Our Thorny First Lady

Imagine a biker girl from Catia who rises up to become a lawyer and then becomes the life partner of a marxist union-leader that she meets while defending a maverick army lieutenant jailed for launching a coup.

Many years later, the gamble pays off. She becomes the first female speaker of Congress in Venezuelan history, and then Solicitor General once the coupster becomes president. Then, the lieutenant-president dies, her life partner replaces him and she becomes the most powerful first lady in Venezuelan history. She is also secretive, conniving and ruthless.

It’s the kind of stuff not even the writers of American cable dramas could come up with. It’s also the life story of Cilia Flores.

Regardless of what you may think about Cilia’s role in our current catastrophe, she remains an intriguing figure – our #tropicalmierda version of Lady Macbeth. But who is she, and what is her agenda now that it’s been reported (as has long been suspected) that she may be the real power behind the throne?

Flores was born in 1956, according to official records, although other sources report 1953, in the Venezuelan plains of Tinaquillo (in a shack with dirt floor, according to Maduro), the youngest of six children. Her family emigrated to Caracas when she was little and she grew up in working-class Catia. She married her high school sweetheart, Walter Gavidia, had three children and received a law degree from Universidad Santa María in the 1980s. Ironically, she was an abstentionist in her youth and never voted until her forties. Like many other chavista honchos, she claims she was politically awakened by the 1989 riots.

It’s the kind of stuff not even the writers of American cable dramas could come up with. It’s also the life story of Cilia Flores.

She met Hugo Chávez while he was serving time for the 1992 coup, after sending him several letters offering her services. Although she claims to have been part of his defense team, most of Chavez’s defense was in fact carried out by renowned criminal lawyer Javier Elechiguerra. She also claims her home was raided by security forces and some of her property confiscated because of her role in Chávez’s defense.

Cilia is not prone to giving interviews. Poker-faced and elusive, we know very little about her personal life. We know she abandoned the catholicism of her upbringing and became a devotee of Indian spiritual master Sai Baba. She is also a follower of I-Ching and Kabbalah. She loves motorcycles and rode a bike during the first years of her political career. But this bike-riding and new-agey woman never emerges during her public appearances; she hosted a family-oriented TV show called “Con Cilia en Familia”, where she appeared robotically bland, playing the role of the Revolution’s dutiful matron.

She divorced her first husband in the early 90s and became Nicolás Maduro’s partner until they tied the knot in 2013. She remains good friends with her ex, who was even favoured by her nepotistic largesse. She prefers to go by the silly moniker of “first combatant” instead of “first lady”, which she and Maduro deem too “bourgeois”.

Although she claims to have been part of his defense team, most of Chavez’s defense was in fact carried out by renowned criminal lawyer Javier Elechiguerra.

Whatever one’s opinion about the criminal nature of Maduro’s regime, his relationship with Cilia appears genuine and loving, and he really appears to trust her judgment above everyone else’s. But beneath the standard chavista slogans, this is not an overtly ideological woman. More than political, Flores is tribalistic.

Her tenure as Speaker was marked by a deep contempt for the rule of law. Under her leadership, the Assembly enacted both the unsuccessful constitutional reform and the successful constitutional amendment that abolished term limits for popular elected offices, and allowed Chávez to run for President in 2012.  She was also vindictive and cutthroat against her opponents.

She is most remembered, however, for practicing nepotism to a degree that would make Donald Trump blush.

Cilia has showered her relatives and friends with political positions without a hint of shame or denial. More than 40 of her relatives were employed by the National Assembly when she was in charge. Her favourite nephew, Erik Malpica Flores, held the position of CFO at PDVSA for several years after being the Republic’s treasurer. Her not-very-bright nephews were allowed free rein to deal drugs, until caught by a DEA sting operation in Haiti.

TSJ Chief Justice/convicted murderer Maikel Moreno… is one of her closest friends and reports directly to Flores.

She is good friends with the explosive minister Iris Varela. Carolina Cestari, the recently appointed Chief of Government of Caracas (the government-appointed institution created to strip all powers from the democratically elected Alcaldía Mayor), is her former assistant and one of her best friends. Her brother, Bladimir Flores, is the Chief of the CICPC (the Venezuelan equivalent of the FBI).

More importantly, we just discovered that TSJ Chief Justice/convicted murderer Maikel Moreno, a key figure in consolidating Maduro’s dictatorship, is one of her closest friends and reports directly to Flores, not Maduro.

Although she is passionate about aiding those within her clan, she is ruthless with her enemies. After Maduro’s rise to power, almost everyone who has fallen out with her is now out of the government, the best example being fallen Prosecutor General and newly-minted opposition idol Luisa Ortega Díaz.

It has been reported that Ortega was ratified in her position as Prosecutor General in 2014, over Cilia’s candidate for the job and comadre Miriam Morandy, a slight Cilia never really forgot and that contributed to Ortega’s demise within Chavismo.

She is most remembered, however, for practicing nepotism to a degree that would make Donald Trump blush.

After Maduro’s election, she retired from her position as Solicitor General and stayed under the radar for awhile until she was elected National Assembly deputy representing her birth state of Cojedes in December 2015. She quit the National Assembly to become candidate for and member of the 2017 fraudulent Constituent Assembly. Although she was not elected ANC President, as was rumoured she would, no one doubts the breadth of her power.

During his testimony before the OAS, fallen-from-grace chavista and former transport minister Hebert García Plaza stated that Cilia is, for all purposes, Maduro’s chief advisor in all political and legal matters and that no decision is issued by the TSJ that she hasn’t reviewed and approved. She personally decided with Maduro not to pardon political prisoner Iván Simonovis, because she deemed it “politically inconvenient”.  

We had women with power in Venezuela before Chavismo: a Chief Justice, a Central Bank President, a Finance Minister and several illustrious congresswomen. It would be optimistic to think that Cilia’s rise is a continuation of this trend. However, chavismo’s version of female empowerment is an amoral criminal matron who destroys the country’s institutions, and ruins innocent lives while playing the role of dutiful and servile wife for the cameras. She is more Griselda Blanco than Angela Merkel. Her rise is not something that any Venezuelan woman can feel proud of. The only fair thing that can be said about her is that she is living proof that women in power can be as ruthless as men.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.