It was one of the biggest political surprises of the last few months, if not years, when Hugo Chavez announced that his Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, would be the candidate for Governor of Carabobo State in 2012. Maduro had been considered Chavez’ heir apparent if it became necessary for the Venezuelan President to step aside in 2012 due to health reasons. In fact, many people, including yours truly, believed that Chavez would name Maduro as his Vice-President some time in the very near future, replacing Elias Jaua, who is not popular among various Chavista factions.
That all was not well in Maduro-land was barely noticeable last week when his wife, Cilia Flores, was replaced in the leadership of Chavez’ political party PSUV by none other than Diosdado Cabello, once also considered Chavez’ clear successor. But Flores had been in the doghouse for a while, as she had been removed early in 2011, before Chavez’ illness surfaced, as President of the Venezuelan National Assembly.
It was unclear why the sudden change of heart for Maduro, who had been acting in roles beyond that of Foreign Minister, including being the main speaker at a service held for Hugo Chavez in Manhattan and being part of the commission studying the changes to the new Labor Law. Maduro was also the only Cabinet Minister to go back and forth between Caracas and La Habana, when Hugo Chavez received treatment for his cancer in that city between June and September.
Chavez’ announcement was made the day after Maduro received an ovation that apparently irked the President, but I am sure there is much more to the story. For now, Chavez is in the search for a new Vice-President, with most betting that it will remain all in the family with his son in law, Jorge Arreaza, the current Minister of Science and Technology, being named Vice-President early in 2012*. His current Vice-President Elias Jaua, had already been nominated as candidate for Governor of Miranda State by Chavez a few months ago in what was believed to be an elegant way of disposing of Jaua.
Chavez is making daily changes to his entourage, with rumors that new important military appointments will be made soon. For now, none of the groups fighting for power feels they hold in a solid position, as the downfall of the heir apparent may simply be a signal by Chavez that he has yet to make his mind up. When he does, Maduro may be back, in another sideways move by the Venezuelan President.
*I don’t think that Arreaza can be Vice-President if I understand what “parentesco por afinidad” means in Art. 238 of the Venezuelan Constitution, which bans the VP from being related by blood and/or affinity to the President. I believe, but I am not 100% sure that Chavez is related to Arreaza by affinity.