With growing signs that President Hugo Chavez may be suffering from an advanced stage of cancer, his brother, Adan, seems to be positioning himself as the heir apparent, which could foment the more corrupt elements in the Venezuelan regime.
Adan, the oldest of the six Chavez brothers, is currently the governor of the western state of Barinas. The area is home to the Chavez family and has some of Venezuela’s highest homicide and kidnapping rates. But it is not just the worsening security in Barinas which casts doubt on Adan’s ability to rule effectively. The state, previously governed by the Chavez patriarch, Hugo de los Reyes, is Venezuela’s poorest. It is also home to several large, unfinished infrastructure projects — including a soccer stadium, a mall and a museum — pointing to, at best, poor management of the state budget, or, at worst, the embezzlement of funds by corrupt officials.
Adan previously served as the minister of education, as well as the ambassador to Cuba. These are both key political jobs, and signs that he is one of Hugo Chavez’s most trusted confidants. Early in life, Adan was the more politically involved of the Chavez brothers, adopting a hardline Marxist ideology and joining the Venezuelan Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Venezolano – PRV). In the 1980s, it was Adan who reportedly put Hugo in touch with Douglas Bravo, former leader of the guerrilla group the Armed Forces of National Liberation (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional – FALN). Bravo later became an important influence on some of Hugo Chavez’s political ideas. Adan, meanwhile, has remained a committed Marxist.
Adan’s closeness to Hugo means he may be responsible for ensuring the continuation of the current regime, should the president’s health continue to worsen. But this closeness also means that Adan is unlikely to begin pressuring the most corrupt elements in the administration, including those with links to organized crime.
One outspoken critic of the Chavez regime, Roger Noriega, who served as assistant secretary of state under President George W. Bush, recently suggested that Adan had close ties to two high-profile military officials accused of drug trafficking. Noriega, a conservative ideologue, has previously expressed rather sensationalist opinions about the Chavez administration. Still, it is worth examining Adan’s links to organized crime in Venezuela.
One of the more corrupt officials in the administration, allegedly, is General Henry Rangel Silva, current defense minister and head of the armed forces. In 2008, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said that Silva, alongside two other government officials, had trafficked drugs on behalf of Colombian rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC). Silva is also accused of handling the cover-up for a bizarre scandal in 2007, involving the administration’s alleged attempt to fund the campaign of Argentina’s now-President Cristina Kirchner.
Adan Chavez is unlikely to oust Silva, who Hugo named as the country’s top military commander last year. Silva is another loyalist who said, at the time of his promotion, that the military might not accept the election of an opposition president. Nor is Adan likely to put the spotlight on Hugo Carvajal, a former head of military intelligence who has also been accused of criminal ties. The OFAC charged him with aiding the FARC: protecting drug and arms shipments, and even providing the rebels with government IDs that would allow them to move more easily in the country. Both Silva and Carvajal were also named conspirators in the drug trade by Venezuelan trafficker Walid Makled, who said he used to pay Carvajal $50,000 to allow drug flights to leave the country.
If there is little chance that Adan Chavez would shine a spotlight on military involvement in drug trafficking and crime, it is also unlikely that he would begin pressuring Hugo Chavez’s most important political allies, several of whom have been accused of corruption. According to claims by Makled, the drug trafficker paid off members of Venezuela’s Congress and donated money to Chavez’s party. Another top adviser, Diosdado Cabello, the former vice president, state governor and leading member of the country’s ruling party, may have made a personal fortune as a result of the government’s nationalization of its ports, according to a report by Colombian newsweekly Semana.
It is unclear how much Hugo Chavez has groomed Adan for succession. But given Adan’s long-time role as Hugo’s trusted adviser and mentor, there is little reason to think he would shift away from the current administration’s policies if he inherited power. This include the unofficial tolerance of corrupt elements in the military and in the political arena. And considering Adan’s recent comment that the “armed struggle” is an “acceptable” form of political participation, critics will find the fodder needed to accuse Adan of being even more left-wing than the current president. This may yet prove to be the biggest difference between the two brothers.