Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has had a rough couple of months. After controversially winning the April 14 elections, he has been trying to strengthen his power in the eyes of the international community. Several nations whose leaders were close to his mentor, the late Hugo Chávez, have recognized Maduro’s victory. And in early May, he embarked on a “good will” tour, visitingArgentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Nevertheless, other governments are still hesitant to recognize Maduro’s leadership, namely the U.S. What’s more, recent diplomatic incidents, including verbal spats with the governments of Colombia and Peru, are showing a controversial side of Maduro’s personality and testing his leadership skills.
The (latest) controversy with Colombia was prompted by a recent meeting betweenGovernor Henrique Capriles Randonski, the Venezuelan opposition candidate who ran against Maduro in April, and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. Maduro saw this meeting as an insult to his government, as Capriles has been trying to rally international support to overturn the election results. Maduro derided the excuse that the Santos-Capriles meeting was a “misunderstanding” by the Colombian government, claiming instead that Bogotá is the center of a conspiracy that aims to overthrow the post-Chávez government. In retaliation, the Venezuelan leader declared thathis country may reviewits role in the ongoing Colombian peace process between the government and the FARC guerrillas. It is safe to assume that Santos knew beforehand that a meeting with Capriles would stir controversy in Caracas, meaning this may have been a tactical move by the Colombian head of state to see how Maduro would react. Furthermore, the extent of Venezuela’s influence in the ongoing negotiations is debatable, accusations that the Colombian rebels use Venezuelan territory as a safe haven notwithstanding.
In early May, Maduro also butted heads with the (now) former Peruvian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rafael Roncagliolo, who called for “tolerance and dialogue” to stop violent protests in Venezuela after the controversial results of the elections. This statement provoked the wrath of Maduro, who declared on May 3 that Roncagliolo should not get involved in Venezuelan domestic affairs and that “we [Venezuelans] do not care what the Peruvian minister thinks about Venezuela.” As for Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, who was arguably sympathetic to Chávez, he has been ambivalent regarding Maduro. Nevertheless, Humala saved himself from further embarrassment – or at the very least from entering into a new war of words with Maduro – asCapriles decidedat the last moment to temporarily suspend a trip to Lima that had been scheduled for Tuesday, June 4. If the Peruvian leader had met with Capriles, we would have witnessed an even angrier Maduro. Meanwhile, some Peruvian politicians have not missed the opportunity to attack Humala over the Capriles trip. For example,Congressman Luis Ibericoprovocatively declared that “the only reason why [Humala] would not receive Capriles is for ideological reasons or for another type of dependency towards Chavismo.”
Apart Bogotá and Lima, Maduro has been unable to secure high-level visits from Chávez’s friends in Moscow and Beijing.Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedevskipped Venezuela when he did a mini-tour of Latin America in February, traveling instead to Brazil and Cuba. At the time of this writing,Chinese President Xi Jinpingis on a tour of the Western Hemisphere, with stops planned in Costa Rica, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, as well as the U.S. – but no Caracas.
Given that the opposition movement led by Capriles has lost its momentum, it is unlikely that Maduro’s presidency is in jeopardy. And while Capriles’ trips to Bogotá and to Lima, if the latter ever happens, may gain him some international sympathy, it seems clear that Maduro will remain in power as Chávez’s successor. If anything, statements towards the governments of Colombia and Peru may serve the purpose of making it clear that Maduro will not tolerate any questioning of his electoral victory. At the domestic level, look for the pro-government media (read the entire media followingthe sale of Globovision) to showcase that message to the Venezuelan masses as an example of Maduro’s statesmanship.