Cabello’s military wing of chavismo.

Looks like Delcy learned her lesson this time around and, unlike the outspoken 2006 version of herself who got fired from speaking her mind, she learned that you’ll get farther ahead in chavismo by withholding anything but praise for the leader. She cheerily participates in the destruction of her country in exchange for a luxury penthouse in Caracas and $1,000 pairs of shoes.

So don’t let her screaming, ranting public persona fool you. Deep down, Delcy’s a trooper.

César Crespo

Evil corporate lawyer. Amateur adult person. Political news junkie. Economics dilettante.