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What's ahead for a post-Hugo Chavez Venezuela?

by Take Two®

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Supporters of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez rally in Caracas on December 9, 2012. Chavez admitted a relapse of his cancer late Saturday and designated vice president Nicolas Maduro as his heir apparent in case 'something happened' to him. JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is undergoing surgery today in Cuba in order to remove cancerous cells in areas he previously had tumors. This is Chavez’s third cancer related surgery in approximately a year and a half.  

Just a month ago, right before winning the election for Venezuela’s presidency, Chavez had announced that he was cancer free. Critics argue that maybe it wasn’t the wisest decision to run again, given his recent health issues. 

“He has been very closed all along on the nature of his illness. People in Venezuela don’t even know what kind of cancer he has; they don’t know what his prognosis is,” said Jeffrey Davidow, Senior counselor at the Cohen Group and former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela and Mexico. “It is very difficult for politicians to acknowledge the possibility they wont be around forever but Chavez is taking that to extremes.” 

This time however, Chavez is concerned enough about his health to name a successor.  In the instance that his illness cuts his term as President short, he says that Vice President Nicolas Maduro should take over. 

Maduro wasn’t associated with Chavez at the time of his first coup d'état in 1992, and generally isn’t as militaristic as Chavez. He has however, been an ardent Chavez supporter in more recent years, and he’s been given more responsibility within the Venezuelan government. 

Maduro as successor isn’t a sure thing though, according to Davidow. The Venezuelan constitution states that 30 days after a successor becomes acting President, another election must take place. 

“There are other people in Chavez’s own political party, perhaps in the military, that would have their own views on who becomes the next President,” said Davidow.

If Chavez were to pass away, one of the main challenges for the next government would be what decision to make on continuing to support other Caribbean countries with Venezuela’s oil money.  

“Currently this money is very important for Cuba and Nicaragua, but Chavez has also spread his largess around to other governments, particularly in the Caribbean and Central America which are generally poor government and have no oil of there own,” said Davidow. “The challenge will be to continue or diminish its support of other countries without wrecking the economies of those places.” 

Chavez is also known for building himself up on a very anti-American platform.  There are questions as to what a new government in Venezuela would mean for United States-Venezuelan relations.  It isn’t necessarily true that the next government will view United States hostility as importantly as Chavez did. 

This depends, of course, on how the situation develops within Venezuela itself, and whether the country can install a new leader who maintains order.  

“Chaos anywhere in the Caribbean is certainly not in the interest of the U.S. or other countries,” said Davidow. 

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