By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has granted additional powers on Defense Minister Army General Vladimir Padrino Lopez, making him the second most powerful man in Venezuela by putting him in charge of overseeing food sales, transportation and distribution at ports, airports and businesses, controlling prices and stimulating production, in addition to other powers.
“All the ministries, all the ministers, all the state institutions are at the service and in absolute subordination” to Padrino’s Great Sovereign Supply Mission, Maduro said in a televised address Monday night.
Social media exploded with reactions, including pictures of a smiling Padrino (the longest serving Maduro cabinet minister) with Fidel Castro. The older Castro, perhaps more than his younger brother Raul, is generally considered the main behind-the-scenes force in Venezuelan politics since 1998, when Cuba-backed Hugo Chavez was first elected President.
This is the first time a non-elected member of the military has held so much power since at least 1958, when General Marcos Perez Jimenez was Venezuela's last dictator. And given to him by an elected, if unpopular, sitting President.
The President of the National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, the second most important man in the country, according to the Constitution, but one that has been effectively sidelined by Maduro and his partisan Supreme Court, decried the appointment as a throwback.
“Very bad message: A president that surrounds himself by high-brass military to reinforce the negative message of pretorianismo,” Ramos tweeted Tuesday morning, as soon as the appointment of Padrino was published.PRETORIANISMO AND GAME OF THRONES
The term Ramos used in deriding Maduro’s latest appointment, Praetorianism in English, warrants a short explanation.
“Pretorianismo” in Latin America was a mid-20th Century school of thought that tried to explain the periodic appearance of figures like Juan Vicente Gomez, Marcos Perez Jimenez or Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Juan Domingo Peron in Argentina or Omar Torrijos in Panama, strongmen with one foot in the barracks but with certain appeal at the ballot box.
Countries reeling from centuries of Spanish Colonial domination, the main precept of pretorianismo went, needed a “Pretor” from time to time, more a guardian than an effective leader, to keep the country functioning, something an elected democratic official could perhaps not do all the time. Like in Rome (and in Game of Thrones), in Latin America the Pretorian Guard started out as bodyguards, but evolved into kingmakers and kingslayers, when not kings themselves.IS MADURO QUITTING?
Other critics were more blunt. Opposition lawmaker Americo De Grazia tweeted:”Maduro is quitting the Presidency by transferring full powers to Minister Padrino Lopez. Enough with the annointments.”
De Grazia is partially right: Maduro was not forthcoming in telling the public how much power was being transferred to Minister Padrino. During a televised speech Monday night Maduro said Padrino would have new responsibilities, but the full extent of the General’s new office was only evident today, when the Gaceta Oficial, the government’s newspaper of record, was published containing the decree of Padrino’s appointment.
Maduro is facing a recall and a crumbling economy.
Maduro took the unprecedented step of naming Padrino head of the economic cabinet and placing the General above Vice President Aristobulo Isturiz and Economy Minister Miguel Perez Abad. Both Isturiz, a former university professor, and Perez Abad, a businessman, were seen as moderates in Maduro’s administration.
Padrino has been put in place of the distribution of all of the food in Venezuela’s near-socialist economy. The alimentary situation is so catastrophic that 35,000 Venezuelans flooded the closed border into Colombia to buy food and medicine over the weekend. Maduro had shut the border by Presidential decree almost a year ago.PORTS, TO BEGIN WITH
At the head of the Gran Mission Abastecimiento Soberano (Great Sovereign Supply Mission), Padrino will be able to, for instance, inspect every port in Venezuela looking for smuggled foodstuffs. Critics say such “inspections” are putting ports, warehouses and other assets under direct control of the military.
“Inspections” began Tuesday afternoon in ports of oil-rich Zulia state. All of Venezuela’s ports were nationalized years ago, when Hugo Chavez was still President and alive, so, Padrino now lords over BoliPuertos, the government’s port agency.
"We have taken some ports and have started to go to some silos, warehouses, and public and private businesses," said Padrino Lopez.
Dozens of members of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces were deployed across Vargas, Miranda, Carabobo, Falcon, Lara, Zulia and Anzoategui states to inspect the distribution.
Padrino himself tried to sound reassuring during his first intervention as newly appointed head of (almost) everything: "It is not a matter of militarizing. I don't like militarism. It's just a matter of putting in a little discipline," he told state television network Venezolana de Television.
Venezuela - Gaceta Oficial - 40-941 - Gran Mision Abastecimiento Soberano - 11 July 2016 by Latin American Herald Tribune on Scribd