What’s next for Venezuela after Chavez’s victory

Read comments by W. Alex SanchezResearch Fellow, Council on Hemispheric Affairs

1. What Chavez’s victory means for Venezuela in your opinion as he is rather a polarizing figure (or at least it seems from the outside)?

I do think he won generally fairly; the accusations of fraud and other irregularities when it came to voting in some voting stations will not change the fact that he is still liked by most of the Venezuelan population (specially the lower classes). Unfortunately, he is a polarizing figure and has a polarizing behavior. This victory may serve to exacerbate tensions between his supporters and opponents, particularly as each aforementioned group generally belongs to a distinct social class.

I would add that Chavez’s allies Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Evo Morales in Bolivia will run for re election in 2013. Chavez’s victory will give them a boost of confidence about their re-election chances as well.

2. Will Chavez somehow adjust his main policies?

My main interest centers around his defense initiatives and his foreign policy. Will he stop spending billions of petro dollars in buying Russian military equipment? There are signs about this, but it may be mostly because he may have realized that Venezuela does not have an endless flow of money to spend on such ventures, particularly when the country lacks major security threats (particularly external).

Regarding foreign policy, he did quip some weeks ago that if he was an American citizen, he would vote for Obama in the upcoming U.S. presidential elections. While this may be a passing remark, it may also mean that he wants to improve diplomatic relations with Washington. Then again, the problem with determining a foreign policy such as Venezuela’s is that this revolves around the personal beliefs and preferences of the leader, and not so much the recommendations and initiatives of its foreign affairs ministry and diplomatic corps. We can expect Cuba-Venezuela relations to remain the same (or continue to strengthen), with Caracas donating oil to the island. Also, I believe his leadership of ALBA will continue as it has been so far.

I am hopeful that Venezuela-Colombia relations will improve. Unlike Uribe, current Colombian head of state Juan Manuel Santos has not tried to confront Chavez. The Colombian president met both Chavez and Capriles and his general goal is to improve relations with Caracas. The ongoing extraditions of narcotraffickers and FARC members from Venezuela to Colombia give me hope that this positive trend will continue under the next Chavez-Santos chapter.

3. Why was Capriles unsuccessful? Does he has a political future?

Venezuela’s next presidential elections are scheduled to be in 2018. That’s a long time away but Chavez has sometimes called for early elections in the past. I can see Capriles having a political future but I don’t know if he will continue to be the figure around which the opposition can center to challenge Chavez again. The coalition that Capriles represented were around 30 political parties from what I understand. It’s a feat in itself that the opposition managed to agree on one candidate!

As I said before, there will be probably allegations of fraud in favor of the government in the coming days and maybe the “real” difference between Chavez and Capriles was less than the official 10% that has been mentioned so far. I think Capriles ran the best campaign that he could but could not sway enough people, particularly from the lower classes, that have benefited from Chavez’s social programs over the years.


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