Photo: Diario La Verdad
When Diosdado Cabello announced that Omar Prieto, then mayor of San Francisco municipality, would be the gubernatorial candidate for Zulia in a second election (elected opposition leader, Juan Pablo Guanipa, refused to be sworn into office by the National Constituent Assembly), something was immediately obvious: Francisco Arias Cárdenas, one of the lieutenant-colonels who, alongside Hugo Chávez, led the failed coup d’état on February 4, 1992, had been definitively displaced from power. Today, conflict is brewing in Zulia.
Arias Cárdenas was the only military officer who succeeded in the coup against Carlos Andrés Pérez, because he took over key institutions in the Zulian region and arrested governor Oswaldo Álvarez Paz, before surrendering after the broader insurrection failed.
Francisco Arias Cárdenas, one of the lieutenant-colonels who, alongside Hugo Chávez, led the failed coup d’état on February 4, 1992, had been definitively displaced from power.
Upon being released from prison, he started a controversial political career: he won regional elections in Zulia in 1995, and called people to vote for Chávez in the presidential elections of 1998; he ran opposite Chávez in the general election of 2000, and became memorable for a pathetic political ad where he used a chicken to invite his opponent to a debate; he took part in the 2002 coup d’état, famously accusing Chávez of being a power-hungry murderer who believed himself “anointed” for a “historic task”; he was rescued in 2005 by Chávez himself and returned to the ranks of the so-called Bolivarian Revolution.
“He crossed the desert,” said Chávez then, and the phrase applies today.
The first thing Prieto did after winning regional elections on October 2017 was threatening “bachaqueros”, giving them 48 hours to vanish, which was unsurprising, as it was one of his campaign promises. The interesting part of this was when he accused the previous administration of allowing these resellers to spread across the state, especially in the capital, Maracaibo.
It was the first of Prieto’s many attacks on Arias, which even prompted the former to go on a media tour to ask the governor to focus on “doing his job.” This was funny, because during his tender, Arias seldom offered interviews, mainly issuing press releases.
“I wasn’t criticizing Pablo Pérez three months into my tender” he said in an interview with Diario La Verdad, meaning his predecessor. “We can’t come and talk poorly of others, we must get there and do our job.”
It was the first of Prieto’s many attacks on Arias, which even prompted the former to go on a media tour to ask the governor to focus on “doing his job.”
Prieto’s most recent complaint is related to the electrical power crisis that causes daily outages and which he could solve by the end of June, according to Lisandro Cabello, the current government secretary.
Lisandro Cabello had the nerve to say that Prieto was the first government to take electrical problems “seriously”, so Nelson Canquiz, one of Arias’ men, demanded in his radio program an end to the blame game and the problem to be resolved.
Rumors come and go. The power game could be Arias’ downfall, just like it was for former PDVSA chairman Rafael Ramírez, major general Miguel Eduardo Rodríguez Torres and, more recently, former Táchira governor José Vielma Mora, who had to see many of his collaborators imprisoned in the anti-smuggling operation called “Paper Hands.”
Journalist Sebastiana Barráez doesn’t think this likely, though.
“There’s indeed a power struggle within the government and the actions carried out in Táchira have to do with Vielma Mora, who has very close ties to Diosdado Cabello” Berráez explained. “But I don’t believe that a similar action is likely here, because the circumstances of Arias and Vielma Mora are quite different; Vielma’s being attacked to reduce Diosdado’s influence, while Arias represents no one but himself.”
It doesn’t seem like Prieto’s attacks of Arias will stop soon, in truth, because they’ve allowed him to excuse his inefficiency and broken promises, and nobody in Maduro’s cabinet will risk their skin for the retired 4F veteran. No one writes to the lieutenant colonel indeed.