Chávez ally paints picture of power struggles in alleged tape

As a rabidly pro-government television host in Venezuela, Mario Silva often pillories the opposition by airing surreptitious recordings of their telephone conversations. On Monday, Silva became a victim of his own methods when critics released a tape they claim is the cantankerous broadcaster trash-talking the administration to a member of Cuba’s military intelligence.

In the recording, someone who sounds like Silva paints a picture of a chaotic and corrupt administration, where cabinet members are trying to steal as much as they can before the regime “crumbles,” and President Nicolás Maduro is being undermined by some of his closest allies amid rumors of internal coups.

On Twitter, Silva called the audio “rubbish put out by the Israeli Mossad and the CIA. We have proof!” He also said he would debunk the tape on his television show, La Hojilla, or The Razorblade, which is broadcast on state-run VTV television.

Even if the audio isn’t legitimate, it’s bound to fuel speculation that the ruling party is in the midst of a power struggle in the wake of the death of President Hugo Chávez. It also highlights concerns about the cozy relationship the administration has with Cuba.

In the tape, which was apparently recorded by Silva but released by opposition lawmakers, he complains that cronyism is sinking Chávez’s socialist revolution. At one point he tells the man he calls “Palacios,” and who the opposition says is a high-ranking Cuban military official named Aramis Palacios, that when a Venezuelan contractor was caught using the country’s rigid foreign currency control system to turn a profit, former Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel interceded on his behalf and shutdown the investigation.

“We’re in a sea of sh__, compadre, and we still haven’t realized it,” Silva says. “There are ministers here, compadre, who don’t even know what to do, and, most likely they are stealing, Palacios, because they think that this is going to crumble.”

“But all that sh__ they’re doing is playing against us, against what the Commander [Chávez] spent 14 years trying to build,” he complains.

Silva also says people in the administration wanted to kill him because he “knew too much.”

Foul-mouthed and a self-professed Marxist, Silva is something of an institution. His late-night show is full of salacious political gossip aimed at the opposition. Chávez was a fan, often calling into the program and giving Silva unprecedented access. On the tape, Silva talks about meeting with Chávez, Cuban leader Fidel Castro and a slew of cabinet officials.

At one point he recalls how Castro told him that “he didn’t understand why Comandante Chávez had not done away with bourgeois elections, because the people could be wrong.”

“The elections here, as we have them, could give us [grief] and destroy the revolution,” Silva says.

But most of the 50-minute tape is centered on National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, who Silva says is trying to undermine Maduro to win the presidency for himself.

Before undergoing his final round of cancer surgery, Chávez chose Maduro to be his successor and asked Cabello — also considered a presidential contender — to back him. Maduro won April’s vote by a thin margin against Miranda Gov. Henrique Capriles in a race the opposition says was stolen.

On the tape, Silva suggests that Cabello has been behind some of the post-electoral chaos because “he doesn’t give his mother’s c___. He’s only interested in money and power.”

In the days before the April 14 vote, Silva says Maduro claimed that he’d seen his own image mysteriously appear in a painting of Chávez. Sliva said he warned Maduro not to talk about the apparition because it would sink his poll numbers. (Maduro had already been ridiculed for saying that Chávez had appeared to him in the form of a bird.)

But Silva said he was convinced that Cabello had somehow encouraged the idea of the apparition “because he knew it was going to get out…they would have said Nicolás was crazy.”

Silva also said there were rumors that Defense Minister Diego Molero was plotting a coup against Maduro. Silva said Molero told him the claims were false but that the president and his partner, Cilia Flores, who is also the attorney general, wouldn’t take his calls. Silva said he believed Cabello was trying to create a rift between Maduro and his defense chief.

On the tape, Silva says Cabello controls the police and the country’s intelligence services and wants to expand his reach. Silva says that Maduro needs to keep the head of state-run PDVSA oil company Rafael Ramirez in place to block Cabello from seizing the lucrative industry.

“I told Commander Fidel [Castro] at one point, that he [Ramirez] cannot leave the position; he can’t,” Silva said. “If Diosdado takes over PDVSA, we’re screwed.”

Near the end of the conversation, Silva seems to ask the Cuban government to advise Maduro about the danger that Cabello poses.

“You have to sit down with him, compadre. You have to sit down and tell him these things,” he says. “I have been on the verge of telling Maduro, ‘Maduro there’s a conspiracy in process.’ I have been on the verge of telling him, but I don’t’ know what kind of reaction I would get.”

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