Venezuela’s Latest Scandal Shows Signs the Regime Chávez Built Is Falling Apart

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FERNANDO BIZZERRA JR. / EPA

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro walks toward his Brazilian counterpart, Dilma Rousseff, at the presidential palace in Brasilia on May 9, 2013

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro seems on a constant quest to deflect attention from his country’s economic mess, its violent-crime crisis and the fact that he only narrowly won last month’s special election to succeed his demigod, Hugo Chávez, who died in March. As part of that effort, Maduro last week called for the creation of a “workers militia” to “defend the sovereignty of the homeland.” But while he’s girding for imperialist invasions, a new scandal suggests the biggest threat to Maduro’s government lies within the socialist, anti-U.S. Bolivarian revolution that Chávez left him to lead.

They’re calling it Silva-gate, after demagogue TV talk-show host Mario Silva. He’s Venezuela’s left-wing version of right-wing U.S. radio bully Rush Limbaugh. Early last week, the political opposition released what it said was a recording of Silva briefing a Cuban intelligence agent at a Caracas military base in late April. In it, Silva accuses Maduro’s rivals inside his United Socialist Party (PSUV) not only of corruption but also of scheming to oust him in a military coup. For good measure, Silva raises sexist concerns that Maduro’s wife, Attorney General Cilia Flores, is manipulating him. The recording lays bare the PSUV discord that began during Chávez’s long cancer illness and has gotten louder since Maduro’s surprisingly lame April 14 victory. (He defeated centrist candidate Henrique Capriles by 1.5 percentage points. Chávez beat Capriles last year by 11 points.)

(MORE: Venezuela’s Election: Even if Nicolás Maduro Won, He Lost)

In fact, according to transcripts of the recording published in the Venezuelan media, Silva says Maduro should take former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s advice and “get rid of these bourgeois elections … because [voters] make mistakes [and] here, with elections the way they are, we could be struck down. They could knock the revolution down.”

It’s not surprising to hear that from Silva, a radical Marxist who has not denied that it’s his voice on the tape. But it’s striking how he confirms what pundits have long speculated: First, that Cuba exercises inordinate influence in Venezuela. And more important, that the PSUV, or the Venezuelan socialist movement known as chavismo, which has ruled for 14 years, is split between a more ideological faction led by Maduro, whom Chávez anointed as his successor, and a more pragmatic one headed by National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello, who has strong ties to business and the military and has been at least indirectly critical of Maduro’s performance. “The fierce chavista infighting and intrigues that [Silva] so explicitly lays out all sound plausible,” says Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, D.C. “With Chávez gone, there’s no comparable figure who can hold it together.”

Throughout his conversation with the Cuban agent, Silva blasts Cabello’s penchant for power grabs and the lucrative spoils they yield in Venezuela, which possesses the world’s largest oil reserves. He raises concerns about Cabello diverting funds from various agencies handling hard currency and tax revenue, among other acts of malfeasance — and at one point he even calls high-level corruption inside the Venezuelan government “a sea of shit,” a stunning admission from the spokesman of a revolution that came to power condemning Venezuela’s venal oligarchy.

(MORE: The Obama Administration Looks to Latin America After Years of Neglect)

More alarming are Silva’s warnings that Cabello is turning the Venezuelan military against Maduro, and that a coup may already be in the planning stages. Cabello’s cabal, Silva tells the Cuban agent, wants to “take over the armed forces and force Maduro to act the way they want or they’ll stage a coup d’état.” Says Shifter: “We forget that the political polarization you see among Venezuelans in general is reproduced in all of its institutions, including the military.”

Cabello has refused to discuss the allegations publicly. But many Venezuelan analysts suggest that the Cuban government — which is depending on Maduro to continue Chávez’s policy of sending the communist island more than 100,000 barrels of cut-rate oil a day — may have intentionally leaked the recording in order to weaken Cabello, even if it meant embarrassing Maduro too.

And even if it meant sacrificing Silva, who has announced an indefinite leave from his controversial but popular political talk show, La Hojilla (The Razor Blade) for “health reasons.” That explanation, along with his assertion that his remarks on the recording had been doctored by the Mossad and the CIA, sounds about as truthful as most of the slanderous muck Silva has long spewed as the revolution’s Orwellian, anti-Semitic and homophobic tele-thug. In 2009, Silva attacked two student opposition leaders on one broadcast by noting they had Jewish-sounding last names — “So, right away you can see the problem,” he said — and who last year told viewers that in 2000 Capriles had been caught engaging in oral sex with another man in a car on a Caracas street. Silva held up a document on air that he claimed was a police report — but even the Caracas cops wouldn’t go along with the vicious smear and denied its authenticity.

