Hugo Chavez is dead. The long-time President of Venezuela, died on March 5, 2013 from complications stemming from cancer at age 58. Chavez built an international reputation for antagonizing the United States and its allies and speaking out against perceived imperialism and the downside of global capitalism. No matter his faults Hugo Chavez seemed truly dedicated to his socialist visions and improving the lot of the Venezuelan people. Now, with Chavez being laid to rest, a nation must do some soul searching and decide what path it will embark on in the future.
The spot light will now turn to Nicolas Maduro, the Vice President of Venezuela and the presumed heir apparent to Hugo Chavez. Until just this January Maduro held the post of Foreign Minister and appears to have little political clout within Venezuela. While Hugo Chavez all but hand picked him as his successor many people are wondering if he will be able to maintain power in the vacuum left by Chavez’s passing remains to be seen. Maduro lacks the charisma and near cult-like following of the common people that Hugo Chavez enjoyed during is administration.
Whereas Hugo Chavez was a former soldier and a folksy leader who could connect with and inspire the common people, Maduro lacks military experience and has difficulty connecting with the masses. Given his standings there are serious questions as to whether Maduro will be able to hold onto power and effectively govern the nation. One local analyst claimed that Maduro would instantly lose half of the vote that was secured by Hugo Chavez in the previous election.
And while Venezuela has been a largely peaceful country in recent years, the nation is no stranger to upheaval. Even Chavez himself was victim to an attempted coup d’tat in 2002 and imprisoned for several hours in a military base on an island off the coast of Venezuela. While popular support through the country and defections from inside the military would restore Hugo Chavez to power, the fact that his power could even be challenged is unsettling.
Ever since Hugo Chavez took power on his populist platform Venezuela’s elites have been waiting in the shadows for an opportunity to return to power. Venezuela is home to some of the world’s largest oil reserves and under Chavez the state took increasingly tight control of those reserves. Now with Chavez out of the way many MNC’s and elites in the country might be looking to tap into those reserves and their immense profit potential.
Further, Hugo Chavez and his administration never gained the support of the United States, far from it. The U.S. has been accused of helping to orchestrate the 2002 Coupe although these allegations have never been proven. Either way, the United States would certainly love a more American friendly regime and greater access to Venezuelan oil.
Given the recent history of power struggles within Venezuela and Maduro’s own political weakness it is far to wonder how long his administration will last. Maduro may see the writing on the wall and decide to call for elections, a battle he will likely lose. Should this be the case the long standing opposition and its emphasis on moving Venezuela away from its socialist leanings will almost certainly come to power. The end of the Chavez experiment may truly be at hand with the death of Hugo Chavez and that may mean more oil and opportunities for the United States and its allies while Cuba will find itself further isolated.