By Mary Anastasia O’Grady in The Wall Street Journal
Venezuela’s military government will hold what it refers to as a presidential “election” on April 14, and one of the candidates on the ballot will be Hugo Chávez’s handpicked successor, Nicólas Maduro. The 50-year-old union leader-cum-politician was named Venezuela’s acting president after it was announced on March 5 that Chávez had died. In all likelihood, Mr. Maduro will win the election, using the dubious methods perfected by Chávez and with whatever help Havana feels it necessary to provide.
Having started out in bus-driver training, Mr. Maduro is being presented to the world as almost an accidental president. But as the Cuban-born writer Carlos Alberto Montaner explained in a column in Miami’s El Nuevo Herald last week, Mr. Maduro’s rise to power in Venezuela is anything but coincidental. Cuba has long had its eye on Venezuela’s oil, and Mr. Maduro seems to have been in training to help with that goal for decades.
Venezuela has a constitution but doesn’t use it much. Chávez’s “inauguration” as president for a new term in January, despite his failure to appear at the swearing-in ceremony, is but one example. Mr. Maduro’s appointment last month as interim president is another. According to the constitution, that job should have gone to the president of the national assembly, Diosdado Cabello.
Mr. Cabello didn’t get the nod most probably because Cuba did not approve. The tropical communist island is an economic wreck after 54 years of Castro leadership and only survives thanks to oil subsidies from Venezuela. In exchange Cuba controls all the levers of state security and intelligence that help chavismo keep a lid on dissent. That means that Cuba has both the means and the motive to ensure that someone sympathetic to the needs of the Cuban elite follows Chávez.
Mr. Cabello could not be trusted. He is known as a nationalist and, having come from the military, he maintains close ties to the men in uniform. Many of them are whispered to resent the enormous influence that Cuba has in running their country and the largess that Venezuela gives to Havana while so many Venezuelans are living in dire poverty. Allowing Mr. Cabello to sit in the presidential chair, no matter how “temporarily” was likely considered too risky by the Castro brothers.
Mr. Maduro, on the other hand, is a known quantity in Havana, according to Mr. Montaner. Indeed, as it turns out, Cuba seems to have been grooming him for just such a post for many years. Mr. Montaner based his reporting on the testimony of an alleged former Cuban agent who says that Mr. Maduro attended Cuba’s special school for political leadership, Escuela Ñico López, in the 1980s. “Judging from this information,” Mr. Montaner writes, Mr. Maduro is “an old collaborator of Castro intelligence. Because of that, Raúl Castro convinced Hugo Chávez that he was his natural heir.” All that’s left now is the formality.