After being diagnosed with a kind of pelvic cancer in June 2011 and going through several surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy, the Venezuelan president of 14 years succumbed to his illness on Tuesday 5th March, leaving his country and the rest of the world in a state of uncertainty.
A collection of streets in Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela, were dyed red last Wednesday, by the bright t-shirts of supporters who were mourning the loss of their beloved president, Hugo Chavez.
The colour represented the late leader’s political reign and had been worn by him and his supporters during the past years as a show of unity.
Hundreds, hoping to be able to reach out and touch the flag that was draped over the wood, followed the leader’s casket out of the military hospital where he had been receiving treatment before his death.
Chavez’s remains rested in the chapel on the Fuerte Tiuna military base until the funeral on Friday the 8th.
Other mourners chose to stay inside and weep in private, and the opposition did not dare to show celebration over the death of the leader out of fear of violence; however there were celebrations in other places such as Miami, where many Venezuelan expatriates live.
Instead, Henrique Capriles, leader of the opposition and the governor of Miranda State in Venezuela, tweeted his condolences to the late president’s family and supporters as well as a message of hope for the unity of all Venezuelans.
Whether a member of the opposition or not, every Venezuelan citizen can agree that the death of the President will lead to some uncertainty, although the country is not unused to that.
Although Chavez was just re-elected for another six year term in October, he was unable to make his swearing in ceremony in January due to his illness. The President’s health had been in question since early December and, he had not been seen nor heard from for nearly three months besides a series of “proof of life” photos, which showed Chavez in his hospital bed, reading the newspaper with his daughters
He was recently moved back to Caracas from Cuba where he was receiving cancer treatment and it was reported just weeks ago that he was suffering from a respiratory infection which made breathing very difficult for him. Just prior this, citizens had been under the impression that he had been doing better. Some believed that he would be back to ruling the country from Miraflores Palace in no time, but others did not expect him to win the battle for his life due to the lack of his presence in the media.
There were also rumours circulating which stated that Hugo Chavez had already died. These came from claims made by Guillermo Cochez, who is the ex- ambassador to the regional organization of American States in Panama. He reportedly told the press that Chavez had been taken off life-support in late February.
Finding a successor
Before his death, Hugo Chavez made it known that, if anything happen to him, vice president Nicolas Maduro would be his choice as the next president of Venezuela. Even though Diosdado Cabello, the National Assembly speaker has the right to be the interim leader under the Venezuelan constitution, Maduro will be in charge until elections are held, which will occur in less than 30 days.
Maduro’s rule started out with a speech which seemingly accused Venezuela’s enemies, most likely including the United States, of interfering with Chavez’s health. It is well known that the two countries have had a volatile past. There had been a conspiracy theory, mentioned by Chavez himself before he died, that stated that the CIA may have found a way to give him cancer.
Maduro said that the US was looking to destabilize Venezuela for its own gains, and that scientists will be doing an autopsy of the late president’s body to get to the truth of this matter.
However, since Maduro is not well-known, it will be a challenge for him to gain the complete support of the people.
It has also been speculated that, although Maduro was incredibly loyal to Chavez and his ideas, he is not as strong as his predecessor, and foreign pressure from countries such as the United States, who have had their eyes on the prospect of oil, could make way for some changes in Venezuela.
Some citizens believe that, even without its main supporter, Chavez, the practice of Bolivarianism will continue in the country since it has become so institutionalised.
It is also in the hopes of Chavez’s supporters that ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas, will be sustained.
This agreement connects countries such as Cuba, Nicaragua, and Ecuador to Venezuela and helps them work together on projects for improvement in each country.
Henrique Capriles is expected to run for office against Maduro, on the side of the opposition, which will make this his second time in the race for the presidency. He ran against Chavez but lost during last October’s election.
Although Capriles agreed with Chavez’s works to eradicate poverty and help the elderly, his ideas for the presidency would include the de- nationalisation of businesses and a decrease in the rate of violent crimes.
Can this situation improve?
Venezuela has become one of the world’s most dangerous countries with some of the highest rates of kidnapping and homicides. Over 21,600 murders were committed in the year 2012, making Venezuela the most violent country in South America.
The country also has developed a crumbling infrastructure which includes roads with car-swallowing pot holes and unpredictable power outages, inflation, as well as a large amount of poverty.
Under Chavez, the rate of poverty had decreased by nearly half, but not without a price.
Through the domestic social programs that Chavez developed, over 350,000 new homes have been built since 2011 and food prices have been subsidized for those who need it but unfortunately, this has come at a great cost to the country.
Any new government will work to tackle these negative aspects; however it will prove to be a challenge for any leader. Improvements would have to start out slowly and effects would not be seen for a few years.
Complications with PetroCaribe
The President’s death has made several other Caribbean nations nervous about where they will get their oil.
When Hugo Chavez became the president in 1998, he helped make Venezuela one of the world’s leading petroleum exporters. With some of the world’s largest oil reserves, the country has taken smaller nations such as Haiti, Honduras and Suriname under its wing through the PetroCaribe program.
Through this alliance, poorer countries with limited resources can cheaply buy oil from Venezuela and pay only part of the bill up front, while the total can be paid up to 25 years later. Without this option, these countries would have to pay much higher prices for oil.
Chavez and the country of Venezuela had benefited from this program through obtaining solidarity from the other countries, as well as necessary commodities that the country cannot produce for itself.
It has been reported that Venezuela receives items such as coffee, sugar, milk and rice from places like the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.
Around 100,000 barrels of oil are delivered to Cuba each day in exchange for doctors and physicians who practice in Venezuela.
Also, since inflation is very high, this option has proved to be better than devaluing the bolivar, the local currency. However, it has been reported that gasoline from other countries is being imported and greatly subsidised for sale within the country.
Another problem that has arisen from this exchange is that the countries that purchase oil from Venezuela are beginning to incur significant debt.
Also, Venezuela’s economic future is very unclear, and if the country’s next government decides to terminate this expensive program for whatever reason, the countries that benefit from it now will be left in a dire situation.
In less than 30 days, Venezuelan citizens will decide their country’s future, which will have a imminent effect on the rest of the world.