Venezuela’s Political Outlook

“Chávez’s sickness has exposed him as vulnerable. People are beginning to realize that he is not eternal, that his mandate is limited. They are beginning to ask things that they had never asked before, like what does a Venezuela without Chávez look like and who will succeed him,” said Pedro Nikken, president of the International Commission of Jurists. In a July 19 meeting at the Inter-American Dialogue, Nikken discussed the future of Venezuela’s leader, allies, and political, security, and economic conditions.

Since having announced his ongoing battle with cancer, the once very public president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, has remained largely out of sight. Relatively little is known about his actual condition, giving rise to much speculation as to who is running the country. This is particularly concerning when analyzed in the context of a series of laws passed last year that expanded the president’s power and established what Nikken classified as a “dictatorship.”

Though he has promised to begin delegating more of these powers to his closest advisors, no one, said Nikken, will exert more influence on Venezuela’s political development than former Cuban leader, Fidel Castro. Castro has long been Chávez’s closest ally in the region and has counseled the Venezuelan leader during his visits to Havana, where he is currently undergoing chemotherapy.

Perhaps even more disturbing than the question of who is currently running the country is the uncertainty of who will run the country should Chávez grow unable to govern. The debate over who would succeed Chávez has not yet become public, but has begun internally, remarked Nikken.

Nikken threw into question the future of Chávez’s party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), ahead of the 2012 elections. Venezuela’s deteriorating economic and security conditions have caused unprecedented declines in the president’s approval ratings. Chávez, he asserted, would have had more trouble garnering support this year than in any previous year even under normal conditions. According to Nikken, the PSUV will have a difficult time winning the election without him, particularly if the opposition unites behind one single candidate.

“The PSUV has created a revolution out of what really is a personal enterprise. The party is what it is today because of the president. Venezuelans are not prepared to give to anyone else the sort of power that they gave Chávez. The affection of the poor for Chávez is truly amazing. You cannot inherit that,” argued Nikken.

He concluded the event by responding to questions over the future of Venezuela’s military, an organization that, he claimed, is increasingly politicized, and the prospect of military intervention should Chávez renounce his post.

“The ghost of violence exists. The temptation to concentrate more power in one person through the use of force is possible,” he said.

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