Meet Diosdado Cabello: Venezuela’s National Assembly chief, vice president of the ruling United Socialist Party, and ruthless pragmatist par excellence. If the makers of House of Cards are looking to expand the franchise south, they should get to know Venezuela’s Frank Underwood.
In recent weeks, Venezuela’s political crisis—mass protests in response to a flailing economy, rampant scarcities, soaring crime, and ideological polarization—has been portrayed in international media primarily as a struggle between a monolithic government and the embattled remnants of the nation’s traditional middle class. But this narrative is superficial; several storylines, both personal and social, are playing out below the surface. And these include a bitter clash between Hugo Chávez’s successor and almost-successor for the soul of his party and the future of the country.
For one party in this clash, President Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s unrest has been deeply damaging. He is under fire for his ready reliance on state violence in dealing with unarmed demonstrators, which has left 18 people dead. In public appearances, he seems increasingly exhausted and more than a little unhinged.
For the other party, Cabello, the turmoil has been galvanizing. Suddenly he’s everywhere. When the popular opposition figure Leopoldo López was declared a wanted man, it was Cabello who negotiated his surrender with his family. Later, during the arrest itself—a preposterous affair in which López gave himself up during a mass demonstration—it was again Cabello who showed up to escort him to jail (despite having no judicial or police authority), ostensibly to “assure his safety.” Soon after, when security forces squared off with Ángel Vivas, a renegade former general who barricaded himself in his home in defiance of an arrest order, it was Cabello—not Maduro—who played the most visible official role in the dramatic showdown.