If you search the words “mi comandante” on Twitter, you’re likely to run into a long series of prayers from concerned chavistas. Almost in unison, they hope for Hugo Chávez’s full recovery by talking about him as “their commander.”
This is a problem for Nicolás Maduro.
The term “mi comandante” is much more than a moniker. It signals both a direct line of command – it doesn’t get more submissive that “mande, mi comandante” – as well as a certain posession, an intimate relationship between leader and follower. He is “my” commander inasmuch as I let him be mine.
The problem for Maduro is that he is not “my” anything to anyone, except his immediate family. Have you heard him called “mi vice”? How about “mi príncipe heredero”? “Mi canciller”? “Mi chofer”? “Mi conductor”?
This is but a sign of the increasing difficulty the President-in-waiting will have in keeping his base united. As much as he may try to pull at the strings of mournful chavistas, he is not “theirs,” and they are not “his.”
When chavistas voted for Chávez, for “mi comandante presidente,” they were in essence transferring their sovereignty to him while at the same time expressing that he (He?) belonged to them. This was part of the brilliance of Hugo Chávez – emphasizing the people’s sovereignty, however false it may have been, while convincing them to give it to him. This mutual co-dependency is firmly established – “Chávez es el pueblo, Chávez eres tú.”
That is why so many people are so concerned about the health of somebody they do not even know. It’s not just any leader that is passing, and it’s not just his policies. If Chávez dies, a part of them dies with him. In praying for him, they pray for themselves – the people as horcruxes.
Maduro doesn’t have anywhere near the same emotional connection to his voters. Getting the same number votes as Chávez is going to be an uphill battle for him.