Venezuela after Hugo Chavez: why US eyes upcoming elections
The elaborate public funeral Venezuela will hold for President Hugo Chávez Friday will take place with already troubled US-Venezuela relations at a new low point.
The sour relations have US officials downbeat about prospects for a turnaround between the two countries anytime soon. Beyond that, the onset of a turbulent presidential election campaign that is likely to feature the US as an enemy of the deceased leader’s vision for Latin America will also feed Latin America’s deep divides, analysts say – and could complicate prospects for US relations with the region.
Political heirs of the fiery and anti-US leader made it clear in the hours following the announcement Tuesday of his passing that the forces of “chavismo,” Mr. Chávez’s brand of populist socialism, intend to stoke the flames of anti-American sentiment as a means of rallying Venezuelans left distraught and confused by the president’s demise.
Chávez’s hand-picked heir apparent, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, accused “imperialist forces” – a clear reference to the US – of infecting Chávez with the disease that took his life. He also announced an investigation into the cause of death that promises to keep the country’s “enemies” at the forefront of Venezuelans’ thought as they adjust to life without Chávez and prepare for a new presidential election.
The Venezuelan constitution says a new election must be called within 30 days of the president’s passing, but no date has yet been set.
A Venezuelan election that exacerbates the divide between the forces of chavismo and an opposition that is more favorable to a free market economy, to democratic rule – and to the US – is likely to extend the country’s political turbulence, regional experts say.
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Perhaps even more worrisome for the US, a political fight in Venezuela along Latin America’s ideological fault lines – broadly speaking Chávez’s leftist populism versus Brazil’s model of change through economic growth – risks deepening the region’s divisions and complicating US interests, some analysts say.
US relations with Venezuela “are likely to remain difficult if Chávez’s preferred successor [Mr. Maduro] succeeds Chávez, at least in the near term,” says Patrick Duddy, a former US ambassador to Venezuela who is now a visiting senior lecturer at Duke University in Durham, N.C.
And turmoil in Venezuela would only harm US goals across the hemisphere, he adds. “Political instability and violence in Venezuela would damage US efforts to promote democracy, increase regional cooperation, combat narcotics, and protect its economic interests in the region,” Ambassador Duddy says.
US officials who first made contact with Maduro last November (as Chávez’s condition worsened) and had been working to launch a dialogue with the government were dismayed by Maduro’s accusations Tuesday against the US – in part because they suggested the man who may very well succeed Chávez was adopting his mentor’s tactics.
“One of the consistent elements [of the Chávez approach] was using us [the US] as a foil, as a straw man that could be attacked,” says a senior State Department official. Now Maduro, the official adds, is proceeding “in a away very consistent with the way this government has addressed these matters.”
Roger Noriega, a former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs in the Bush administration, saw other worrisome signs in Maduro’s “ridiculous accusations” against the US. By expelling two US military officials and publicly accusing them of inappropriate contacts with some Venezuelan military officials, Maduro was sending a chilling message to a domestic audience, he says.
“It was a pretty brazen tactic by Maduro to sow doubts about the loyalty of some of his own military,” says Mr. Noriega, now a fellow in Latin American issues at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “There is a struggle going on,” he adds, “the military is not unified, and neither is chavismo.”
In that context, Maduro’s broadside at the US – and his message that contact with US officials is contrary to Venezuela’s interests – hardly augur well for improved relations between the two countries.
Another senior State Department officials says the US will send a delegation to the Chávez funeral, but adds that the coming “weeks and months” of an election campaign aren’t likely to be the time to “break new ground’ in relations between the two countries.
“It may take a little while before the Venezuelan government that emerges from elections is ready to have that conversation a bit more regularly,” the officials said.
Others see this post-Chávez period as the time for the US to forge ahead with closer relations with Latin America – and to publicly hold Venezuela accountable for upholding the democratic principles it signed on to through the Organization of American States.
“I think this is an opportunity [for the US] to reengage in the region – and in fact to reach out and initiate better relations with Venezuela itself,” says Noriega.
