Venezuela after Hugo Chavez: why US eyes upcoming elections warily (+video)
Hugo Chavez's handpicked heir, Venezuela Vice President Nicolas Maduro, has already signaled that his election campaign will employ the harshest of rhetoric against the US.
In Pictures Venezuela after Chavez
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The sour relations have US officials downbeat about prospects for a turnaround between the two countries anytime soon. Beyond that, the onset of a turbulent presidential election campaign that is likely to feature the US as an enemy of the deceased leader’s vision for Latin America will also feed Latin America’s deep divides, analysts say – and could complicate prospects for US relations with the region.
Political heirs of the fiery and anti-US leader made it clear in the hours following the announcement Tuesday of his passing that the forces of “chavismo,” Mr. Chávez’s brand of populist socialism, intend to stoke the flames of anti-American sentiment as a means of rallying Venezuelans left distraught and confused by the president’s demise.
Chávez’s hand-picked heir apparent, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, accused “imperialist forces” – a clear reference to the US – of infecting Chávez with the disease that took his life. He also announced an investigation into the cause of death that promises to keep the country’s “enemies” at the forefront of Venezuelans’ thought as they adjust to life without Chávez and prepare for a new presidential election.
The Venezuelan constitution says a new election must be called within 30 days of the president’s passing, but no date has yet been set.
A Venezuelan election that exacerbates the divide between the forces of chavismo and an opposition that is more favorable to a free market economy, to democratic rule – and to the US – is likely to extend the country’s political turbulence, regional experts say.
Perhaps even more worrisome for the US, a political fight in Venezuela along Latin America’s ideological fault lines – broadly speaking Chávez’s leftist populism versus Brazil’s model of change through economic growth – risks deepening the region’s divisions and complicating US interests, some analysts say.
US relations with Venezuela “are likely to remain difficult if Chávez’s preferred successor [Mr. Maduro] succeeds Chávez, at least in the near term,” says Patrick Duddy, a former US ambassador to Venezuela who is now a visiting senior lecturer at Duke University in Durham, N.C.
And turmoil in Venezuela would only harm US goals across the hemisphere, he adds. “Political instability and violence in Venezuela would damage US efforts to promote democracy, increase regional cooperation, combat narcotics, and protect its economic interests in the region,” Ambassador Duddy says.