When Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was re-elected last October it was one of the last times he appeared to be healthy, and it now looks unlikely to serve this term. There are even those who believe he will not make it to his inauguration on January 10?
Chavez has been ill for a long time and now rumours about his health spread quickly through the streets of Caracas.
To add to the confusion it is also unclear who might serve in his place if he is unable to go on.
Nicolas Maduro the current vice president is the heir apparent, but his partner in the party Diosdado Cabello is also in the running. The two men are engaged in secret battle behind the scenes even if they appear friendly in public.
They come from very different backgrounds. Cabello is a soldier who has no connection with Cuba. Whereas Maduro is a civilian, a former union leader and, like Chavez, is very close to the Castro brothers.
If Chavez is inaugurated but is unable to continue Maduro will undoubtedly come to power after elections which will be called within 30 days. If Chavez is not present on January 10, the constitution gives Cabello temporary power.
“(Chavez) provides an element of stability in Venezuela, in a context where you have sort of a great battle, not only among people who are pro-Chavez who are ‘Chavistas’, but also in the context of those who fear that the opposition will try to eliminate all of the gains that ‘Chavismo’ has theoretically achieved over the last decade,” says Eduardo Gamarra, professor of International Politics at Florida International University.
From the opposition Henrique Capriles rose to fame in the last election. But the young leader from the right will find it difficult to make an impression in an election held after Chavez’s death which will surely be charged with emotion.
With all of his achievements and faults Chavez’s departure or death will undoubtedly have a huge effect both in Venezuela and internationally.
How can the situation in Venezuela evolve, and which path of development will the country now take?
To see this more clearly we’re joined from Moscow
by Professor Boris Martynov, Assistant Director of the Latin American Institute within the Russian Academy Of Sciences.
EN: January 10 is the scheduled inauguration of Hugo Chavez, not many believe he will show up. What’s next, should we expect new elections, as the Constitution states, or the ceremony will be simply postponed?
Boris Martynov: “I think that the Constitutional norms will be followed to the letter, anything else will just harm the interests of the authorities. But how concretely it will happen, it’s hard to say: it can be either the “continuity” scenario, when Chavez hands-over all power to (vice-President Nicholas) Maduro who calls the next elections in 30 days, or the power passes to the newly elected speaker of National Assembly – but who, all the same, sets the next elections in 30 days, according to Constitution.”
en – Can the opposition become more active and is violence likely to erupt?
BM: “Yes, the opposition can become more active, because, for example, in spite of all Chavez’s victories, it’s managed to make some serious progress, first of all, by finding a common candidate. As for the extreme scenarios, as I said earlier, it can only harm Venezuela’s position – the country is firmly integrated in Latin-Anerican structures where democracy is the proclaimed norm. And any violation of democratic principles can lead to sanctions – as we’ve seen recently with Paraguay.”
en – And, if Chavez due to illness or death is unable to rule, what do we know about his successor, Nicholas Maduro?
BM: “Sadly, we don’t know not that much. What is sure is that he shares Chavez’s ideas and ideals. Anyway, “chavism” has, as sportsmen say, a very long bench filled with replacements. So, whether it’s Maduro who is elected next president, or (President of Parliament Diosdado) Cabello or somebody else – what they should do first and foremost is to start a dialogue with opposition.”
en: “Again, if Chavez is not around any more, what path Venezuela will follow?”
BM: “Let’s not forget it’s Venezuela and Chavez who gave the first impulse to this so-called left turn of Latin America. It was followed in some form or another by Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador… But however diverse this left flank is – it’s (always characterised by) powerful state structures with strong social component, its market economy, albeit with variations, and national interests which dictate foreign policy. I think that, while following in that development mould, Venezuela will gradually shred this Chavez-ian radicalism, his overblown anti-Americanism, all these Socialist slogans which aren’t that popular anymore, because the times for such oppositions – socialist-capitalist, left-right – are gone. What comes now is the times of nationally-oriented, or civilization-oriented policies.”