With the polarizing Chávez gone, countries in the region may be more interested in moving beyond divisions and working together, he says. “Now that Chávez is dead, it will be interesting to see if leaders in the region summon up the courage to say we’re not going along with this agenda anymore,” an agenda he describes as weakening the region’s commitment to democratic principles and to expanding prosperity.
Venezuela’s post-Chávez presidential election will be a test of those commitments. Senior State Department officials say the US will “continue to speak out” whenever “democratic principles” are violated.
One clue to prospects for improved relations will be in how such observations are received.
HERE ARE SOME CHAVEZ DEATH'S REPERCUSIONS FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES READERS WHICH I FIND INTERESTING
I'm sitting here in disbelief of the comments I'm reading. I just don't know what to say other than, all of the brainwashing and false media that he spread in my great country made it all the way here to the US. Anyone who was smart saw the writing on the wall in 1998. There is a reason, that I haven't been able to travel back home in the last 14 years. There's a reason there is no more educated middle class, a reason that there is barely only one public (non-government) radio in existence, a reason that the government created false shortages of food water and electricity, a reason that crime and murder is at an all time high. You can't walk around at night, you can't pull into your garage w/o someone running in and carjacking you at gun point. You can't drive down the street with your windows down. You can't ride down the street on a motorcycle without getting shot and the bike stolen and this is all in the CAPITAL! The largest city in Venezuela. Can you imagine what that would be like if it happened in New York? Instead of using the money wisely from the nationalized oil company for education of the lower class and on going programs to improve the countries infrastructure it gets embezzled, used to run his socialist campaign and pay for his little Chavista army that travels around the country snuffing out anyone's voice but his. I don't wish death or the ugliness of Cancer on anyone but calling the man a great leader disgusts me.
I write this as a long time resident of Venezuela, who left a while ago. There is no doubt that the Chavez regime did a lot to improve the lives of many of the country's poor. Unfortunately, that was accomplished by devastating the country's productive elements and putting everything in the hands of the central government (corrupt) bureaucrats. Though popular among the masses of people, Chavez's legacy will prove to be the worst thing that has happened to Venezuela in its history.
I am a Venezuelan teenager going to college here in America and have been in America for almost 5 years. Trust me when I say that, I will not miss him in the slightest. While any death may be tragic and mourned by some, I will not be one of them. I lived in a Venezuela that was safe, a Venezuela I could call home. My father had a decent job at a company called PDVSA (If any remember, the employees of this company were slowly rid of all Chavez oppositions and replaced with his supporters). My father was smart enough to get out before any damage was done to my family and our financial situation. People who were our friends lost everything, their jobs, a lot of their financial assets, and were even banned from ever going to their office and picking up their things once they were fired for not being a Chavez supporter. My dad, my mom, and I were the only ones in our family to make it out of that mess of a country. But the rest of my family is living in poverty and in fear that at any point, my grandparents will be shot in the back of the head for a gallon of milk. My family pay for electricity every month, they only get half a day's worth if anything. They pay for water every month, they only have certain hours where they actually have it. I don't care if he was "democratically" elected, as some media here in the US say he was. He has gained the love and support for the extremely poor in a third world country, while neglecting everybody else.
A good man has died. Most Americans cannot understand that a political leader can sincerely be committed to the most poor of society. So, lacking that understanding, all they can do, like the schoolyard bully, is make fun. The majority of people in Venezuela loved Chavez and are mourning him deeply, but that attitude of our media and political elite will be...."what do these people know? when can we get another stooge down there quick!" I hope Chavez' spirit burns bright!
My condolences to President Hugo Chavez family and to the Venezuelan People all over the world. He was beloved by his people. Despite all the negative you will hear don't believe the hype these "self-righteous" politicos. President Chavez is responsible for many poor Americans keeping warm providing oil to an program headed by Robert K. Kennedy Jr. Just because a government doesn't agree with America doesn't make them a rogue state or an oppressive leader. With that said, rest in peace, Comandante.
CERTAINLY A CONTROVERSIAL FIGURE.
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