Party Infighting in Venezuela Could Force Maduro’s Exit

EspañolWith the Venezuelan economy in freefall, the cracks within the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) are increasingly obvious. President Nicolás Maduro lacks the necessary stature to base the party on his persona alone. Unlike the late Hugo Chávez, Maduro is no charismatic leader.

The strong cult of personality that Chávez exercised for more than a decade set the bar very high for his successors. Maduro couldn’t create a new Madurismo, so he presented himself as a medium to the late former president, and decided to build his legacy in the shadow of a corpse.

His failure has provoked questions among party cadres about his ability to successfully represent Chavismo. Maduro’s legitimacy for Chavistas depends more on his faithfulness in carrying out Chávez’s legacy on earth than his own performance in democratic elections.

Proponents of Chavismo are increasingly labeling Maduro a false messiah. Suddenly, the president isn’t so Chavista, and various groupings within the PSUV are now beginning to question his handling of the supreme authority of the party and the country since Chávez’s death at the beginning of 2013.

In June, former Planning Minister Jorge Giordani published a damning open letter against Maduro and his way of running the country. Its harshness did not rest in the words that Giordani used to criticize, albeit mildly, a political process of which he himself was a first-rank protagonist. Rather, the damage came from the fact that one of the most long-standing ministers of the Chavista cabinet had dared to defy Chávez’s representative on earth.

“It’s painful and worrying to see a Presidency that doesn’t show leadership,” said the former minister, who spent 15 years in the cabinet. Giordani further criticized the “repetition of the approaches formulated by Comandante Chávez, without the necessary coherency,” and the “bestowal of massive resources to whoever asks for them, without a fiscal plan grounded on socialist planning that once gave consistency to such activities.”

Chávez’s anointed successor to the Venezuelan presidency has faced worsening opposition within his own party. The economy, high crime rates, and the repression of individuals’ rights are piling pressure on Maduro’s government, whose disapproval ratings are around 67 percent.

Armed collectives — paramilitary groups loyal to Chavismo — are also on the attack against the president. At the beginning of October, the murders of a young National Assembly representative, Robert Serra, and members of a Chavista collective associated with him, put these groupings on a war footing. “Our revolution is peaceful, but not unarmed,” 260 armed collectives affirmed, rejecting a request by Maduro for them to hand their weapons over under a National Disarmament Plan.

Marea Socialista, or Socialist Tide, a group made up of Chavista intellectuals critical of Maduro’s leadership, became the object of a party purge on Thursday, November 20. Three leaders of the group were expunged from the party register, thus excluding them from taking part in internal elections that took place on Sunday, November 22.

Three leaders of Socialist Tide have been purged from the electoral database and list of militants.

“The PSUV leadership should know that we’re Chavistas, and that their divisive and anti-democratic actions show who’s really attacking the legacy of Chávez. To those who naively think that Socialist Tide will go over to the opposition, we’re Chavistas! We’re against corrupt leaders wherever they are!” said Nicmer Evens.

These groups are far from demanding a return to democracy, the restoration of the rule of law, or respect for individual rights. By its very definition, Chavismo excludes all of this. A system based on imposing state power over individual decisions could never meet these requirements.

The Wrath of Maduro

The frustration that Maduro feels in finding himself in a position of such weakness is shown by periodic inter-party violence, which only further evidences his inability to alleviate the crisis that the country is suffering. His confrontations with the president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, appear to have been put to one side.

Now Cabello, who has designs of his own on the presidency, can be found at Maduro’s right-hand side, collaborating with him to impose party discipline. However, the duo can’t help but frequently express their frustration through backchannels.

“Supreme loyalty to the legacy of Chávez!” exclaimed Cabello before PSUV activists. A week later, the Chavista party opened up a phone line through which people could denounce “spies,” declaring a “civil Cold War.” Added to the start of this party purge was a package of 45 laws approved last week, in which the President decreed a tax hike on several products, among other regulations.

With a general shortage of basic goods, a wave of violence leaving 68 dead in 2013 alone — added to a total of 24,763 murders — and the price of petroleum hitting its lowest levels in recent years, the widening cracks in the PSUV edifice are only one problem more that Maduro has to confront.

While at the local level opposition coalition the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) is reorganizing under its charismatic secretary general, Jesús Torrealba, international pressure on the Venezuelan regime is rising — except from Latin-American countries. Furthermore, following the Republican victory in US legislative elections in November, there are renewed hopes about applying sanctions against Chavista officials for human-rights violations.

The weakness of Maduro’s position is generating uncertainty over the near future in Venezuela. In October, the president sought to confirm the loyalty of the armed forces with a salary increase of 45 percent. The politicization of the army and its loyalty towards Chavismo could combine to eventually replace the current president — who has a mandate until 2019 — with another, more popular, PSUV boss.

In contrast to what was said in an interview published by Reuters, Chavismo doesn’t run the risk of implosion — it can survive without Nicolás Maduro. The need to call elections, or for any screen of of constitutionality, doesn’t worry the party that has brought Venezuela to the brink of total collapse.

The likelihood of a democratic transition is uncertain, and the endurance of the regime will have its next test in 2015, when legislative elections will be held. The list of candidates will likely reflect the rise of different groups to the leadership of the PSUV, and there the future of Maduro and Chavismo may be glimpsed. Amid an atmosphere of almost complete uncertainty and nascent party purges, a transition — in one form or another — may begin to unfold.

Translated by Laurie Blair.

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