Nicolás Maduro – a nationalist leader living in fear

By Eduardo Sanchez

Nicolás Maduro’s inflamed rhetoric of nationalism is easily perceived at first glance from speeches, addresses to the nation, messages to the media, and his social media interactions. For him, the Venezuelan people must express their patriotic and nationalistic pride in following certain conducts like voting for the party in power and not aiding the opposition.

For Maduro and his followers, coups are always on the verge of taking place or new plots to assassinate him are discovered, creating an environment of ever-present threats that translates into suspicious activities on behalf of the opposition and of any other actor that questions the leader. This reinforces that those who support and protect him are actively demonstrating their nationalism, while those who don’t support him are part of the “fascist” opposition or the “bourgeoisie” that go against any of the national and patriotic values.

There is also a constantly evoking of the image of the “other”. This amorphous and dynamic other has many facets in accordance with the antagonistic needs of the moment. One facet primarily relates to internal/domestic actors and an external one that is always at odds with Venezuela and specifically with Maduro’s administration. There is no room for healthy competition with peers and other countries, as the only outcome is “win-or-lose it all” scenario.

The individual leader is a central figure, the one who is always under attack and the one who has to take blunt decisions for the good of the nation. Although Maduro has displayed this behavior, he also deflects most of the attention towards the image of Chávez, calling for national unity under the memory of the late leader and to almost unconditionally follow Chávez’s plan for Venezuela

The recent conflict in Venezuela has prompted messages from Maduro and his cabinet that point to the combination of the internal and external enemies as responsible for the violence. This situation justifies the government’s harsh response against the rioters and those who question Maduro. Mixed messages include officially calling for peace but at the same time pointing at a strong hand as the only solution against the “fascist gangs”.

It is noteworthy that the international community’s interest in the internal situation in Venezuela has also led to Maduro to tweet extensively in English to justify the government’s position or to explain certain actions and messages. Maduro’s Twitter account in English registered 43 tweets on February 13, while a “standard” day like January 4 only shows 7 tweets. The Twitter feed also presents messages from the vice president, members of the cabinet, and journalists translated to English in support of the government and against the supposed manipulations from international actors and media.

To conclude, Nicolás Maduro’s personality traits point to a particular type of leader that has been referred to as the “oppositional nationalist” by scholar Jacques Hymans. Even though this concept is commonly used in the field of nuclear nonproliferation, it offers important psychological insights to the managerial style of a specific type of leader. Such leaders are in essence paranoid, finding threats to their leadership (there is always a zero-sum competition) everywhere and heavily rely on nationalism and patriotic pride to mobilize the masses (which fits well with Jerrold Post’s concept of a paranoid leader). The “oppositional nationalist” model clearly fits Nicolás Maduro and his political style. It could also fit the late Hugo Chávez as they share many similarities in their managerial style that focuses on threats and extreme nationalism.