The opposition representative to the Venezuelan parliament Ismael Garcia held a press conference on May 20 in Caracas at which he played a recording of a conversation between famous talk show host Mario Silva and Aramis Palacios, believed to be a Cuban intelligence agent. Garcia did not explain how he got the 65-minute recording, whose authenticity remains to be proven, but the content of the conversation aroused a heated reaction from both supporters and opponents of the regime. What is really going on in the highest levels of power in Venezuela? Is the state leadership really as unified as president Nicolas Maduro is making it out to be? What will Maduro do to normalize the situation when half the electorate voted for his opponent, Henrique Capriles, at the presidential election on April 14?
If one trusts the recording, Mario Silva told Aramis Palacios about the competing groups in the Bolivarian camp, headed, according to him, by President Maduro and Diosdado Cabello, the chairman of the National Assembly. Cabello, who is supposedly involved in corruption to the tune of millions of dollars, wouldn't accept that Hugo Chavez appointed Nicolas Maduro as his successor and is trying to turn the tide in his own favor. Now Cabello is strengthening his positions in the army, the security agencies and the police. His immediate goal is to have someone personally loyal to him appointed to the post of Minister of Defense. To this end, rumors are being spread to discredit the current minister, Diego Molero, whom Hugo Chavez trusted implicitly. Silva also pointed out (again, if one accepts the recorded conversation as authentic) the «excessive» influence of the president's wife, Cilia Flores, on the character of the decisions made by the head of state.
Modern technologies make it possible to compile such a «conversation» using fragments from the hundreds of interviews and shows which Mario Silva has hosted in the past. Over the course of many years he engaged in counterpropaganda on Venezuelan television and exposed covert operations of U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies directed against Chavez and his government. He made a lot of enemies in the ranks of the Bolivarians as well, by identifying false allies, fifth columnists and corrupt officials. The journalist has survived several attempted attacks and has had to hire bodyguards, and recently even received a weapon from the military arsenal for self-defense. Silva has called the recording of the conversation with the Cuban «a forgery in which the Mossad is involved,» and said that the plan to «liquidate» his television program The Razorblade (La Hojilla) «was nearly flawless» and led to his losing his job on the state television channel.
Some analysts connect the dismissal of Mario Silva from his job on the television channel with a change in domestic policy which is being implemented gradually by the Maduro administration. This process of «building bridges» and establishing dialogue with opponents seems forced, but possibly Chavez's successor has no other choice. The policy of relaxing tense relationships and looking for potential partners in the camp of those who not long ago were seen as opponents looks like a political necessity. The alternative to dialogue is destabilization. In the past few days the President held meetings with the owners of the television channels Venevision, Televen and Globovision. Hugo Chavez considered the latter, a «24-hour news channel», to be «the most dangerous political party» in Venezuela. Just before these meetings, Maduro practically repeated the words of Chavez: «These channels represent an enormous communicative force. And in the past they used this force to organize a coup d’état. They must not be underestimated. I will speak with their owners with extreme frankness.»
The president's initiative has noticeably influenced the channels' communications policy. Globovision has abandoned the usual confrontational tone of its programs. Objective coverage of events and inviting supporters of the Bolivarian regime to participate in programs are changes which everyone has noticed. The channel has noticeably reduced the amount of airtime devoted to Henrique Capriles. Capriles' declaration that he does not recognize Maduro as president, his calls to oppose the regime and his feverish activity in making contacts with extremist elements in the U.S. and Columbia in order to involve them in operations on the territory of Venezuela all cause serious misgivings in more sober-minded opponents of Maduro. They understand that Capriles is prepared to plunge the country into civil war because of his unfulfilled presidential ambitions.
Maduro held a series of meetings with entrepreneurs at which the serious issue of food production was discussed. Especially significant was his exchange of opinions with Lorenzo Mendoza, the chairman of the huge food company Polar, which produces a wide assortment of products, from maize flour and rice to ice cream and beer. According to Forbes magazine, 47-year-old Mendoza's fortune is worth over 4 billion dollars. Lorenzo began his career at Polar as a loader: at his father's insistence, he started at the bottom and worked his way up in order to better understand how the family business functions. Currently, around 40,000 people work at Mendoza's facilities, whose high level of social benefits act as a kind of «vaccine» against interest in Bolivarian ideas.
Maduro invited ministers from the economic bloc to his meeting with Mendoza in order to plan specific issues for future consultations. The head of Polar later stated that his conversation with the president took place in «a very cordial atmosphere, and was open and free of politicization.» Maduro promised Mendoza that the government would help the enterprise produce more essential food products and brands of drinks familiar to Venezuelans. The very fact of the meeting of Maduro and Mendoza, whose ancestor was the first president of the independent Venezuela (Cristobal Mendoza, 1811-1812) is interesting in that Hugo Chavez did not rule out the possibility that in the future the entrepreneur could become a presidential candidate for the right wing. Similar examples already exist in Latin America. In Chile, the oligarch Piñera won the presidential election; in Panama, Martinelli won, and in Columbia, Santos.
Maduro is concurrently taking steps to revitalize social policy. Almost every day there are announcements that the keys to new apartments have been given to tens and hundreds of families, although the construction of new residential buildings still remains a priority. The president gives great attention to the army. Very recently it was announced that the salaries of military personnel would be increased by 40%. 20,000 automobiles will be purchased abroad and distributed at discounted prices among officers.
These government measures have noticeably toned down polemics with the opposition. President Maduro appraised the release of the conversation between Silva and Palacio as an attempted «political assassination of Diosdado Cabello»: «First they [the right wing forces in the country and abroad] want to destroy him morally, and then physically as well.» Meanwhile, the public prosecution has begun an investigation into the matter of the Silva-Palacio recording. Experts noted when listening to the recording that the person with whom Silva is speaking does not have a typical Cuban accent, and that during the conversation, which lasted over an hour, the telejournalist never coughed once, although this habit of his is well known to television viewers. The fact that the «recording» was released by Ismael Garcia, who until 2001 worked with Hugo Chavez but then changed sides and joined the opposition, also raises suspicion. Chavez called him a traitor, meaning that Garcia had always called himself a socialist and even was trained as a trade union official in Cuba.
Today Garcia is on the front lines of the fight with the Bolivarian regime. He is well received at the American embassy and has visited the U.S. several times with groups of Venezuelan opposition members. According to Garcia, he has «other recordings, which are kept in a safe place,» which will be used by the opposition when the moment comes. President Maduro's policy of relaxing relationships with the opposition will meet with resistance from U.S. and Israeli agents, but in current conditions it is most likely the best tactic for the Bolivarian government.