The daughter of former Venezuelan firebrand leader Hugo Chavez has made her debut as a deputy ambassador to the United Nations, amid controversy at home and abroad concerning her appointment.
Maria Gabriela Chavez told the Associated Press: "I'm here to learn," after a “day of solidarity,” which saw representatives of Syria, Russia and Venezuela line up to condemn the U.S. for imposing sanctions on the Latin American socialist nation.
Chavez has been widely criticized for being a so-called "socialist socialite," who apparently has virtually no employment history prior to her U.N. appointment. Venezuelan opposition leaders have condemned her appointment as an attempt by incumbent President Nicolas Maduro to cement his ties with Chavez's father, who remains popular with a core of Venezuela's poorer voters.
Chavez the elder was no stranger to attracting attention at the U.N., referring to then-U.S. President George W. Bush as “el diablo” (the devil), and saying that the podium at which Bush had recently spoken smelled of sulphur.
"Normally in the U.N., when you get to the post of ambassador, you have served as a diplomat in many different positions, in many different parts of the world," Milos Alcalay, a former U.N. ambassador under Hugo Chavez told the Wall Street Journal. "In the case of María Gabriela it will serve as the beginning of her career. I hope she can do it. I have my doubts."
Despite her ostensible lack of qualifications for her new post, Maria Gabriela Chavez is no stranger to public life in Venezuela. She effectively took up the role of Venezuela's First Lady, during her divorced father's term in office, appearing at his side during numerous official functions.
Chavez has also been at the center of a corruption scandal in Venezuela in recent months, standing accused of reaping illicit cash by overpricing rice imported from Argentina. Her post outside of Venezuela may be a method of allowing her to continue to draw a stipend from the state, and offer her diplomatic or parliamentary immunity, the Atlantic Monthly reported.
The value of the Chavez name, however, remains high in Venezuela. “Since Hugo’s death, the Chavez family has had an implicit veto over a lot of the things [incumbent leader] Maduro does,” Frank Mora, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Centre at Florida International University told the Independent. “They have a symbolic, almost religious aura that makes them untouchable.”