Obama Backs Maduro

The Summit of the Americas in Panama was a turning point for the personal role of Nicolas Maduro at the helm of the most complex phase of the fifth government of the Bolivarian process.*

As he was greeted by thousands of enthusiastic Chavistas at the airport in Maiquetia who were celebrating his performance at the international meeting, it occurred to no one to think back one or two years.

Certainly they were not the cheering masses who sent off Hugo Chavez and received him each time he appeared at Maiquetia, but on the morning of April 13, when Maduro returned from Panama, he was not the presidential heir. The enthusiasm aroused by the initiative of 10 million signatures and strong presidential demeanor at the Summit of the Americas, were enough to make his image different, and enough to give his government time to address the serious challenges of the domestic economy.

It was as if a post-Obama Maduro had appeared; a real paradox if we remember that he is the author of a presidential decree that turned Venezuela into “an unusual threat to U.S. security,” which in terms of American practices of the last century means that Venezuela had entered the danger zone.

Any serious analysis, even if by a sensible right-winger, would conclude that the summit was the third loss by the United States, Canada and friendly governments.

Barack Obama had to share equal ground in terms of state protocol with the head of a government that has most fought his party and his country over the past half century. But Obama also had to contend with the bilateral aspect of President Nicolas Maduro, even though an Obama spokesman said, “Venezuela will not be the issue on the president’s agenda.”**

The only technical difference between the two presidential connections was the discretion of the second in front of the media spectacle of the first. For Obama, his image with regard to Cuba was going to be the focus of international interest, and would be the most effective way to influence his domestic dispute with the tea party, the Republicans and a sector of his own party.

The president was forced to submit to the conditions of the new Latin American geopolitics. This emerging political map helped Nicolas Maduro leave the Summit of Panama with his presidential image strengthened.

Maduro’s presence as president as was inevitable, was and to some extent will still be, subjected to the cruelty of all inherited political leaderships; unlike patrimonial inheritance, the heir is stripped of nearly all his benefits.

As Basen Tajeldine wrote in the Venezuelan newspaper Aporrea, “President Obama paved the way to President Maduro.” A pundit with a different ideology, Carlos Montanar, expressed the same idea on CNN on April 14: “Maduro took advantage of Obama’s misstep with Cuba and Venezuela, and left smiling.”

The two images most sought after at the summit — that of Obama with Castro, on the one hand, and Maduro, on the other — reflected in the media and diplomatic sphere the defeat of the United States and Canada in the wording of a final document. The draft presented was subverted and barred by the reaction of the progressive and liberal countries, with Evo Morales in the lead, supported by the unexpected passivity of strong states such as Mexico, Colombia and Chile. For the Venezuelan government, the social sector that supports it, and for Nicolas Maduro himself, enhanced dialectics of this combination of factors transformed the trip of the inherited president into the shortest path between the weight of heredity and his improved image inside and outside the country.

There are three ways to support this conclusion: the state of opinion in Venezuela in the post-summit days; the mood of the Chavista base and vanguard; and the media reaction from the Venezuelan government’s opponents.

A study by the Venezuelan polling firm Hinterlaces showed the perception of Venezuelans in relation to the #ObamaDerogaElDecretoYa campaign. The majority of the population supported the national initiative against the decree declaring Venezuela as an “extraordinary and unusual threat.”

“Of the 1,200 people surveyed nationwide, 61 percent agree with what the Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro is doing to have President Barack Obama repeal the decree. Only 36 percent disagree,” said its director, sociologist Oscar Shemell. A high percentage, 63 percent of those consulted, were in favor of the campaign of the national government, and in contrast, 35 percent rejected the campaign.

This mass of almost 13 million signatures became a national and international referendum for the image of the young Bolivarian president. Apart from the number, it was an intense mobilization of opinion in just three weeks in several countries.

This new fact encouraged the Chavista base and vanguard, hurting or diminished for some time by several factors: death of a leader; provoked commercial collapse; economic crisis; corruption and a feeling of weakness in the Bolivarian national leadership since 2013.

On March 20, a picture of Chavism, distinctive like many similar pictures, ventured to capture the emerging reality with daring irony: “Obama: The head of Maduro’s election campaign,” and “The president of the republic, Nicolas Maduro, fortified his national leadership by creating the Enabling Law, to last for nine months and to create, starting from today, March 20, a real, true and accurate national survey collecting 10 million signatures to reject the aforementioned decree.”

Nothing ensures that these 10 million signatures — the other three million coming from Cuba, Argentina and other Latin American countries in addition to Palestine and the United States — will become votes in the next elections to the National Assembly in October of this year. But that’s not the most important sign. The key to the referendum and signatures is that they served to support the government and put President Maduro in the news spotlight. The campaign was an initiative of Miraflores; Nicolas Maduro announced that himself on television.

In qualitative and quantitative terms, the 10 million signatures outweigh the fragile indications of any survey. For example, research conducted by the International Consulting Services in October 2014, reported that 53.2 percent of Venezuelans evaluated President Maduro’s management as positive. This sampling became important because it is from a company that is an opponent of the government.

That state of opinion is not understandable without the evaluation of the same study, according to which 71.4 percent of the people who consulted it described it as “fairly bad” to “very bad” in regard to the work of the opposition in the Democratic Unity Roundtable. Simon Cordova, director of the International Consulting Services, added that the survey showed 51.9 percent of respondents side with President Maduro and the presidency, believing that the country will improve, while 68.2 percent believe that “with the Democratic Unity Roundtable in the government,” Venezuela will worsen.

This perception based on deference and a sense of security, confirms that a relative majority of the population continues to support the heir, Maduro, and his government as the best choice in the face of a life of uncertainty, and in the memory of Chavez. This social data was also reflected in the recent elections in several Latin American countries.

The Latin American right has begun to modify the treatment that it gave Maduro. Without deviating a millimeter from the rejection, since the summit, some expressions have appeared that would have been impossible one or two years ago.

Two journalists from CNN, Patricia Janiot and the Chilean, Jose Manuel Rodriguez, considered that “despite what was expected, President Maduro showed that he is not an easygoing president.” A columnist for the Argentine newspaper La Nacion had to admit that, “Despite the serious internal problems in both cases, the presidents of Venezuela and Cuba took the starring places in the summit.” And journalist Andres Oppenheimer from The Miami Herald said, “Against all odds, Maduro did well in Panama.”

Just as last year we talked about a Maduro who managed to overcome tests of the bloody guarimbas and remain intact in Miraflores, weathering a storm of commercial speculation, a collapse in oil prices and stagnation of the GDP, this year he surpassed his own goals with the Panama Summit results.***

*Editor’s note: Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called the process of socialist reforms in Venezuela the “Bolivarian process.”

**Editor’s note: The following quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.

***Editor’s note: Guarimba is a term coined in Venezuela to refer to a refuge or hideout used for any demonstration without mobilization. The government, headed by Nicolas Maduro, linked the term to vandalism, violent riots and the arbitrary closure of streets which leads to clashes.

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