The Chavistas managed to sustain their lies about Hugo Chavez’s cancer throughout the election campaign that culminated last October. But no longer. The New York Times reports:
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela announced Saturday in Caracas that he would have to undergo another operation for cancer, and he designated his vice president, Nicolás Maduro, as his successor if he should prove unable to continue to lead the country.
Mr. Chávez, appearing somber and contemplative, made the announcement in a televised address from the presidential palace. Mr. Maduro sat to his left, and several other cabinet members were also present.
It was the first time that Mr. Chávez had said publicly whom he wanted as his successor. Mr. Chávez said that he would fly to Havana on Sunday for the operation. The announcement came just weeks after he was elected to a new six-year term, beginning in early January.
There’s a certain appropriateness about Chavez’s departure for Cuba. Venezuela has taken a leaf out of the Castro playbook; in 2006, the long-serving and sickly Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, handed over power to his brother and close political ally, Raul, in much the same way that Chavez is now doing with Maduro. And just as Raul Castro’s prime goal has been to preserve Cuba’s communist regime, so Maduro, a fanatical Chavista, will seek to preserve the goals of his ailing sponsor. And as Free Venezuela’s chief spokesman Diego Arria argued on his twitter feed this morning, Maduro’s rise will certainly please the Castro brothers, who regard him as critical to maintaining the Cuban-Venezuelan alliance.
As the Christian Science Monitor notes, Maduro’s newly-won dominance is a major blow to other potential successors to Chavez, most obviously Diosdado Cabello, a businessman with close ties to the Venezuelan military. And we could also be witnessing the birth of a Maduro dynasty:
* Maduro was elected in 2000 as a deputy to the National Assembly, where his combative defense of Chávez’s policies made him one of the president’s favored proteges.
* He rose to become president of the legislature, and upon becoming foreign minister passed his previous post to his wife, Cilia Flores, a lawyer who became the first woman to serve as National Assembly president, between 2006 and 2011.
* When Chávez was sent to prison following his failed coup attempt in 1992, it was Flores who led the legal team that won his freedom two years later. She now serves as the country’s attorney general. She and Maduro are seen as a “power couple” in government circles.
Those who doubt that Venezuela is a dictatorship should note that handpicking successors is what dictators do. We’ve seen this pattern in, among other places, North Korea and Syria.
With gubernatorial elections scheduled for December 16, the opposition, led by Henrique Capriles, is in prime position to exploit the weakness and dishonesty of the Chavez regime. But that also carries a number of dangers, not least the unleashing of the violence and persecution, so often seen before, that the Chavistas turn to in times of crisis.