Like Chavismo, the military is made up of several factions. Cabello appears to be the "head figure" of a nationalistic segment of the military, as opposed to other, "institutionalist" factions that have a "sense of professionalism."
"What they say about a lot of these people that Cabello is close to is that they really resent the role of the Cubans" in Venezuela, Shifter said.
Chavez, who admires the Castros ideologically, has cultivated what appears to be a relationship of equals with the island nation, despite supporting it heavily with oil.
Shifter characterized parts of the military as "corrupt," and believes the "militaristic nature" of Chavismo has been "underplayed," noting the dominating presence of military officials in executive branch positions and governorships.
Cabello has already been president of Venezuela once -- for a period of several hours in April 2002, when Chavez was held hostage during a coup attempt. The attempt failed, and Chavez returned to office within 48 hours of leaving.
The month after, Chavez reorganized his cabinet, making Cabello, who had been vice-president, his interior minister.
Cabello later served a term as governor of Miranda state, losing the position to opposition leader Henrique Capriles in 2008. Capriles, Chavez's opponent in the last election, is likely to run again in the next one, which may have provided Chavez some incentive to name Maduro the heir.
The opposition alleges that Cabello abused his position as governor of Miranda state -- a position next occupied by Capriles -- making double payments to certain entities and offering lucrative government contracts to relatives. As of September 2012, the opposition had not been made aware of any investigation relating to the 2008 charges, Capriles's ally and interim governor told the newspaper El Universal.
If the allegations were true, they may not be Cabello's only involvement in corruption.
"From what I read," said Shifter, "he may be in a position to protect some of the officials in the military that may have benefited a great deal from the last couple of years in Venezuela from corruption, drug trafficking, and other things."
Both Shifter and Duddy played down the possibility of Cabello's ascendance.
One could argue that far less alarming than the dynamic between Maduro and Cabello in this instance is the fact that the Venezuelan state, as it is currently structured, can produce a leader with strong military support about whom almost nothing is known publicly.
A Chavez Choose-Your-Own-Adventure
Everyone seems to agree that Maduro and Cabello are the two key players in post-Chavez Venezuela, but reports on the legal order of succession become murky.
Whether Maduro or Cabello is next in line, legally, to succeed Chavez actually depends on the legal status of the leader's swearing-in -- an issue that may not be settled for weeks in law, even if events seem to overtake the law.