National Post (Latest Edition)
Who is Cilia Flores?
CANADA SANCTIONED VENEZUELA’S FIRST LADY THIS WEEK — HERE’S WHY
Some call her Lady Macbeth. The title this first lady has given herself — the “First Revolutionary Combatant” — is just as revealing.
President Nicolas Maduro’s spouse, Cilia Flores, is so much at the heart of the brutal Venezuelan regime that Canada this week included her on a list of individuals that its foreign affairs department considers “responsible for the deterioration of democracy.”
A decade his senior, the woman who rose to prominence as Hugo Chavez’s lawyer and later became Venezuela’s attorney general is said to be a true partner to Maduro — although some consider Flores, 61, to be more of a puppet-master. During the race to replace Chavez after his death from cancer five years ago, one senior official described her to Reuters this way: “She will be Maduro’s ‘strong arm.’ ”
At the time, Maduro said Flores would not be a first lady but instead, “the first fighter of the fatherland, the first socialist, the first woman of the people of the barrios, of the streets.”
Since the April 2013 election — and their marriage two months later — the country has descended into authoritarianism and those strong-arm tactics have become more and more violent. The regime is responsible for dozens of murders, thousands of unlawful detentions, more than a million people displaced and severe food shortages perpetuated through the refusal of humanitarian aid.
So, who is this woman? Don’t ask Global Affairs Canada, which in response to queries this week referred the National Post to a Wikipedia article about her.
Flores came from humble beginnings, according to Venezuelan media reports, with English media organization Caracas Chronicles calling her a former “biker girl.”
She was loyal to Chavez from his revolutionary days until his death. After his arrest following an attempted coup d’état in 1992, Flores helped to secure his release from prison in 1994. He would become president four years later.
As part of Chavez’s government she became the first female president of the legislature in 2006. She had taken over that role from Maduro. By 2012 Flores was named attorney general of the country. “She has been an excellent official who completed the president’s instructions to the letter,” the official had told Reuters.
During that time her political life was rife with rumours of misconduct, such as using her position to get jobs for friends and family, and trying to silence private media. She also made headlines when two of her nephews were arrested in 2015 for attempting to smuggle cocaine into the U.S.
Since Maduro’s electoral victory the first family has tried to appear softer and more domestic despite the couple’s long-term political goals together. As first lady Flores began hosting a TV show in which she interviewed recipients of government welfare. It is said she is a follower of the late Indian guru Sai Baba, who preached contentment, love, and antimaterialism.
Meanwhile, the economy is crashing with inflation estimated at about 450 per cent for the first quarter of the year. The ongoing food shortage has caused the average Venezuelan to lose 24 pounds, according to a recent study by three Venezuelan universities.
After Maduro was reelected last week in a contest widely panned as undemocratic, the Organization of American States released a blistering report Wednesday detailing human rights abuses and crimes against humanity that it recommends should be referred to the International Criminal Court.
Flores only appears once in the document but in an example that seems indicative of her current role in an administration.
A former senior government minister, Major General Herbert Garcia Plaza, told OAS officials in a public hearing that he had witnessed a conversation between Flores and the vicepresident about whether or not a “precautionary measure” to prevent harm to an individual, such as physical protection, should be issued. He testified that the country’s Supreme Court never issues a ruling without Flores’s approval, along with that of the vice-president and two other legislators.
The testimony underlined how the executive was using the Supreme Court to usurp parliament and persecute political leaders from the opposition, according to the OAS.
Canada has sanctioned 106 individuals connected to the Maduro regime and strongly condemned its actions. It is facing calls to try to rally support around an International Criminal Court investigation at the upcoming G7 summit in Charlevoix, Que., next week.