The First Lady of Venezuela, TV show and life of the Revolution

New social media can be growing into power, yet traditional media, such as television and radio, still remain forceful tools in political communication. Nicolás Maduro, current President of Venezuela, learnt this lesson from his predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez. Like the father of the Bolivarian Revolution who during 12 years appeared regularly in a radio and TV show “Aló presidente”, Maduro created his own TV program “Contacto con Maduro” in which he has starred for almost two years. Few days ago he announced that his wife and the First Lady of Venezuela, Cilia Flores, would also have her own broadcast program.

Flores “has accepted to host a one-hour weekly TV show where she will assess the life of the Revolution from the point of view of a mother” announced her husband.

This strange sentence displays in reality new political strategy adopted in the eve of the parliamentary elections. Flores, until now rather seen than heard, is being given a major role of impacting and involving female voters.

Role of the television in the political propaganda

Advantages of the use of television in politics are many: it allows politicians to enhance their public image and influence the agenda setting. It also helps them creating their own storytelling and promoting their political parties.

In Venezuela more than 80% of households are television receivers and on average they spend 4 hours per day watching TV (this is one of the highest TV consumption in Latin America). Chavez understood the power of this media and created a TV show based on patterns used in telenovelas, popular in Venezuela TV series. He spoke thus with ordinary Venezuelans about their lives and issues, he sang, danced and commented political news or criticized the United States. The formula worked so well that the idea of such a program was copied in other countries.

“Venezuela, the Mother country, is a woman”

It is said that women represent the core of the electorate of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez and later, Nicolas Maduro. Indeed, the Bolivarian Revolution has positively influenced the situation of women, without however placing the country among international leaders in gender equality (Venezuela is placed on the 93rd place in the Gender Inequality Index). Country’s gender politics concentrated on the protection of mothers, rather than on economic empowerment of women.

  • 1999 Constitution recognized gender equality, established protection of mothers and social security for householders. The article 88 recognized home work as an economic activity with positive outcomes for the national economy.
  • The article 105 of the same Constitution decreed a minimum of 40% of female candidates on list to national and regional elections (today women hold 17% of seats in Venezuelan parliament).
  • In 2006 the Law against Violence assessed 17 different types of gender violence and created responses to all of them.
  • In 2009, the Ministry of the Woman and Gender Equality was created.

Cilia Flores, a traditional revolutionary

Taking into consideration all the efforts undertaken by the authorities in the field of women’s rights, public attitude of Cilia Flores as the First Lady can seem strange. The former president of the National Assembly and General Procurer, after her husband’s election she stepped out into his shadow and adopted a traditional stance. Although she lived with Maduro since 1990, quickly after his nomination she got married with him. As the President himself explained he knew that God accepted this relation, but the decision was based on constitutional duties and was meant as a message of the strengthening of the Venezuelan family.

“It is so beautiful to build the Nation from the inside of a family!” Maduro commented with those words his wedding.

Nevertheless, after a deeper insight, several social and political patterns display the public image of Flores as the embodiment of an “average” Venezuelan woman:

  • attachment to the role of the mother: Venezuelan society is strongly matriarchal and women are often heads of households. The family model differs from the “western” one in the sense that it is not based on “mother, father and children” but on “mother and children” system. The mother is thus the stable element of the family and her role is much more recognized than the one of the father and the husband. Subsequently, her obligations toward her family are more important than those of a father. Although Cilia Flores does not publicly expose her children (probably because they are born from her previous marriage), she is involved in children and family’s causes, leaving behind politics.
  • attachment to the household: because of her “privileged” position in the private sphere, the Venezuelan woman is confronted to the social expectations of firstly taking care of her family and only later having a professional activity. As a result, despite the fact that many women are smashing the glass ceiling barriers in Venezuela, women participation in the labor market is still relatively low. The presidential couple reinforces this stereotypical image: on the public stage, Maduro is an indisputed ruler, however, following his own words, his wife “wears pants” at home.
  • attachment to the religion: unlike Castro who was a confirmed atheist, Chavez had never hidden that he was a catholic (although he criticized on many occasions the Church). In Venezuela, where 90% of population is Christian, politicians do not fear to express their faith and even use the religion to political purposes. Speaking about their beliefs is a way of sharing common values and thus to become closer to a potential voter. Like in the case of his predecessor, Maduro has used spiritual discourse and his marriage with Flores is in a certain way a confirmation of his faith.

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