(MORE: After Venezuela’s Election, Chavistas and the Opposition Ready for Long Fight)

As the recording makes clear, Silva deluded himself into thinking he was as powerful as the genuinely powerful figures he discusses with the Cuban agent. But like his comandante Chávez, who in the years before his death watched his once heady hemispheric influence fade away, Silva turned out to be far less important than he thought. It’s ironic that what might in the end be his last public broadcast — his briefing on the leaked recording — might actually be accurate journalism. Chávez’s regime could very well be unraveling from within, especially as the government’s economic ineptitude, from sky-high inflation to shortages of basic items like toilet paper and cooking oil, keeps nullifying the strides the revolution has made in reducing poverty. Whatever the case, the razor blade has been sheathed, and Venezuela is better off for it.

MORE: In Hugo Chávez’s Heartland, the Dead President Rules Supreme

28 comments
texasranger65
texasranger65

Tim the article s spot on.. I live there 2 years ago. The corruption will be the biggest problem to fix because everyone is so used to it by now. It is a norm in Vzla to be crooked. When every one runs out of money except the highest generals and high civil servants then maybe we can turn this burro around. Cuba on the other hand has everything to loose by the US watching over this little cesspool of puppet politics . Madro looks like Sadam Husssain. Lol.

JulioRangel
JulioRangel

the sad truth is that as long the castros are in office,maduro and his gang will as well

javibonilla
javibonilla

@JulioRangel The governments in Cuba and Venezuela might not be perfect, but they are among the few beacons of hope in Latin America.

cdherz44
cdherz44

More American wishful thinking.  Whatever else happens Venezuela will not be going back in time -- back to the days when a few magnates could milk the country to their and the Yankees' satisfaction.

Superabound
Superabound

How is raising concerns that a mans wife might be manipulating him "sexist"? Whats really sexist is you assuming that wives are just there to look pretty and keep their mouths shut, and that they have no political influence whatsoever.

FAFournier
FAFournier like.author.displayName 1 Like

Rush Limbaugh is a bully? Challenging conventional leftist 'wisdom' amounts to bullying? That's just insane. 

Superabound
Superabound

@FAFournier Rush Limbaugh is not just a bully, hes a bully, a drug addict, and a sex criminal who was caught smuggling Viagra across the Dominican border after a long vacation spend enjoying the Dominican Republic's notorious underage brothels.

NM
NM

@FAFournier Not only is he a bully, he is a lying bully at that. I his world view - and I suspect your - anybody left of the Taliban Party, sorry I meant Tea Party are leftist infidels.

VijayBanga
VijayBanga

If past stayed present would not be able to take roots, a fear in the mind exercise

javibonilla
javibonilla

Hahahaha this article says that Henrique Capriles is a centrist, he is actually an extreme right-wing fascist.

NathanNguyen
NathanNguyen

@javibonilla Strong nationalism, anti-Zionism, preservation of private property if it serves a "social interest" (Fascism preferred private property rights protected, but within state concerns), a charismatic leader (now deceased), a powerful ruling party that still holds a monopoly on power, albeit reduced from its height and within a multiparty system. Sounds a lot more fascist than a man they're accusing of being a lackey to foreigner interests, "Zionists" and liberalism.

JackDorso
JackDorso like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@javibonilla From your perspective just about everyone is right-wing.


Of course, modern fascism is primarily a phenomenon of the Left.

Superabound
Superabound

@JackDorso @javibonilla Fascism is government corporatism. I thought the Left hated corporations and business, according to you people?

JavierBonilla
JavierBonilla

@Superaboundthe left in latin america is different from the fake Democrat left of the Us. The latin left is the only option to stop transnational capital and corporations from extracting the wealth out of our countries and the only option to uplift the masses into a more egalitarian society.

javibonilla
javibonilla

@JackDorso @javibonilla My perspective, a Latin American one which this article is "attempting" to convey, carris more weight in this discussion than that of an ignorant like you.

CamiloErazo
CamiloErazo like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I hope silva´s resign and scandal to be for the better. the cooking oil and toilet paper shortage makes Venezuela look like a socialism joke.

Being_Stupid
Being_Stupid

There are Revolutions for Reform and Revolutions for Revenge.  Revolution for Reform dies with the tyranny it overthrows.  Revolution for Revenge lives on, and on, replacing the tyranny with more tyranny, never ceasing to die.

Being_Stupid
Being_Stupid like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

Rush Limbaugh is not a bully, he simply states the truth and facts.

Superabound
Superabound

@Being_Stupid Rush Limbaugh doesnt state the truth or facts. He states opinions, and those opinions are based solely on what will most easily convince the pensioners sucking at the government teat to send him their Social Security checks. Hes a con man, pure and simple.

MarkSweetipo
MarkSweetipo like.author.displayName 1 Like

@Being_Stupid >he simply states the truth and facts.

Except when he blatantly lies and has to apologize to keep from losing more sponsors.  Never trust a junkie even if they only get high on "legal" medicine.

JohnM
JohnM

@Being_Stupid 

Rush Limbaugh may speak the truth, but he is still a bully in the way he does it. Like someone who is very nice but can still be wrong, Rush is very mean spirited and a total bully in the way he makes his argument. Whether he is factually correct or mistaken is an entirely different matter.