By Eduardo Sanchez
Some key persons have been influential in supporting Nicolás Maduro’s paranoid traits. His mentor, Hugo Chávez, with a comparable rhetoric, would have definitely been an enabler . Second to Chávez, a central player in his personal and political life is his wife, Cilia Flores. The couple met when Chávez was in jail in 1992 and she was his lawyer.
Flores, a long-time follower of Chávez and a believer in his project for Venezuela was at one point Attorney General and speaker of the National Assembly. Chávez trusted her to be his “strong hand” in terms of handling legal and “revolutionary” matters. Maduro has said (a number of times) that Cilia is his “life partner”, who has had an important impact on him, as she was committed to helping Chávez and other revolutionaries who had been jailed.
Throughout the years, Flores has been an important support for Maduro and they have been unofficially dubbed Venezuela’s “power couple”. She continues to be prominent in the political arena and has even been accused of continuing to be ruthless in favor of Chávez’s (and by extension, to Maduro’s) plans. Moreover, she has been central to Maduro’s political strategy in the face of opposition to him and to the Chavista movement itself. It is said that Maduro has tasked her with secretly engaging the opposition to have them eventually acknowledge him as the legitimate authority.
It is for this reason that in his wife, Maduro has found a person that further encourages his paranoia and speaks a common language. Their joint involvement in Chávez’s political life (where she was also very influential) allowed them to live through past common experiences under the same rhetoric that is heavily influenced by Chavez’s traits of paranoia. They form a common front against the opposition and the enemies of the Chavista project.
Their July 15, 2013 marriage was announced to the people a few days after a private ceremony. Maduro’s Twitter feed included a number of retweets of journalist Teresa Maniglia who posted pictures of the couple’s wedding (example 1, example 2, example 3, example 4). Maduro also mentioned that their marriage was decided upon “to send a message of the importance of strengthening the Venezuelan family” (statement that is unclear but could refer to the Chavista family and unity against the opposition, as well as appealing to a conservative audience that values marriage and other religious traditions).
Counter to tradition across many nations, Cilia Flores is not referred to as the First Lady, rather as the “First Combatant of the Nation” at Maduro’s insistence. This term is preferred because Chavistas consider that the traditional notion of the “First Lady” (and the roles and duties she’s expected to perform) is the way of the “bourgeoisie”. It is therefore important to highlight her role as a recognized political and social figure in helping steer the country into the Bolivarian revolution that Chávez dreamed of. She has been charged with different political initiatives to promote socialism but also to garner more political support for Maduro (which she had also done before his contested elections to the presidency). She undoubtedly forms part of Maduro’s inner circle of trusted people and she share’s his radical activism and confrontational language against the opposition. She has had a strong influence in the greater politics of the Venezuelan nation, her activities are usually behind the scenes and almost always appears in the background of Maduro’s addresses to the nation and political events clearly supporting him. Although she is not as politically active as during her years as General Attorney or speaker of the National Assembly, Maduro wants her to be more prominent than past First Ladies because she has an active role in the Bolivarian revolution.
It is notable that Maduro’s social media usage has kept his private life separate although marginally including glimpses of their married live. On Twitter pictures, Maduro and Flores do not engage in much public displays of affection while other available pictures from events show more closeness between the two. Only in recent months has Maduro began posting pictures of activities where they appear together (riding a bicycle, hiking, walking through the forest, spending the day with their grandchildren, exercising, walking their dog) but he does not mention her.
The couple has not been far from criticism, especially from apparent contradictions in their life such as not being married until very recently in a very religious Latin American country (which is culturally frowned upon, especially for public figures) to venerating Indian guru Sai Baba (Flores was also a follower of Sai Baba and accompanied Maduro on a visit to India for this purpose). Some Venezuelan politicians have mentioned that Flores has manipulated Maduro from the beginning and has strengthened her grip on him through marriage. Such criticism refers to Maduro’s lack of consistency in his life, from cultural aspects to his administration of the country. Such inconsistencies at times are also calculated to appeal to the larger public, especially to make up for the qualities that he lacks in comparison to Chávez (charisma, political legitimacy, etc).
To conclude, Cilia Flores plays a very important role in Maduro’s life – personally and politically. While she may not play a very visible role in the nation’s politics at the present moment, she is very prominent in her influence over Maduro and the Chavistas. Maduro and Flores’ shared experience over the years and given the climate of paranoia (against the United States, capitalism, the Venezuelan opposition, against the world) under Chavez’s regime probably explains Maduro’s complete trust in her. But, that trust comes at the price of continued paranoia in which together, they view the world through a lens of suspicion. This view is supported by Maduro’s defensive attacks against any form of opposition and his spin of conspiracy theories on social media, especially twitter.