Socialist TV Host Says Chavistas Want to Overthrow Maduro

PHOTO: Mario Silva, the host of the Venezuelan talk show, La Hojilla, is a bombastic critic of that countrys opposition. His fiery rhetoric resembles that of Rush Limbaugh, even though his politics are totally different.Screenshot/
Mario Silva, the host of the Venezuelan talk show, La Hojilla, is a bombastic critic of that country's opposition. His fiery rhetoric resembles that of Rush Limbaugh, even though his politics are totally different.

On his late night political talk show called "La Hojilla" [The Blade] Mario Silva spends a lot of time talking about Venezuela's opposition.

He describes opposition leaders as rats, fascists, and Zionists, who are plotting to bring down the government of Nicolas Maduro, Hugo Chavez's handpicked heir.

He talks about the opposition as "hatemongers," and reveals their supposed plans to take away benefits from Venezuela's poor.

This fiery rhetoric has made Silva a popular figure among Venezuela's hardcore Chavistas, a Rush Limbaugh of sorts, for Venezuela's left.

But a recording that was leaked to Venezuela's opposition has put Silva on the defensive. And it might also sharpen divisions between Nicolas Maduro and Diosdado Cabello, the government's second most powerful official.

The audio recording, which was released on Monday by opposition leaders, appears to show Silva talking to a Cuban intelligence officer called Aramis Palacios.

In the recording Silva briefs the Cuban officer on Venezuela's political crisis, and warns him that Diosdado Cabello and a group of officers are trying to "overthrow" Maduro's government.

Silva accuses Cabello of employing hackers to tamper with Venezuela's election system so that Maduro would only win recent elections by a narrow margin. He says that Cabello is funneling money out of the country through "phantom" companies and claims that army officers allied to Cabello want to organize a coup in the South American country. He concludes with asking the Cuban officer for help.

"What pissess me off the most," Silva says in the recording, "is that this is a little group [of government officers] that we cannot expose publicly, because then we would look like traitors… But I think we can neutralize them. You have to sit down with Maduro and talk to him compadre. You have to sit down and tell him how things are," Silva tells the Cuban officer.

Silva said the recording is fake and wrote on his Twitter account that this is nothing more than a "Zionist montage," led by the CIA and Israel's Mossad.

But the recording seems to have taken its toll on Silva, who also announced on Monday night that he would take a break from his talk show until "further notice." Silva claimed that a gallbladder problem for which he had been previously hospitalized forced him to step down.

But the timing of his announcement suggests that the recording is what really made him leave the show.

David Smilde, a Venezuela expert at the Washington Office on Latin America, says that the conversation between Silva and the Cuban official most likely did happen.

Smilde explained that the Venezuelan government regularly seeks political advice from Cuba's communist regime due to the ideological affinities between both governments. Therefore, it would not be surprising for Cuban officers to talk to Venezuelan government figures, and high profile government supporters like Silva, about the country's internal politics.

For Smilde, and several analysts who commented on Silva's audio, this recording proves that there is a sharp division within Venezuela's government, which high level officials have been attempting to hide ever since Chavez passed away in March.

This political fault line pits nationalist officers who side with Diosdado Cabello against Marxists who side with Nicolas Maduro and feel more comfortable with Cuban involvement in Venezuela's affairs.

Silva's tape clearly shows that he is in the Maduro camp. His claims that Cabello is plotting to overthrow the government are difficult to prove, due to the lack of concrete evidence. But Silva's demonization of Cabello could have some political consequences.

According to David Smilde, the recording could decrease Cabello's credibility among Venezuela's hard left, which tends to identify with Silva, and thinks of him as a credible source of information. The tape could also decrease support for Venezuela's government among moderate chavistas, who could be put off by these revelations of a dirty power struggle that is taking place within the government.

But this leaked tape is unlikely to lead to a further investigation of Diosdado Cabello's activities, at least not in public. Cabello, who is also an elected congressman, has judicial immunity. That doesn't mean some, including Maduro, won't look for more discrete ways to address Cabello and the questions of loyalty that Silva has brought up.