Around the World

Hugo Chavez Death and Venezuela’s Future

When Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez died on Tuesday, schools were shut for seven days, his body lay in state at the Military Academy in Caracas, and supporters were called on to dress in the three colors of the Venezuelan flag.

For 15 years, Chavez has been nearly synonymous with Venezuela’s identity. Yet as he battled cancer and recurring infections, the 58-year-old president had not been seen since last December.

As the head of the revolutionary movement Chavismo, the leftist leader made virtually every decision for his country. It’s a legacy that will endure beyond Chavez’s life, according to Dr. Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, in an interview with Christiane Amanpour.

“Any successor would have to prove he's more Chavista than Chavez himself,” said Arnson. “The social policies are likely to continue, the foreign policy alliances are likely to continue and the overall political direction of the country is not going to change."

In many ways, it’s a political and economic system that has been propped up by Venezuela’s vast reserves of oil, the largest in the world. Arnson said if the price of oil were not as high, the cracks in the Venezuelan economy would be more visible. Even as he gutted the institutions of liberal democracy and checks and balances, Chavez applied oil profits to the poor.

"He leaves an immensely popular following among principally poor people in Venezuela,” said Arnson. “People who have benefited enormously from the social programs he's implemented using oil wealth. But also he has this enormous emotional attachment for poor people in Venezuela.”

It could hardly be more the opposite abroad. Though Venezuela was the fourth largest exporter of oil to the United States, Chavez used “petro-diplomacy” to organize a coalition of countries which benefited from oil subsidies, notably Cuba, to align in opposition to the West, according to Arnson.

Relations with the United States were particularly frosty. There has been no U.S. ambassador in residence in Venezuela since 2010. Chavez antagonized the U.S. by cultivating relations with Iran and Syria. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama issued a statement in response to Chavez’s death: “The United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government. As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.”

Chavez's state funeral is scheduled to be held on Friday. Under the constitution, the president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello Rondon, would assume the interim presidency. New elections must be held within 30 days. Chavez had named Vice President Nicolas Maduro as his political heir.

"Every indication is that Maduro, who was appointed as his successor last December, will win that election hands down,” said Arnson. “There will be an enormous outpouring of emotion and sympathy after Chavez dies and that will happen within that 30-day period."

Loading...
  • Harrington wins playoff to capture Honda Classic
    Harrington wins playoff to capture Honda Classic

    Ireland's Padraig Harrington won his first US PGA title in seven years on Monday, defeating 21-year-old American rookie Daniel Berger in a playoff to capture the storm-hit Honda Classic. "The last nine holes I felt like a different person," Harrington said. Harrington found the water at the par-3 17th in regulation for a double bogey but sank a tension-packed 15-foot birdie putt at the par-5 18th hole to force the playoff, matching Berger on six-under 274 over 72 holes. Both began the playoff with pars at 18 and then at 17, Harrington put his 5-iron tee shot four feet from the cup while Berger found the water.

  • Former PGA pro retracts Woods ban claims
    Former PGA pro retracts Woods ban claims

    Former US PGA Tour player Dan Olsen on Monday retracted a claim that Tiger Woods has been suspended for a month after Woods' agent and tour officials strongly denied the statement. I want to apologize to Nike, the PGA Tour, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and (tour commissioner) Tim Finchem," Olsen said in a statement released by WFVN radio station based in Lansing, Michigan website. Olsen, a teaching pro who last played a US PGA event at the 2011 PGA Championship, compared Woods to noted US disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, who was stripped of seven Tour de France titles and admitted he took banned performance-enhancing substances.

Loading...