Uncertain Path Forward For Venezuela After Chavez

Thousands of Venezuelans poured into the streets to mourn the death of their nation’s leader Hugo Chavez, who succumbed to a long battle with cancer. While producing both tears and cheers throughout the world, the death of Chavez provides both opportunity and peril for Latin America and the world. This includes the possibility of a warming of relations with the United States.

But much remains uncertain in the immediate future.

Former Bus Driver And Union Leader Likely To Replace Chavez
A one-time bus driver and union leader, Vice President Nicolás Maduro is a devoted Chavez loyalist and his likely successor for now, but he does face challenges.

One main obstacle is that Chávez never afforded anyone around him to gain too much power, which was an advantage to Maduro because he never posed a threat to the Venezuelan dictator.

“Maduro was chosen as he is completely loyal to Chávez and has the blessings of the Cubans to boot. Maduro’s greatest strength is ironically his weakness. He was chosen as he is the most palatable option. And all of the various factions in Chávismo think they can have a piece of him,” says Vanessa Neumann, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute

Oil Industry Sees Potential Opening Of Venezuelan Markets
While there is expected to be little change in the short-term, many oil industry analysts believe the death of Chavez could lead to greater investment opportunities in the oil-rich nation.

“It really much depends on what kind of government will follow Chavez,”  Enrique Sira, IHS senior research director for Latin America tells CNBC.

Venezuela ranked fourth in oil imports to the U.S. last year at 906,000 barrels per day, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Crude oil imports from Venezuela have been declining steadily since 2004, when they peaked at 1.3 million barrels per day.

Chavez Leaves Divided Nation In Poor Economic Condition
Another challenge will be opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chavez in the October presidential election and who could benefit from a nation that is divided despite the people’s devotion to Chavez.

In the region, Chavez’ was losing influence to more economically-effective approaches, while at home the “acrimony of his rule has left a dangerously divided Venezuela facing serious social and economic challenges” and a country where “the poor have been empowered and society has been divided, and a continent where alternatives to his model look more appealing than ever,” contends Frida Ghitis of the Miami Herald and World Politics Review.

Chavez’s Economic Legacy Will Complicate Road Ahead
Michael Shifter, writing in Foreign Affairs magazine, concurs with Ghitis’ view that Chavez’s legacy will be far different than the portrait of a man who improved the lives of the people whom he professed to serve.

He notes that Chávez’s policies were often “ineffective and unsustainable” while the programs he instituted were “patronage-driven and did virtually nothing to create enduring institutions for broad-based, long-term economic and social development.”

Shifter believes Maduro is best positioned to be elected to follow Chavez, partly because the opposition is weak and incoherent.

“Amidst this uncertainty, one thing is for sure: whoever takes over, Chávez’s legacy, and the damage he left behind, will not be easily undone,” Shifter asserts.


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