Why Is Venezuela’s Maduro Reshuffling His Cabinet?

˙ Latin America Advisor

Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is planning a “deep restructuring” of his government and has proposed to replace his entire cabinet, just as Juan Guaidó, who is internationally recognized as Venezuela’s interim president, kicked off a national tour that is part of what he called a “new phase” of his campaign to unseat Maduro. Meanwhile, Venezuelan Gen. Carlos Rotondaro, previously loyal to Maduro, defected, denouncing the government as “inept and corrupt.” Why is Maduro shuffling his cabinet now, and is it a sign of weakness or strength? Has the opposition lost momentum two months after Guaidó launched his campaign to oust Maduro? What does Rotondaro’s defection mean, and to what extent is military support for Maduro beginning to crack?

Luis Vicente León, president of Datanálisis in Caracas: “Maduro is losing democratic governance, and it is becoming impossible for him to solve the country’s problems, not only because of his ideological primitivism, but also because sanctions limit his margin of maneuver. However, the blackout forced him make some strategic moves beyond denouncing ‘sabotage’ as responsible for the crisis. He announced a new cabinet, which he has yet to name, in an effort to create expectations of change and of an increase in the direct power of the military sector over the government, with which he intends to reinforce its support. In the political field, there has been stronger radicalization and tougher repression against the opposition. Without touching Guaidó, Maduro has been pointing to his collaborators, whom he has arrested by linking them with plans to destabilize the country, while at the same time increasing control over the media. Guaidó continues his attempt to activate internal protests, but he also seems to be more willing to advance in some negotiations with the military sector. Overcoming its failed offer of amnesty, his team now seems to be contemplating the possibility of a co-government to encourage the dismantling of the military as a bloc. Meanwhile, Guaidó’s popularity remains stable at a spectacular 60 percent. He is experiencing a honeymoon period, but time may be dangerous. Without political changes, it’s foreseeable that the population will become frustrated and disappointed. Paradoxically, time also plays against Maduro, because it means a deepening of the crisis, greater risks of social explosion and an increase in the likelihood that the United States will escalate action. It would be strange if, approaching the presidential electoral season in the United States, Trump would become static vis-à-vis Maduro, if he still remains in power.”

Eva Golinger, attorney, author and former advisor to late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez: “It is not unusual for the Venezuelan president to restructure his cabinet on an annual basis. Maduro has done it several times during his presidency, and Chávez frequently shifted his cabinet around. Under Venezuela’s Constitution, the president does not need legislative approval for his cabinet appointees, he can name them as he chooses and change them when he likes. So, this should not necessarily be interpreted as a sign of unrest or internal disagreement. Maduro may be seeking to provide more power to the military in order to retain its loyalty in the face of threats against his presidency. The defection of Gen. Carlos Rotondaro and other high-profile former supporters is not particularly surprising or concerning for the government. Rotondaro is associated with a rampant corruption scheme within the state institution he previously oversaw, and therefore has little credibility in Venezuela. So far, Maduro has been successful in discrediting most of those who have dissented from his rule. Inside Venezuela, Juan Guaidó is losing momentum in a broad spectrum of communities that initially had a hope for change. He has presented no viable path for a political transition, and the day-to-day life in Venezuela, while affected by the broadening U.S. sanctions, remains status quo. The longer Maduro stays in power, the deeper in he digs, and many Venezuelans will rally around him in the face of external threats. Unless there is a call for a national referendum on holding a new election or another type of serious negotiated process to initiate governmental change, Venezuelans will be left believing Guaidó, like his powerful allies in Washington, are more bark than bite.”

Lindsay Singleton, senior vice president at ROKK Solutions: “While encouraging, Rotondaro’s defection is not necessarily indicative of a tipping point for regime support within the armed forces. Venezuela has more than 2,000 generals, very few of whom are actually politically relevant. Venezuelans view Rotondaro, in particular, as responsible for the deterioration of the country’s health care system. His defection will be one of many that create political challenges for Guaidó’s government, which will risk popular support by granting amnesty to prominent regime members. Amnesty is certainly an important tactic for Guaidó, but it is not without risk. Maduro’s reshuffling of the cabinet plays to a domestic, traditionally Chavista audience, which, like the rest of the country, is suffering. While some Chavista hardliners may still believe the rhetoric of a U.S.-led economic war against Venezuela, many more blame Maduro. Maduro has never enjoyed the popular support Chávez had, so a cabinet reshuffle is a way to respond to the frustrations of those who have historically supported the PSUV Party. It is practically the only tool left for Maduro to appear responsive to the humanitarian crisis.”

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