Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Nicolás Maduro aspires to be the reincarnation of Lula. He may just get his wish. He’s the appointed Vice President and anointed successor of Hugo Chávez, moribund caudillo of Venezuela.
Of humble origin, Maduro is a former bus driver with a high school education who got involved in labor union politics, turned out to be very good at it, and throve. Rising from the ranks of labor union leaders into politics, he achieved the post of President of the National Assembly, then was named Foreign Minister before becoming Vice President.
Lula, the lathe-worker has a remarkably similar background.
Notwithstanding the above credentials, Mr. Maduro faces opposition from two strong rivals, both of whom are potential candidates for President. One is Diosdado Cabello, now President of the National Assembly, who maintains close ties to the military and to Chávez. He might, under the Constitution, inherit the Venezuelan Presidency.
The other is Elias Jauá, a former VP appointed (but then un-appointed) by Chávez, a dedicated socialist and influential member of the National Assembly, well known for his outspoken leftist ideology.
Those of us who remember History will recall that, not so many years ago, Brazil faced a vaguely similar situation.
Tancredo Neves, indirectly elected in January of 1985, fell ill shortly thereafter but delayed a much needed operation, hoping against hope that he would survive until March 15th and be sworn in as the first civilian President of Brazil in over twenty years.
Vice President-elect José Sarney, with very close ties to the military, stood in the wings, unsure whether his fate would be to become President, succeeding Tancredo, or to remain as Vice President until new elections were called. Ulisses Guimarães, a dedicated socialist and the President of the National Assembly, knew that he might, under the Constitution, inherit the Brazilian Presidency.
In 1985, the Constitution called for the President of the National Assembly (Ulisses) to become President pro tempore, and call new elections, if Tancredo could not be sworn in. However, a consensus quickly arose that Sarney, sworn in by Congress as Vice President, should assume the office of President, if Tancredo was not able to be sworn in. And so it transpired.
Maduro, heir apparent, seems like the new Lula. A labor leader, a negotiator, a practical sort of person, just as was (is) Lula. Cabello, the putative heir, is the new Sarney, with connections to the military, but they are keeping a very low profile. Elias Jauá, the ideologue, waits in the wings for a sign which will not come.
So, Compañero Maduro, here’s to you! May you in fact be more a labor union leader than an ideologue, and may you negotiate with those who wish you well, and those who wish you ill, as Lula did. If you do, you will almost surely be elected President of the Bolivarian Republic this year.
In closing, the Curmudgeon notes that the USA has steadfastly refused to utter one single solitary syllable about the Venezuelan succession. Why? Because the USA is sure that Nicolás Maduro will be the next President of Venezuela, and believes he will be much easier to deal with than his current rivals.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 35 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)