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The complicated legacy of Hugo Chavez

by AirTalk®

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The flag-draped coffin of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez was borne through throngs of weeping supporters today as it made its way to the Military Academy in Caracas. JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images

Venezuelans are stocking up on goods fearing destabilization in the country. The death of longtime leader Hugo Chavez yesterday may have left a leadership vacuum.

Chavez was one of the most powerful figures in South American history. He was famous and infamous for nationalizing Venezuela's vast oil wealth. He used those profits to improve life for many of the country's poor. Nevertheless, he failed to manage its ballooning profits. The global price of a barrel of oil sky-rocketed during his presidency, but Venezuelans became increasingly reliant on the export. Most notable in this country was Chavez's outspoken criticism of America's influence on the South America. He called then President George W. Bush a donkey and the devil. Chavez also closely allied with now deceased Cuban President Fidel Castro.

The future of both Cuba and Venezuela is uncertain today. The vice president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, is ready to succeed Chavez, despite the constitution specifying that the interim presidency should be assumed by the speaker of the National Assembly. Things could already be off to a shaky start as Chavez's body lies in state.

How severely could Venezuela change after Chavez? Why was he such a polarizing figure? What type of relationship should the U.S. have with Venezuela?

Miguel Tinker Salas, Professor of Latin American History and Chicano Latino Studies at Pomona College in Claremont, California. He is also the author of “The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture and Society in Venezuela.”

Christopher Sabatini, Senior Director of Policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas (AS/COA) and founder and editor-in-chief of the hemispheric policy magazine Americas Quarterly (AQ)

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