Hugo Chavez' death creates a deeply uncertain future for Venezuela. PHOTO: Reuters
1. Who Comes After Chavez?
All assumptions center around Hugo Chavez' vice president, now the President of Venezuela, has landed at the top of Venezuela after a journey that started as a busdriver. Interestingly, Maduro has only been Vice-President since Chavez' reelection in October. Now he is acting president for 30 days, until Venezuela holds a popular election, where Maduro is likely to face off against Chavez' October opponent, Henrique Capriles Radonski, a young state governor. While Chavez was immensely popular in Venezuela, it remains to be seen if Maduro can inherit his predecessor's love from the Venezuelan people.
2. Will We See An Anti-Chavez Backlash in Venezuela?
While Chavez was much loved by Venezuela, some of them will be happy to see him go, and welcome the power vacuum at the top of Venezuelan politics. Hugo Chavez was notorious for stifling opposition, and has been accused of a number of human rights violations. Chavez consolidated power, and limited the ablities of human rights workers and journalists to do their jobs. Chavez was also friendly with dictators known to commit human rights atrocities, like Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. Will all that add up to an upswell in opposition, now that Chavez is gone? We shall see.
3. What Happens To Cuba?
Hugo Chavez considered Cuba's Fidel Castro to be a father figure, and Chavez was very good to his presidential family member. Venezuela, which has the fourth largest supply of oil in the world, regularly shipped thousands of barrels of oil to Cuba at cut rate prices. Cuba got more oil than it needed, so it would sell the excess at market prices to other countries. Cuba also sent hundreds of teachers, doctors, and other public servants to Venezuela, but these people would be paid for their labor by the Venezuelan government. Productive human capital for oil is a potential win-win for both countries, but, with Venezuela facing a massive deficit, whoever wins the election to be Chavez' successor might be sorely tempted to renegotiate the terms of this deal, which heavily favor Cuba. Cuba, in turn, ought to be nervous. It's oil subsidies from Venezuela are keeping its economy afloat.
4. Will Venezuela Go Capitalist?
Hugo Chavez actually rose to power as a center-left capitalist, but once in power, he increasingly shifted more and more to socialism. Given its struggling economy, a new president could look to break with Chavez' precendent and create more of a free market both within Venezuela, and between Venezuela and other countries. However, such a dramatic shift is less likely to happen under Maduro, and Maduro is favored to retain the presidency.
5. Will Venezuela Get Any Friendlier with the U.S.?
President Obama's reaction to the passing of Hugo Chavez was the diplomatic equivalent of "next question." Obama said that "the United States continues to support the people of Venezuela." Relations between the U.S. and Venezuela have been chilly since Chavez took power. What happens now? Well, Maduro recently accused "imperial powers" of infecting Hugo Chavez with the cancer that eventually killed him. That's not a good sign for a thaw in relations if Maduro retains the presidency. If a different party wins Venezuela's presidential election, look for things to get a lot friendlier with the U.S. Both sides could use a friendlier trade arrangement.