Interior and Justice Minister Néstor Reverol said on Jan. 24 that the groups had even given code names to their targets. Maduro, whose first job was driving a bus, was codenamed the "bus driver," while Cabello, a former military man, was "the little lieutenant."
"We're not going to give the far right even one millimeter to destabilize the country," Reverol told journalists. "We have activated all of the police and intelligence officials. We have strengthened security measures for the comrades."
Reverol didn't announce any arrests, and gave no reason why none had yet been made. State Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz told listeners of her radio program that they should "be alert" for plotters and people seeking to destabilize the country. A special prosecutor has been assigned to investigate, she said.
Assassination plots are nothing new in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. During Chávez's 14 years in power, the president alerted the country to more than a dozen such plots against his life. Few arrests were ever made; no proof was ever given. The charges have usually surfaced at times when Chávez was facing domestic problems, and Maduro seems to be following suit, says Vanessa Neumann, an analyst who follows Venezuela at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
"It is a page right out of the Chávez playbook that fits well with the traditional Bolivarian narrative of a revolutionary force fighting evil, plotting imperialists who want to oppress the Venezuelan people and undermine democracy for their own benefit," Neumann says. "Chávez has used it to marvelous effect over the years to change the topic of domestic discontent. Maduro has shown us how much he has learned from Chávez and been groomed by the Cubans: he uses some of the same rhetoric as Chávez and has improved his public speaking markedly."
This time, Maduro's playing of the assassination card coincides with mounting food shortages throughout the country, and rumors of a growing feud between himself and Cabello. Staples such as sugar, coffee, cooking oil, meat, wheat flour, rice, corn meal, and chicken are in very short supply, leading to long lines outside supermarkets. Toilet paper, toothpaste, and dishwashing liquid have also disappeared. Canisters of liquid natural gas, which Venezuelans use to cook their meals, are in short supply as well.
"There is no cornmeal, no rice, no pasta, no wheat flour," said Luisa Mendez, a 36-year-old housewife in the central industrial city of La Victoria. "And when supplies arrive they immediately vanish. What kind of revolution is this?"
Over the last few days, government officials have moved to seize stockpiles of foodstuffs held by companies, which have been accused of hiding products while waiting for prices to rise. The companies, on the other hand, have complained that the government is seizing the inventories they need to produce more goods. Pepsi, for instance, has complained about stockpiles of sugar it imported from Guatemala being seized.
The supply shortage is partly due to the government's own economic policies and Maduro's refusal so far to take long-delayed economic decisions. Chávez had been expected to devalue the country's currency this month. The government derives nearly half of its revenue from oil sales, which are dollar-denominated. Any devaluation would give the government more bolívares to spend. Anticipating a devaluation, the black market bolívar has fallen to 18 to the dollar. The official exchange rate, however, still stands at 4.3 to the dollar.