by Barbara Haenen
Venezuela has a new president. Nicolás Maduro won the elections on the 14th of April of this year by a tiny majority of only 50.66%. Maduro acted as vice-president during Chavez’s period in office, and one would expect him to be the person Chavistas would support next. Indeed, the new president often referred to his close emotional bond with Chavez as part of his campaigning strategy. During the previous Venezuelan elections, Chavez beat Capriles (the same candidate who ran against Maduro in this round) with 55% of the vote, showing that a decent portion of the population does not support Chavez’s second-in-command the way they supported Chavez himself. The polls had expected a larger majority for the former vice-president – apparently they were not accurate.
In a 2012 article, the Guardian attributed Chavez’s victory over Capriles as a result of the emotional bond he maintained with many Venezuelans (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/08/hugo-chavez-victory-political-venezuela). Maduro is not known for being the most charismatic of people. He is often described as being more pragmatic than he is passionate. Chavez adamantly endorsed Maduro as his successor before he passed away. However, even after Chavez died, Maduro still maintained support by relying on another popular person: Diego Maradona, who is very well loved by very many people. This retired football player visited Venezuela near the end of Maduro’s campaign to express his support for the candidate, urging Venezuelans to give him their votes. You might find the idea that a former football player could have any effect on how people vote a tad silly. But while to the rest of the world Maradona may just be a good athlete, in Argentina, and other parts of South America, he is revered as a demigod. The man has referred to himself as a god, or god of football on numerous occasions. Having spent nearly five years in Argentina myself, I can confirm that it is next to impossible to find someone in that country who doesn’t worship him.
His popularity has carried over to Venezuela as well. Several newspapers from Maduro’s homeland have noted this trend, saying that Maradona is a persuasive figure, largely because of how widely respected he is in South America. Maduro invited the legendary figure to speak at the last day of his campaign in an attempt to increase his own popularity. While Maduro still somewhat personally lacks the ability to draw people in, Maradona has been doing so for decades. So maybe it was indeed his support that dragged Maduro over the election edge. Maybe it was just divine intervention.
Photo courtesy of the mail.