2024 will be a decisive year for Venezuela. The pieces will move into place with the goal of holding a presidential election with sufficient guarantees for the opposition, which will allow for peaceful political change and straighten out the prolonged crisis that the country is going through. President Nicolás Maduro, in his first statements of the year, has returned to the idea that Chavismo’s presidential candidate is not yet determined, a matter that has been discussed in different circles of power due to the challenge that the government faces: 85% of the country wants a change, according to the most recent surveys carried out by Delphos.
“I am not me, I am part of a team: the Military Political High Command of the Revolution,” the president said on January 1 in an interview with Ignacio Ramonet, former editor-in-chief of Le Monde Diplomatique and member of an advisory council to the Venezuelan network Telesur. “It is premature to say that I will be Chavismo’s candidate for the elections. The year is just beginning. Only God knows. [...] We hope that the electoral scenarios of the process that will take place will be defined, and I am sure that, with God’s blessing, we will make the best decision.”
Maduro has become a load that Chavismo bears in its continuity in power. The president currently has one of the lowest popularity ratings of his term in office, just short of 20% approval. In recent months there has been growing speculation about the possible emergence of new successors to the deceased popular leader Hugo Chávez (1999-2013) and this possibility has gained strength after a season of internal purges and redefinitions of the power groups within the governing bloc that, in times of crisis, tends to overlook its internal frictions and act as one.
Although the decision has not been made, Maduro remains the virtual candidate and in that role he has become stronger after having achieved the resumption of direct dialogue with the United States since the secret talks in Doha, which promoted the Barbados agreements, the easing of oil sanctions and the release of a handful of American and Venezuelan political prisoners in an exchange for Colombian businessman Alex Saab, a key player in Maduro’s power structure who was detained in Miami on money laundering charges.
Even so, there are those within Chavismo-Madurismo who have their reservations. The governor of the State of Carabobo, Rafael Lacava, an ally of Maduro, has begun to show up in the polls. Maduro put him in charge of the renewal of trade relations with China and last November he signed agreements in Shanghai on behalf of the Venezuelan State. There, Lacava gave clues to the shift that Chavismo envisions: a transition towards the Chinese model, with economic opening under serious political restrictions.
There are other names such as that of Héctor Rodríguez, governor of Miranda State. Maduro recently thanked him for his efforts in freeing Saab as a member of the negotiating delegation with the opposition. Rodríguez has also recently founded a party with environmentalist intentions outside of PSUV.
Other alternative figures are the siblings Jorge and Delcy Rodríguez, head of parliament and vice president respectively, who have gained prominence in this new stage in which the government has managed to reconnect with the world. There has also been talk of pitting the opposition candidate María Corina Machado, chosen with 92% of the votes in the primaries, against another woman, who in this case would be Delcy Rodríguez. In the shadow of these figures there remains Diosdado Cabello, previous speaker of the National Assembly.
Given this scenario, Maduro’s statement about the uncertainty of his own candidacy is a provocation, says political scientist and analyst Nicmer Evans: “One dimension is measuring the political pulse and the reaction of certain actors, to see if there is any advanced player as a result of the possibility that he might not be a candidate.”
Meanwhile, the lawsuit filed by Machado, who has a 70-point advantage in almost all the polls, to challenge her disqualification has not been answered, although the deadlines have already passed. Even without a decision, Machado said in a message broadcast on her social media accounts on January 1: “If they repress and touch one, another will come and the task will be done, because there are millions of us.”
Maduro has made an important communication display in recent months, launching two new television programs in which he participates with his wife, Cilia Flores. He has focused on attracting young people, has brought TikTokers with millions of followers to television and is trying to get a generation to start laughing at his jokes. The idea that Maduro could sacrifice his position in exchange for a retirement in good standing, exhausted by years of struggle, or even for the greater good of sustaining the revolution, collides with his governing style. “People who govern in an autocratic manner, as Maduro has governed, do not have that feeling of not wanting to preserve power. I doubt that there is that desire in the presidential couple and here I include Cilia Flores, who is someone who also pulls the strings,” says Evans.
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