In a meeting with grassroots activists of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) on Wednesday, Maduro accused the former ministers of seeking to divide Chavismo for personal ends, and of not accepting their own mistakes made during their periods of service.
The former ministers’ expressions of dissent were made as part of a chain of events following the dismissal of prominent chavista economist Jorge Giordani from the executive cabinet last week. Giordani is considered an orthodox socialist economic thinker, and one of the architects of the system of price and currency controls which regulate the Venezuelan economy.
Following his dismissal, Giordani wrote a public letter in which he criticised Maduro’s leadership and performance, accusing him of “wasteful” and “improvised” public spending, and of promoting reforms which would allow the private re-appropriation of the country’s oil wealth.
The former planning minister also claimed that Maduro “lacks leadership” and said that there exists a “power vacuum” in the presidency.
After Giordani was accused of “betraying” the Bolivarian revolution by Maduro, the former minister received the support of two other former ministers, Hector Navarro (education and electricity) and Rafael Isea (finance), the latter now residing in the United States.
Navarro wrote a public letter backing Giordani and calling for an investigation into the allegation that US $20 billion were handed out to “ghost companies” last year via state currency controls and are now unaccounted for.
“Is Giordani a traitor because, for example, he denounced the allocation of dollars to ghost businesses and proposed a course of action to impede its continued occurrence?” wrote Navarro, who also said that Maduro should act like a “statesman”.
In response to the letter, Navarro was reportedly removed from the PSUV Directive Council and will face a disciplinary hearing for his comments. Two other former ministers, Victor Alvarez (basic industries and mining) and Ana Elisa Osorio, sent supportive tweets to Navarro, with Alvarez labeling the disciplinary move as “pure and hard Stalinism”.
Beyond these issues, some analysts have argued that recent dissent stems from opposition to a new economic course being charted by the Maduro administration, which may seek to reform price and currency exchange controls in a bid to achieve macro-economic stability. For the past eighteen months the country has experienced a set of economic problems, which include the plummeting of the bolivar on the black market, shortages of products, and annual inflation topping 60%.
Anti-government media in Venezuela and abroad have covered the differences between prominent chavista politicians extensively, describing the conflict as a struggle between “orthodox” or “radical” chavistas and “pragmatic” figures who want to take a different economic course from the model promoted by Giordani and his supporters.
The conservative opposition has not remained silent in the face of the dispute. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles argued on Wednesday that the official response to internal dissent was evidence of corruption in the government.
“Now we see how they label a person who requests accountability as a traitor…they don’t want to investigate themselves,” he claimed to supporters.
Meanwhile pro-government parties and organisations have also engaged in the debate, with independent pro-government website Aporrea filled with articles evidencing a range of opinions on the dispute.
On Wednesday President Nicolas Maduro and other top government figures rejected the former ministers’ criticisms, accusing them of employing sectarian tactics to divide the Bolivarian movement.
“It’s very inconsiderate of these outdated members of the left to attack in the moment that the enemy seeks to cut off our head and destroy us,” the president said to grassroots PSUV activists in Aragua state.
Maduro said that he had encouraged constructive criticism ahead of the up-coming PSUV national congress; however that he could not accept criticism from former ministers who did not, according to the president, recognise their own mistakes during their periods of service.
“There’s no justification that those who were ministers are now writing letters to destroy the revolution, to justify their own faults and errors. It’s a show of disloyalty, of indiscipline,” he said.
The president also reiterated his call for loyalty from the PSUV leadership. So far no serving cabinet minister has expressed support for the former ministers in question.
“I demand maximum loyalty and discipline from the leaders of the revolution…it’s not time to play with the unity of the revolutionary movement,” he stated.
The Venezuelan head of state also rejected allegations that his approach to the dissent represented “Stalinism”. “What I am is the son of [Hugo] Chavez…I know very well what role I must fulfill,” he said.
Maduro referred to economic policy in the televised speech, and stated that he would not be “manipulated” into taking decisions he didn’t agree with. “The new economic offensive is a policy that I’m directing personally and I will never let myself be directed by someone else in political economy. I think about it, I study it, and the decisions are mine,” he said.
“Everything that has to do with industrial development, growth, [and] currency exchange, the responsible person is here,” Maduro continued, pointing at himself.
Other top officials also backed Maduro on Wednesday, including Vice President Jorge Arreaza and President of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello.
Cabello argued to PSUV supporters that “humanity” and “fellowship” were more important than “criticism”.
“Is criticism more important than loyalty…than fellowship? Well, I don’t think so,” he said to the grassroots assembly in Aragua state.
The expression of internal party differences comes one month before the III PSUV National Congress, where government ministers, elected party officials and grassroots delegates will be present to discuss the ideological and programmatic direction of the party and the Bolivarian process.