Is Mrs. Maduro Preparing for Her Husband’s Exile?

Why is President Maduro's wife, First Lady Cilia Flores, flying all the way to Saint Vincent to "improve her English?"
Why is First Lady Cilia Flores flying all the way to Saint Vincent to “improve her English”? (El Estímulo)

EspañolWith each passing day, Venezuelans become more apathetic about current events. Maybe it’s a survival mechanism we have developed as we grow accustomed to our autocratic government’s shenanigans.

Only a few hold power, and they laugh at the rest while ridiculing their demands for a basic quality of life. Since fulfilling their own ambitions is their first priority, they naturally ignore the harsh circumstances under which people must live as a result of their misrule.

Since President Nicolás Maduro appears to have no filter between a big mouth and, in his own words, a “diminishing brain,” it’s hardly surprising that each day’s news cycle contains at least one of his now legendary gaffes. That is probably why Maduro’s announcement on November 3 went unnoticed: First Lady Cilia Flores, who is also known as the “first combatant,” would travel to the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to study English.

Yes, you read it right: Doña Cilia, who is running for Congress, who hosts a weekly TV show on Sundays although she doesn’t speak very well, a lover of Chanel purses — not exactly a product of socialism — will fly to the Caribbean to improve her English, the imperialist language.

Maduro didn’t provide many details on his wife’s journey, but he did mention that it was part of the agreement signed with the island to strengthen bilateral relations.

When I heard the announcement, I thought of the thousands of Venezuelan students abroad. They face hard times as the National Center for Foreign Trade (CENCOEX) must authorize their families to purchase foreign currency in order to pay for their studies abroad, a process that can take several months to complete. Lately, they haven’t authorized any of these transactions, and yet public funds are readily available to satisfy Cilia’s whims.

News of the first lady’s study-abroad experience also makes me think of how difficult it is for all Venezuelans, including the non-privileged Chavistas, to have access to US dollars. Ever since the government imposed capital controls, citizens must request and receive the state’s authorization in order to use their own, hard-earned money. Except, apparently, if you’re the first lady.

Perhaps Maduro’s announcement about his wife’s holiday is another one of his boasts, but I can’t seem to ignore it. While Maduro and his delegation continue to travel around the world, squandering unlimited amounts of money as they pretend to improve relations with other countries, Venezuelans undergo the humiliating experience of standing in long queues in order to buy groceries. Medicines aren’t available, and insecurity is increasing at alarming levels.

The most frequent phrase you hear is “we don’t have soap” or some other basic good. The Chavistas, self-acclaimed revolutionaries, turned out to be good only at depriving Venezuelans of the simplest things through their trial-and-error fiascoes.

According to Venezuelan diplomatic staff in Saint Vincent, Maduro’s last delegation to visit the island included three airplanes at full capacity carrying two Chavista governors, their families, and enough food to feed them for three days. A moveable, state-funded feast, one might say.

Meanwhile, in Venezuela, a full fridge is a rare sight for the average citizen, who must struggle with the collapse of the rule of law, unashamed corruption, electoral fraud, the injustice of unchecked power, and human-rights abuses.

Last month, Venezuelan journalist Rafael Poleo wrote an op-ed for El Nuevo País, a national daily newspaper, claiming that Maduro’s wife was behind the idea of “improving” relations with Saint Vincent and other small Caribbean islands. Her real objective, writes Poleo, is not to learn English, but rather to pave the way for her family’s possible exile from Venezuela.

Mrs. Maduro seems to perceive that Venezuela’s crisis is indeed worsening, and that political support for the regime is faltering even among the presidential family’s own followers. Cilia might be cleverer than her husband, and she may realize that they rule over a house of cards which the slightest breeze can bring down.

Poleo’s thesis is certainly plausible; Cilia’s Caribbean sojourn could well involve arranging the details of the Chavista leadership’s arrival in Saint Vincent, once they decide to jump ship in Venezuela.

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As things stand, the exact dates of Mrs. Maduro’s brief English course are a matter of public interest, since the national parliamentary elections are to be held next month, and she is running as one of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela’s candidates.

Meanwhile, Venezuelans can demand to know if it might be easier and cheaper  for the first lady to take English lessons at home. It probably would be, even if they flew St. Vincent’s best instructor over to Caracas. After all, moving Doña Cilia to the Caribbean includes considerable expenses on lodging, security, and supplies.

The CENCOEX would need to approve the transfer of a very large amount of US dollars to cater to her needs, a sufficient amount to cover the costs of many Venezuelan students abroad who really need those dollars. Citizens’ basic rights, however, don’t stand a chance against the fulfillment of socialist politicians’ extravagance.

Without a doubt, the best outcome for Venezuela would be for Cilia to cancel her trip. If she is indeed thirsty for knowledge, she shouldn’t be disheartened: she can surely sign up for an online English course in the coming weeks.

Translated by Adam Dubove. 

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