With Hugo Chávez’s possible demise, Venezuelans could be facing a new Presidential election soon. This provides a unique opportunity for us, because the candidate we would likely face – Vice-President Nicolás Maduro – is largely unknown to most of the population.
Now, I know what many of you are thinking: I thought we were unelectable! Why is this guy writing now about the Vice-President and how to beat him?
Well, we are unelectable … against Chávez. Against Maduro and the others we have a shot, provided we start now.
One of the main tasks in opposing a candidate that is largely unknown is defining him before he gets a chance to do so himself. In that vein, what can we say about Maduro?
a. “Maduro no pisa barrio.” Most Venezuelans know Maduro from his work as Foreign Minister. Whether it’s hobnobbing with Cristina or getting down with the Castros, Maduro has been an effective diplomat, as much as somebody representing the irascible Chávez can be.
Yet this provides an opening. When was the last time Maduro was seen in a barrio, discussing problems with neighbors, talking about the housing crisis, or the crime wave? When you Google image the guy, 90% of the pictures that pop up show him in a suit and tie, which is rare for a chavista politician. We need to convince voters he is detached from current Venezuelans’ pressing issues.
b. “Maduro regala nuestros reales.” If there is one thing about Venezuela’s foreign policy that voters do not like, it’s the fact that Chávez uses oil wealth to gain support abroad. Furthermore, these ties usually come with corrupt strings attached.
It would be a slam-dunk to link Maduro to shady dealings with Cuba, China, or Iran. Imagine, for example, an opposition politician holding a press conference in front of a bankrupt Iran-Venezuela joint venture.
c. “Maduro gobierna con malandros.” Hugo Chávez is far more popular than his minions. They are generally seen as corrupt, inefficient, lazy, and all of the above. “Es que no le dicen a Chávez,” has become code for “the President is not the problem, it’s his ministers.” While Maduro personally has not been seen as one of the inefficient and corrupt ones, it would be beneficial to tie him to that group. “Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres.”
d. “Maduro betrayed Chávez.” With all the secrecy surrounding the President’s health, it may be possible to portray the governing clique as being focused on holding on to power instead of leveling with the people or governing. Maduro could potentially be portrayed as the candidate of the resulting power play, one that will undoubdtedly leave many chavistas frustrated.
We could make the case that the lack of transparency and internal squabbles are a sign of Maduro’s thirst for power, one that el comandante presidente would have frowned upon. Divide y vencerás and all that.
These are just thoughts to get the conversation started, but one thing is clear: it’s never too early to go negative on the guy we are most likely going to face.