Picture a splashy political thriller featuring a flamboyant anti-heroine, equal parts Hugo Chávez and Paris Hilton, who somehow infiltrates the United Nations. The premise may sound unrealistic, but it is all too real. And the star is María Gabriela Chávez: socialist socialite, bon vivant, Pomeranian enthusiast, and occasional Instagram troll, who will soon be checking out of the Venezuelan presidential mansion—which she has continued to inhabit illegally since her father’s death in early 2013—and heading to Turtle Bay as Venezuela’s newly appointed alternate ambassador to the United Nations. In this capacity, she will be empowered to attend meetings, speak, and even vote on her country’s behalf, albeit under the nominal supervision of chief representative Jorge Valero. María Gabriela is not easily supervised, however, and the reasons behind her ascension remain murky and contested.
Perhaps it’s fitting that María Gabriela’s international coming-out party will be taking place at the UN, which previously served as a political stage for her dad. In September 2006, during a now-infamous speech before the General Assembly, the Venezuelan president announced to the assembled delegates and worthies that his podium smelled of sulfur—a reference to the fact that “El Diablo” (an ostensibly infernal George W. Bush) had spoken there the previous day. I was living in Venezuela then, and vividly remember coming home from work to a bevy of instant messages—American friends either congratulating me personally for the immensity of El Comandante’s cojones, or else demanding I apologize on his behalf.