As Venezuelans prepare for Sunday’s presidential election, acting President Nicolás Maduro is hoping that the support of the “hand of God” will help him secure another four more years of Chavismo in the South American nation.
Maduro ended his final day of campaigning before the election alongside Argentinean soccer legend Diego Maradona, who earned the nickname in the semi-finals of the 1986 World Cup against England when he scored a polemical goal off a handball –"the hand of God.”
Maradona was a strong supporter of late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez as well as other left-leaning Latin American heads of state like Cuba’s Raúl Castro and Brazil’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader who held the post of Venezuela’s foreign minister for six years before being tapped for the vice presidency under Chávez, hopes that the celebrity support will aid in the polls, where the most recent numbers have him holding a 10 percent margin over challenger Henrique Capriles. It's a comfortable lead but smaller than the 14-point advantage that Maduro held in a Datanalisis poll just after Chavez's death.
While the Maduro camp has the backing of Maradona, Capriles got a surprising backer last week when the Bronx-born salsa star of Puerto Rican heritage Willie Colón posted his website a new song that is a lightly veiled critique of Maduro.
Entitled “Fresh Lies” – a nickname that Capriles has recently used for Maduro – the song’s lyrics run down a list of problems currently facing Venezuelans, from infrastructure issues to currency devaluation widespread violent crime. The song was written by a Venezuelan actor Rolando Padilla and urges Venezuelan voters to cast their ballot for Capriles – using the candidates nickname “Skinny.”
An angry Maduro lashed out at Colón during a rally on Monday, saying that the famous salsa singer had fallen “into the mud.”
“Why, if you are Puerto Rican, do you kiss the imperial hand that has turned your country into a colony?” Maduro said, according to the New York Times. “All the same, we forgive you, from Venezuela. Keep on with your rumba, your rumba of hatred, and we will keep on with our rumba of love.”
Colón said that he had many friends in Venezuela, but has made many enemies in the country since posting anti-Chávez messages on Twitter a few years ago.
“They jumped on me and they wanted to knock my teeth out, and I said, ‘O.K.,’ and I rolled up my sleeves,” Colón said.
Venezuela will hold elections on Sunday and while Chávez’s legacy has helped keep Maduro strongly in command of the polls, his support is eroding as Capriles hammers away at government deficiencies. Many analysts believe that if the election were held a few months from now, Maduro would be in trouble.
“Everybody expects the Chavistas to win,” Adam Isacson, a senior researcher at the Washington Office on Latin America told Fox News Latino. “How unified they are, however, is the million-dollar question. My guess is not very much.”
Isacson said that the Chavistas can be divided into three groups: the center left group, the radical left fronted by Maduro and the military left led by the head of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello. There was worry in the lead-up to Chávez’s death and abruptly following it of discord between Maduro and Cabello, but these concerns appear to have been brushed aside as of now.
The hope of the Venezuelan opposition is that they can play off the supposed friction among the Chavistas. But that may be tempered by the fact that the opposition itself is fractured and, besides Capriles, has no clear leader. Capriles, however, is running for the presidency for the second time and if he loses it would be a political catastrophe.
“He’s a formidable opponent, but he could lose twice at a run for the presidency,” said Chris Sabatini, the senior policy director at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, a nonprofit think tank in New York City. “That’s the kiss of death.”