Goodbye Chavez: A New Start in Venezuela?

 

Yesterday, (Tuesday March 5th) at the age of 58, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez passed away. Chavez had been undergoing a prolonged battle against cancer ever since it was first detected in mid-2011, and after having surgery in Cuba on December 11 of last year he remained out of the public’s eye for three months. During this time all the public had to go on regarding his state of health was the occasional photo of Chavez, released by the government in order to quell rumours he had passed away.

Although the Venezuelan government was swift to deny reports of his passing during the previous three months, blaming their spread on “far-right fascists” who wished to destabilize Venezuela, it was obvious to anyone not blinded by loyalty that Chavez’s condition was less than stellar.  Yesterday’s announcement confirms his supporter’s worst fears however, and now the people must look forward to what the future holds for the country.

Within the next 30 days Venezuela will hold elections to elect Chavez’s replacement, as required by the Venezuelan constitution. Nicolas Maduro, the current Vice-President, is expected to succeed Chavez as party leader and run in the next election. Indeed, his campaigning has, unofficially, already begun. In recent weeks he has appropriated all television broadcast channels on a number of occasions in order to criticise the opposition and promote the “revolution”, a tactic he no doubt inherited from his predecessor.

But who is Nicolas Maduro, and is he the right man to succeed Chavez? Will he be able to replace one of the world’s most distinctive political leaders and do his legacy justice? The former bus driver and union activist was named personally by Chavez to succeed him, and for this reason it is expected there will be little quarrel over the matter of leadership within the party. As to whether he will be able to replicate Chavez’s iconic style of leadership is another question altogether.

maduro
Here is Nicolas Maduro, the man set to continue Chavez’s legacy.

He has already come under fire for commandeering the TV networks, and he has been regularly labeled a bad imitation of Chavez. Opposition leaning newspaper El Nacional labeled him a “rookie” and “weak and spineless,” and many believe he does not have the necessary skills or experience to unite the nation’s chaotic political landscape. He lacks political weight, is a poor orator, and does not possess the colourful persona which the people loved in Chavez.

The people will vote for him though. People will follow him, if only because of Chavez’s personal endorsement.  The man, however, is a genuine “Chavista” and his political career has been built on loyalty to Chavez. Labeled a “complete revolutionary” by his mentor, Maduro seems the best candidate to follow in Chavez’s footsteps and continue his policy.

This is the principal concern to his opposition however, who are worried that he will prove more intolerant than his mentor. He has already begun associating himself with hardliners within the party, leading many to believe the Venezeula’s political landscape is set to become even more radical. It is feared he will use the presidency to push ahead with the “Bolivarian Socialist Revolution” started by Chavez. Maduro is untested however, and no one can really predict how he will act in government should he win the election.

It is expected Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chavez in the presidential election last year, will run again as the opposition candidate. A moderate centrist, Capriles was able to cut Chavez’s margin of victory from 26 percent in 2006 to 11 percent last October. The opposition will be seeing this as a much needed second chance to finally overcome Chavez’s United Socialist Party, which in one form or another has been in power since 1999. His party fared poorly however in December’s regional elections, and as such even with Chavez out of the picture Capriles will still have a fight on his hands.

In fact, polls already show Maduro as the favourite to win the snap election, with local pollster Hinterlaces giving Maduro 50 percent of potential votes, well ahead of opposition leader Henrique Capriles who stands at 36 percent. However, Capriles has accused the Hinterlaces and its director, Oscar Schemel, of bias, stating to local television “that man is not a pollster, he’s on the government’s payroll.” This does little to detract from the fact that the organisation successfully forecasted Chavez’s victory with 55 percent of the vote in October.

Is this really the end of Venezuela’s “Bolivarian Socialist Revolution” as many are reporting? No doubt the USA hopes so, with President Obama already announcing Chavez’s passing as the start of a “new chapter” in the country’s history. Many of Chavez’s detractors will see this as a vital opportunity to alter the political state of affairs in Venezuela and move away from his radical policies.

Chavismo will outlive is creator, without a doubt, but no one can truly replace Chavez; he was one of a kind. A new political landscape is unfolding in Venezuela, and this is a start to of a new beginning in the nation’s history. But as to whether this new start will speak of political unity and increased prosperity for the nation, or more bloody revolutions, only time will tell.

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