Maduro no FAN Male
By Carolina Barros
The Herald talks to defence expert, Rocío San Miguel
Could Nicolás Maduro fit into a khaki uniform or are army boots too big for him?
Although he seems to have (or to have inherited) the votes bequeathed to him by Hugo Chávez for the upcoming elections on April 14, not only does he seem to lack a readymade uniform for a president-cum-commander-in-chief, but is his voice loud enough to boss around the Venezuelan armed forces?
Is Acting President Maduro really a comandante along the lines of the late lieutenant-colonel Hugo Rafael Chávez?
He should be. After 14 years of Bolivarian revolution, which has left us with a political-military revolution endorsed by 15 elections (four of them presidential), the Venezuelan armed forces not only numbers 135,000 troops but, in conjunction with the 120.000-strong militia and the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) ruling party machine, form the crimson power base which kept the late Hugo ensconced in Miraflores palace until this year.
If to all that we add the fact that the one who really knows military ranks inside-out is the military-trained Diosdado Cabello, the political leader who is currently National Assembly speaker (and reportedly Maduro’s rival), the acting president’s voice and presence ranks even more feebly among the armed forces.
For a more in-depth probe into the true military legacy left by Hugo Chávez, the Herald interviewed defence expert Rocío San Miguel, a constitutional lawyer and president of Venezuela’s Civic Control Association.
How big is the role of the defence minister named by Chávez in the power play between Nicolás Maduro and Diosdado Cabello?
The real question is the reason why a totally insignificant naval officer was named defence minister by then-president Chávez a few hours before leaving for Cuba in early December. The only possible answer is that as perhaps the most politicized of the military top brass, Admiral Diego Molero may have been the right card to play to give a military veneer to a personality like Maduro, (who is) a high-profile party presence but is ignorant of military symbolism.
Ever since announcing the death of Chávez, Nicolás Maduro has been referring to the government as “political-military.” What does that imply?
The constant use of the expression “political-military high command” is surprising, something which in Venezuela evokes the civilian-military juntas installed after coups d’état. Neither the Constitution nor jurisprudence have any such term. It’s Maduro’s way of seeking to cover himself with Bolivarian National Armed Forces (or FAN in its Spanish acronym) support which still remains to be seen.
Where is that FAN support now?
Some of the top brass have already manifested their support, including Defence Minister Molero who, immediately after the death of President Chávez was announced on March 5, said: “We’re really going to screw the fascist opposition.” Incredibly tough talk, especially when contradicting the subordination of military power to civilian as stipulated in the Inter-American Democratic Charter. That’s the kind of support Maduro has found and he wishes to project it in order to give the appearance of enjoying total FAN support, something I don’t think he has for now.
There are 11 governors of military origin, four of them predecessors of Molero in the defence portfolio. Is there any distinction between those military officers now holding down political posts and those still commanding troops?
Chávez achieved an amalgamated FAN by reforming the law four times in five years, purging around 3,000 servicemen — some of them senior officers, often near the top of their promotion classes but tarnished by the events of April 11-13, 2002 (when Chávez briefly lost power). I don’t think Maduro has the same leadership abilities to hold so many FAN sectors and splinters together. It is true that half the current governors are of military origin, all trained during the (pre-Chávez, pre-1998) Fourth Republic and some are still linked to “diverse interests.” A quarter of the ministers are active servicemen, who also have their own interests and, of course, desire to make their temporary ministerial status permanent. In other words, there are many military groups whose ability to present a joint front to Maduro’s leadership remains to be seen and who have shown that they apparently do not understand the military essence — its chain of command, symbolism and nomenclature.
National Assembly Speaker Diosdado Cabello is an old comrade-in-arms of Chávez. How many of the high command does he have in his corner?
Cabello has been out of FAN since 1987. The current high command is currently composed of military academy graduates from the classes of 1982 and 1983. They are all up for retirement in July, soon after the elections. If Cabello had remained in FAN, he would have been due for promotion to brigadier-general last year and up for retirement in 2020.
Cabello still has many FAN comrades from his academy days and is closer to their generation, especially with several ministers who are still in military service such as his former classmate Admiral Elsa Gutiérrez at the helm of the Transport portfolio.
The complex outlook for the future revolves around the relationship of these two personalities (Maduro and Cabello) with FAN. It only remains to be said that three-quarters of the FAN high command were trained in democracy and still have institutional values. Nor have the middle-ranking officers been completely ideologized or politicized. There is a breath of fresh air in the military and it remains to be seen whether it will fall into step with a radicalized, politicized line. That was the legacy of Chávez, who died asserting the existence of a “FAN chavista,” which in no way corresponds to its current make-up.
Is Bolivarianism an amalgam of popular and military force?
Bolivarianism is a genuine expression felt by most Venezuelans, over and above the Chávez phenomenon. Not all “Chavism” is Bolivarian for a simple reason — the existential bases of Simón Bolívar spoke of independence and sovereignty. How do you explain the current situation — where’s our independence from Cuban interference? Perhaps in times to come we should speak of a nationalism where Bolívar, Francisco Miranda and our founding fathers in general are updated to respond to modern challenges. Bolivarianism is an expression used by Chávez which reverberated throughout the continent with such contrasting variants as Colombia’s FARC guerrillas and the Venezuelan high command. Something we should avoid if we are to honour the memory of independence hero Bolívar properly.