With the death of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela is enveloped in national mourning and millions are lining the streets in Caracas to see him through his glass lid coffin.
But with elections likely in the wake of his Chavez’s passing on Tuesday, the country will have to find a successor, and quickly.
Currently, the odds are in favour of Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’ chosen successor and the country’s interim leader.
Popular within the PSUV and with the public at large with his humble beginnings as a bus driver and trade unionist, Maduro worked his way up the ranks of the PSUV and into Hugo Chavez’ cabinet in 2006, becoming Vice President a few months before Chavez took his final trip to Cuba for cancer treatment.
Maduro also has the backing of the army – in spite of the country’s constitution declaring defence ministers remain impartial, Admiral Diego Molero pledged the military’s total support for Maduro minutes after Chavez death was announced, increasing fears that if elected Maduro’s rule could be as authoritarian as his predecessor’s.
Nevertheless, on Thursday crowds were heard chanting “With Maduro, the people are safe!”, and despite his lacking Chavez’s charisma, the interim President is the public face of the Chavez regime, at present a vote winner.
It is not certain the PSUV will win at the upcoming election, however; the opposition Justice First party have an energetic leader and governor of the state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, the Chavez camp have a genuine challenger.
Although losing last year’s election by a margin of 11 per cent (it should be said that this was the strongest opposition Chavez had ever faced in an election,) Capriles centre-left policies, which emulate Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s mix of market-friendly economics combined with income redistribution, are potentially attractive to many Venezuelans.
Despite claiming that he and Chavez “were adversaries, never enemies”, Capriles has been quick to criticise the Chavez government over its relations with authoritarian leaders such as Bashar Al-Assad, toppled Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi and Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and was a suspected conspirator in the 2002 attempted coup to topple Chavez – despite being cleared of all charges and released after a short stint in jail.
Many in the country feel that Capriles is the man to end the authoritarian grasp the PSUV have had on Venezuela for the last 14 years, promising an end to widespread corruption and human rights abuses in the country.
Capriles is certainly the White House’s preferred candidate after years of difficult relations between the two ideologically opposite countries, while Cuba and Nicaragua anxiously hope the opposition suffer another defeat so that Capriles cannot revoke the subsidised oil handed out by Chavez to friendly regimes.
The likelihood is that the PSUV will claim another victory in the wake of Hugo Chavez’s death.
According to Luis Vicente Leon, a South American political analyst, Manduro has “taken advantage of the emotions of Venezuelans still mourning their lost leader” and moulded it into support for the Chavez camp.
Change seems dubious in Venezuela, but what seems certain is that whoever succeeds Hugo Chavez will have to contend with a country whose economy is a casualty of rising inflation, rising debt, crumbling infrastructure and underperforming industry.
The below graph shows the evolution of poverty rates in South America over the past 15 years, based on ECLAC data. The decline in poverty was greater in Brazil, Chile and Peru. In Columbia, Bolivia Paraguay poverty fell less than in Venezuela. For Ecuador and Uruguay it is not possible to compare like with like.
Graph by Lanacion.