Le Théâtre de l’Absurde – An update on Venezuela

I erroneously thought things couldn’t get any more ridiculous in Venezuela, but every passing week continues to prove me wrong. Shortly after Maduro double downed on anti-imperialist rhetoric, accusing the U.S. of giving Chavez cancer, Maduro accused the U.S. of plotting to assassinate Henrique Capriles, the Venezuelan opposition leader, in the hopes of destabilizing Venezuela and leading to a military coup d’etat. Baffling, right? There is so much about this accusation to inspire incredulity, but these are the first that came to mind:

  1. The officials (Roger Noriega and Otto Reich) Maduro is accusing of leading this conspiracy are not currently serving in the U.S. government. They were members of George W. Bush’s administration and have not been in office for more than 5 years. I’m not sure what to make of this. Are people supposed to believe these guys are working secretly for the Obama administration, or somehow have gone rogue and are free-lancing? In the end, I think the Chavistas haven’t bothered to update their Rolodex of U.S. government officials and keep recycling the same names in their random conspiracy generator
  2. If the ultimate goal of the U.S. is to cause the downfall of those currently in power, why would they want to assassinate Capriles, the first opposition leader since Chavez came to power to have demonstrated any ability to be competitive in a national election?
  3. With many pro-chavistas in the Venezuelan military, after years of Chavez purging the military of all opposition, a military coup d’etat doesn’t seem to be a good venue of ensuring a pro-american government

Let us dispense with the obviously baseless conspiracy theory, why would Maduro even make the accusation? I guess going to the bread and butter of anti-imperialist rhetoric might help him rally his base in preparation for elections. However, it seems to be in contrast with Maduro’s other actions of trying to discredit Capriles by tying him to the bourgeois elite and painting him as pro-american. It also seems to shine a spotlight of sorts on the person he will be running against shortly. Frankly, I have trouble coming up with a reasonable explanation. Ironically, I am forced to come up with my own conspiracy to make sense of Maduro’s accusation, and this is the first I imagined:

  • Maduro can now use this conspiracy as an excuse to put Capriles under government watch to protect him. Such an act would fit the overall style of systematically consolidating power and limiting opposition under Chavez, described well in this NY Times article. Maduro could then play the role of patriot, while limiting Capriles’s ability to run a campaign.

Hopefully, this is not what actually happens, and Venezuela has a relatively free and fair election where Capriles is allowed to run without harassment. However, this possibility seems less and less likely. The deck was already going to be stacked against Capriles. Trying to win an election during a short campaign (a month or so), against Chavez’s ghost, and Maduro was  always going to be difficult. However, if the Maduro uses the full force of the government to stymie and suppress Capriles, it seems all but certain he will get his desired electoral victory.