Monday, March 12, 2012


From FPRI:

by Vanessa Neumann

January 9, 2012

Vanessa Neumann is a Senior Fellow of the Foreign Policy
Research Institute and co-chair, with FPRI Trustee Devon
Cross, of FPRI's Manhattan Initiative. To access her earlier
FPRI essays, visit: 

Available on the web and in pdf format at: 


                    by Vanessa Neumann

As if the world needed further evidence, Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez
's new political appointments in the
early days of January confirm his regime's descent into
militant narcoterrorism and increases the possibility of a
coup d'etat by a military junta should Chavez lose his grip
on power either through his cancer (from which he dubiously
claims to now be cured) or through an electoral defeat on
October 7.

The first of the alarming changes was the swearing in on
January 5 of Diosdado Cabello as the president of the
unicameral National Assembly. In his new capacity, Mr.
Cabello, a long-time chavista and now one of Venezuela's
wealthiest men, will be able to appoint Supreme Court
justices and the members of the National Electoral
Commission, who will oversee and count the votes in the
three upcoming elections: for the presidency on October 7,
for the governorships in December and for mayors in April
2013.[1] After highly controversial legislative elections in
September 2010 that I covered for The Weekly Standard,[2]
the National Assembly has 98 "officiliast" PSUV (Chavez's
United Socialist Party of Venezuela) members and 65 members
from the opposition, despite the opposition having won
nearly two-thirds of the popular vote.

While this enables Cabello to wield an enormous amount of
power, he is no stranger to the Chavez administration,
having held various posts within the regime: as the Vice-
President who went into hiding during the 48-hour coup
against Chavez in April 2002; as Minister of the Interior;
as Minister of Justice; as Director of Conatel, the National
Telecommunications Commission; and as Governor of the state
of Miranda, until he lost to Henrique Capriles Radonski, now
an opposition presidential candidate. Cabello's friendship
with Chavez and support of the Bolivarian Revolution dates
back to the early 1980s when they were in the military
academy together, and Cabello was a co-putschist in the
February 4, 1992 attempted coup that Chavez led and for
which he was imprisoned, giving him cult hero status he then
rode into the presidential palace seven years later.

But Cabello's relationship with Chavez has not been without
friction. It is widely whispered in military circles that
Cabello commands far more respect and loyalty from the
military than Chavez, who has variously aggrieved them with
impetuous appointments and using them for civilian projects
in his misiones or for his gross incompetence in mishandling
the April 2002 protests leading to bloodshed that in turn
led to the 48-hour coup against him. While most Latin
America observers considered former Foreign Minister Nicolas
Maduro or former Vice-President Elias Jaua the likely
successor to Chavez, I stated publicly at an FPRI talk in
Manhattan in December that I thought it would be Diosdado
Cabello, and it looks like I was right.

It is no secret that Chavez, like most dictators, is very
wary of close associates with growing power or popularity,
and he routinely shunts them aside-typically in his January
cabinet reshufflings. In this month's reshuffling, Chavez
has spun out many of his closest cabinet members to run for
various governorships now held by the opposition: Foreign
Minister Nicolas Maduro is being sent to run for the
governorship of Carabobo; Interior Minister Tareck el-
Aissami to Tachira; Defense Minister Gen. Carlos Mata
Figueroa to Nueva Esparta; Vice-President Elias Jaua of
Miranda, to name but a few. Chavez has yet to announce his
new Vice-President, though the choice is rumored to be
between Rafael Ramirez and Jesse Chacon.

So it might be surprising that Cabello has not only been
brought back into the fold, but indeed been made the
regime's second most-powerful man. This is clearly a
calculated risk. On the one hand, Chavez is conceding that
he needs the commanding Cabello to maintain power; on the
other, Chavez is directly and indirectly militarizing the
legislative, judiciary and electoral commission to defend
and advance his increasingly unpopular Bolivarian

The high-level reassignment of a militant chavista whose
vast wealth cannot be attributed to any legitimate source,
marries well with another controversial appointment Chavez
made the very next day, January 6: Gen. Henry Rangel Silva
as Defense Minister. This is bad news for Venezuela. Gen.
Rangel Silva was one of several Venezuelan government
officials sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in
September 2008 as a drug-trafficker aiding the FARC,[3] a
charge Chavez and Rangel Silva have of course roundly
denied. Yet. Gen. Rangel Silva is certainly not known for
his respect of the democratic process: as Minister of
Defense he flatly stated in an interview on 28 November 2010
that the military would not recognize an opposition victory
in 2012.[4]

In other news, on January 8, the U.S. Department of State
expelled the Venezuelan Consul in Miami, Livia Acosta
Noguera, in the wake of the Univision documentary "La
Amenaza Iran¡" ("The Iranian Threat") that alleged that she
was among a group of Venezuelan and Iranian diplomats who
expressed interest in an offer from a group of Mexican
hackers to infiltrate the websites of the White House, the
FBI, the Pentagon and U.S. nuclear plants-a plot that began
five years ago when Acosta Noguera was Cultural Attache to
the Venezuelan Embassy in Mexico City. Rep. Ileana Ros-
Lehtinen, Rep. David Rivera, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Rep.
Albio Sires wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
in December and asked the State Department to require
Acosta's "immediate departure" from the United States if the
Univision report proved true. Although the US State
Department has not said whether it had found the allegations
to be true, it is perhaps no coincidence that the day the
announcement of her expulsion was made coincided with
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's arrival on a state visit to Venezuela.

With terrorist plotters in its diplomatic missions to the
US, and militant narcoterrorists at the helm of the armed
forces, the legislature and, by extension, the Supreme Court
and the Electoral Commission, the future is indeed looking
bleak for my homeland, to which I have been advised I must
not return while Chavez remains in power. Dissident members
of the government have been telling me Chavez would not go
peacefully through the ballot box, and it's looking
increasingly like they are right: indicators now point
toward more bloodshed and the imposition of a military
junta-a Bolivarian Revolution by all means necessary?
Watching my most dire predictions come true, it may be a
long time before I can return to my birthplace, which is
becoming an increasingly real threat to my other home, the
United States.




[3] and 


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