I just wanted to comment briefly on Javier Corrales’ piece on Nicolás Maduro, the man Hugo Chávez has named as the PSUV candidate for president if he is forced to step down and elections become necessary. In general, I think he captures extremely well how Maduro would be different as a leader than Chávez and the challenges that he would face. What is striking about the piece, however, is the complete absence of any discussion of Maduro’s relationship with Cuba and the importance of those ties to him being named successor.
It’s hardly a secret that the Venezuelan government under Hugo Chávez has become extremely close to its Cuban counterpart over the past 13 years. Venezuela is often considered the new benefactor that, after a bit of delay, replaced the Soviet Union in supporting the Cuban state. Venezuela’s famous Barrio Adentro social program is essentially staffed by Cuban doctors paid for in kind by Venezuelan oil which the Cuban government is able to sell on the open market for a huge profit. Additionally, ALBA the economic integration club created in opposition to the Free Trade Area of the Americas was formed in Havana by Venezuela and Cuba before being joined by like-minded governments elsewhere in the region. Since Chávez was diagnosed with cancer, he has received treatment in Cuba despite having access to what is considered to be better quality care in Brazil. In this relationship, Maduro—who has been Foreign Minister since 2006—has long been believed to be the preferred choice of the Cubans, perhaps due to his civilian background and beginnings as a radical labor leader as opposed to the more nationalist chavistas who have come from the military like Diosdado Cabello. It is, therefore, striking for there to be such a large omission in Corrales’ piece since his relationship with Cuba likely played at least some role in his selection by Chávez and would certainly play a large role in his actions as president should he win election. As Francisco Toro explains, besides being great at staying in Chávez’s good graces, being part of the pro-Cuba faction of chavismo is among the only things anyone really knows about him.