Death pits Chávs against Cháv nots

Hugo Chávez’s death has plunged Venezuela into uncertainty over the future of his socialist revolution.

For 14 years, he dominated like a Colossus and now that he has fallen, so have the old rules and certitudes. An election, which under the constitution must be held within 30 days of a president’s passing, will pit Chávez’s ruling party against an opposition coalition. Internal power struggles within each side could prove just as important.

The world’s biggest oil reserves, a troubled economy and a deeply polarised population of 29 million people are the ambiguous prizes for whoever claims the presidential ­palace of Miraflores.

First, however, will come Chávez’s funeral, likely to be a vast, clamorous affair to rival Argentinean icon Evita [Perón]. To the millions who revered him — a third of the country, according to some polls — a messiah has fallen and their grief will be visceral. To the millions who detested him as a thug and charlatan, it will be an occasion to bid, vocally or discreetly, good riddance.

As president, Chávez would liven his near daily marathon broadcasts by singing, rapping, dancing and reciting poetry, an unparalleled showman, and the government will doubtless choreograph a fitting farewell with the help of the civilian militias and state media empire he created. Leaders from across Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe are expected to fly into Caracas along with celebrities such as actors Sean Penn and Danny Glover and director Oliver Stone.

Foreign governments, not least the United States administration, will watch closely to see if the late president’s movement, Chavismo, succeeds in holding power and perpetuating his “21st-century socialist revolution”, a model entailing state control of the economy, subsidies to Cuba and rhetorical broadsides against Yankee imperialism.

Foreign oil companies, including Chevron and state-owned Russian and Chinese behemoths, will manoeuvre to protect investments. China, in particular, will be anxious for the new president to honour the huge loans it has made to Venezuela, which Chávez used to supplement record oil revenue and government spending.

Internal power struggles
The election, should it be held by the deadline mandated by the Constitution, will probably pit the vice-president, Nicolás Maduro, Chávez’s anointed heir, against Henrique Capriles, an opposition regional governor who lost to Chávez in last October’s election.

Opinion polls suggest Maduro, a former bus driver lacking the charisma of his old boss, will struggle against Capriles, a youthful challenger who casts himself as a centrist and has the support of traditional elites. Maduro, however, stands to benefit from an emotional funeral, a tight timetable and the “red machine”, a formidable electoral alliance of the ruling PSUV party, state institutions and oil revenues.

Internal power struggles will roil both sides. Maduro has the support of key ministers, civilian ideologues and the Cubans, who occupy multiple positions in Venezuela’s government.


However, an ambitious rival, Diosdado Cabello, the head of the national assembly, has allies in the military, the militias and big business, an eclectic coalition considered more pragmatic — and corrupt —than other Chavista factions. There has been speculation he will seek to install himself as provisional president and delay an election. A wild card is Chávez’s family. His two adult daughters and his older brother, Adán, a governor of their home state of Barinas, have the power to help unite or fracture Chavismo.

The opposition coalition known as MUD may crack now that it can no longer be held together by loathing of Chávez. A tradition of backstabbing and grandstanding may resurface if figures such as Henri Falcón, the governor of Lara state, challenge Capriles for the nomination.

Should the opposition win the election, observers in Caracas warn of a fraught transition. “The generals, the militias, the public service, they’re all politicised. Would they accept a new dispensation? And what about all the Chavista governors and mayors?” asked one diplomat in Caracas.

No matter who wins, analysts agree he or she will swiftly face dilemmas. Chávez used lavish spending to heat the economy and buy imports in the run-up to his re-election. But subsidies, regulations and threats have warped the public sector and withered the private sector.

Economists say the new president, Chavista or not, will have to cut spending and devalue the currency, stoking inflation and potential unrest. Some opposition analysts wonder if it would not be better that Maduro won, so Chavismo could reap the whirlwind. — © Guardian News & Media 2013

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Rory Carroll
Guest Author
Advertising

‘Tenderpreneurs’ block the delivery of protective equipment to schools

Protests by local suppliers have delayed PPE delivery, which according to the DBE, is one of the reasons the reopening of schools has been pushed back until June 8

‘Soon he’ll be seen as threatening, not cute’: What it’s...

There is no separating George Floyd’s killing from the struggles black people have faced ever since the first slave ships landed on these shores

How schools could work during Covid

Ahead of their opening, the basic education department has given schools three models to consider to ensure physical distancing
Advertising

Press Releases

Mining company uses rich seam of technology to gear up for Covid-19

Itec Direct technology provides instant temperature screening of staff returniing to the workplace with no human contact

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday