What comes after Chavez?
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez waves after his speech to the nation upon his return to the presidential palace Miraflores, in Caracas 14 April 2002. (Getty Images)
February 10th, 2012
08:34 AM ET

What comes after Chavez?

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.

This Sunday, the historically disorganized Venezuelan opposition movement is holding its first-ever presidential primary to decide upon a single candidate to challenge long-time strongman Hugo Chavez. With regional governor Henrique Capriles expected to prevail, the aging Chavez faces a younger version of himself: namely, a dynamic rising star promising to transform the political landscape. This time, however, the figure is moving it away from the heavy-handed populism initiated by Chavez after he swept into office in 1998.

Over the course of his tenure, Chavez’s pursuit of “21st century socialism” in Venezuela has propelled him to self-declared “president for life” status. Among his accomplishments are the systematic and brutal persecution of political opponents and critical journalists, the stacking of parliament with his supporters, various cash-payment programs to the voting poor to ensure his popularity, and - in a related dynamic - the general undermining (aka, looting) of the country’s primary economic engine, the national oil company known as PDVSA. Chavez has also turned Venezuela into one of the most crime-ridden nations in the world with the annual inflation averaging close to 30 percent.

Still, El Comandante has inspired copycat Chavista leaders in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, and has reinvigorated Cuba’s communist dictatorship - all the best friends that money can buy.

But with the de facto dictator mysteriously seeking cancer care in Havana last year, widespread talk has surfaced that this election may well be Chavez’s last. Taking that hypothetical as our starting point, this week’s Wikistrat crowd-sourced analysis looks at what just might lie ahead for a post-Chavez Venezuela.  Here are five pathways to consider.

1) Capriles’ vigorous-but-doomed campaign ignites an anti-Chavez “spring” 

The long beaten-down opposition did manage to capture half of the popular vote in 2010 midterm parliamentary election, stripping Chavez’s ruling party of the supermajority that previously allowed him to rewrite the constitution. So with the strongman’s approval numbers running just over 50 percent in recent polls, it’s not inconceivable that Capriles could pull off a stunning upset - even if he might have to flee the country to survive it. But with Chavez opening up government coffers like never before, we’re betting he’ll squeeze by in what will be officially tallied as a “popular landslide.”

Depending on how blatantly Chavez manipulates the voting process, we could be looking at a blowback dynamic similar to the Green Movement that blossomed in Iran after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s similarly engineered “landslide” in 2009. While it’s unlikely that America would step in any more here than it did in Iran, any hard-to-conceal Chavez medical relapse could set off some serious endgame dynamics - to include some inside the regime.

2) Chavismo without Chavez – the martyr maneuver

While many Latin American experts are convinced that Chavismo cannot survive without its mega-wattage star, we’d expect the regime’s senior players to give it a good go by quickly elevating the deceased Chavez into a socialist sainthood on par with, say, Cuba’s revolutionary icon, the Argentina-born Ernesto “Che” Guevara.  Given the intimate and pervasive cooperation between Venezuela’s and Cuba’s security establishments, this would seem a no-brainer short-term fix, along with somehow circumventing that pesky constitution to slip Hugo’s elder brother Adan into the presidency so he could run in any “emergency” election as the presumptive heir.

But this would be a compromise solution - a Band-Aid. Chavez built his dictatorship the old-fashioned way: by destroying all the political institutions that would naturally validate a legitimate successor. Thus, we’d expect a nasty internal power struggle would invariably ensue.

3) Cue up the timeless salsa between lefty dictators and military juntas

Latin America has a long and rich history of military coups toppling radical dictators - a sort of out with the old and in with the older dynamic guaranteed to upset just about everyone at home and abroad.  In recent years, Chavez increasingly relied on the Venezuelan military to shore up his power base and augment his cash flow, and that tactic invariably landed some very powerful - and shady - generals both in his cabinet and on the U.S. Treasury’s list of known narcotic traffickers.

Well-armed people like that don’t leave power without a fight, but truly professional criminals also prefer to wield power from behind the scenes. Given enough time and offshore bank accounts, we could easily see the military retreating into a “guarantor of the republic” role that allowed for more business-friendly, non-ideological civilian leaders to finally re-emerge - so long as they knew their place.

4) Venezuela as the new Colombia

Part of Chavez’s long game had been to provide sanctuary for Colombia’s stubborn narco-insurgency, the FARC, as well as trans-shipment of its illicit wares to North America and beyond. So let’s imagine that the country’s drug-lords-with-shoulder-boards can’t play nice with each other, much less all the region’s cash-rich criminal gangs. As a post-Chavez Venezuela spirals downward into Scarface-level criminal violence, it becomes a magnet for Mexico’s uber-ambitious and ultra violent cartels, which are currently colonizing much of Central America (e.g., Belize, Guatemala, Honduras).

With all the Russian arms that flooded the country under Chavez (Venezuela has its own assault rifle factory that cranks out the modern version of the timeless AK-47), and considering Iran’s interest in fomenting trouble in “Great Satan’s” backyard, this scenario could end up being anti-American Chavez’s final affront to the U.S.

5) Stipulating all of the above, the next Chavez could turn out to be a “Lula” 

As we suggested earlier with Capriles, the next “savior” doesn’t have to ride into town on a white steed - much less in military uniform.  He just has to excite enough of Venezuela’s shrinking middle class and assure enough of its handout-addicted rural poor that he feels both of their “pain.” That’s what Brazil’s left-of-center, two-time president Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva pulled off to the point where he got to handpick his successor, Dilma Rousseff - the country’s first-ever female leader.  That’s how a democratic “strong man” gets it done.

While it’s easy to be pessimistic about a post-Chavez Venezuela, there’s every reason to expect Brazil won’t stand idly by and see Venezuela turn completely to the dark side of globalization.  Plus, quite frankly, there’s no “evil emperor” out there willing and/or able to pick up the tab - not big-talking Iran, increasingly anti-American Russia, or the exceedingly risk-averse Chinese.

So, given President Obama’s firm desire to execute his post-Iraq/Afghanistan “strategic pivot” to East Asia, we’re betting that Brazil’s benign regional leadership will ultimately prove more decisive than America’s drug war-tainted hectoring in steering a post-Chavez Venezuela back into the fold of reasonably functioning democracies.

That’s Wikistrat's “wisdom of the crowd” for this week.

Now tell us which path you find most plausible, or what other scenarios you can envision in the comments section below. And be sure to check out more at Wikistrat.com, a cutting-edge global consultancy.

Topics: Venezuela

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soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. jaime

    OK Chavez looses than what ? it goes back to what used to before him , the same people that ran away to Miami will come back , and Steal all the money ( as Chavez does ) and will buy bigger homes in Miami .. Any doubt about it ??

    February 10, 2012 at 10:44 am | Reply
    • theline101

      Granted they all might be thieves, which is too easy to say, but at least those thieves won't be aiding terrorist organizations and rogue countries such as Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Cuba

      February 10, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Reply
      • Andres

        Great response.

        February 12, 2012 at 11:21 am |
      • jose hurtado

        porque dices países rebeldes ??????????? porque no se dejan pisotear por estados unidos que se creen los superiores del planeta ??"'y que solo piensan en sus intereses y no les importa lo demás países a menos que requieran algo de de un país en particular ( petroleo) como siempre

        February 22, 2012 at 7:38 am |
    • Lady Brisa

      Tu crees que los Cahvistas, Chavez y los hijos no se la pasan viajando y no con $500 al año? Chavez, sus hijos y sus ministros SON RICOS tienen CASAS en OTROS PAISES. EL hiho de CHAVEZ no VIVE en un apartament estudio. La hija ROSAINES viaja con los dolares que le da la gana. Las HIJAS FUERON a PARIS a ver a Madona. Dime eso NO ES BURGUESIA? ESO NO ES OLIGARQUIA? El ejemplo entra por la CASA. Cuando el COMANDANTE se TRATE con los mismos MEDICOS que el GRADUA, haga COLAS para COMPRAR GAS, LECHE, ACEITE, etc, se BAÑE con las 3 TOTUMAS, y VIVA la mitad del tiempo SIN LA LUZ como lo hacemos nosotros, entonces puedes OPINAR ACERCA DE COMPAR CASAS EN MIAMI.

      February 18, 2012 at 11:03 pm | Reply
    • better THAN you?

      if Chavez looses THEN I bet Venezuelans come here and teach you to write English better THAN you!

      February 19, 2012 at 10:30 am | Reply
  2. jhon

    don't under estiamte chavez is smater than obama you might see him talking about what he will do or intereston tv or live but other the hand he his playing a diffrent ball game

    February 10, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Reply
    • Chris

      No, Chavez is a paranoid, delusional little monkey, albeit a charismatic one. The problem is, much like Khameni in Iran, he's staked his entire platform on convincing everyone in his country that the United States is to blame for their personal problems. And just like in Iran, that veneer is starting to wear thin.

      February 10, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Yes, Chavez is – though controversial – very vocal. Like many autocrats who can't relinquish power, Chavez argues that he needs more time for Venezuela's socialist revolution to take root. He and the late Muammar Gaddafi were soul-mates and both saw themselves as advocates of Jean Jacques Rousseau's grassroots democracy.

      February 11, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Reply
  3. Brazil123

    Venezuela is a small country, with a small population, GDP etc... All their power comes from here, CNN and other newspapers, simply because you pay too much atention to him...

    As a brazilian, I think that´s its incredible how very small countries such as Venezuela can occupy all this space in the international media...

    If we create a map of global importance, Brazil, the 6th largest economy, 5th largest country in area and population would be as large as some unknown island in the pacific... On the other hand, Venezuela, a small and poor country, would be as large as Europe.

    Journalists should be more balanced.

    February 10, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Reply
    • Real Brazilian

      Dont be naive. Venezuela has the biggest oil company in south america...stop with this type of message, we americans (north, central and south) need to be united !!!!!

      February 10, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        Venezuela's oil reserves are assessed to be the largest in the world. Yet Chavez has poured the country's oil revenues down the drain during all these years in power. He criticised the church for neglecting the poor and the establishment for being predatory and corrupt. He even accused Bush of being behind a short-lived coup that saw him removed from office fro a few days in 2002. The Venezuelans should look for another Silva de Lula as Chavez' successor.

        February 11, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • cafp

      It sounds to me you are jealous of all this attention. Probably Brazil doesn't get all this attention because it's doing great.. Venezuela, on the other hand, an oil ex-superpower is doing worse and worse by the day. Don't worry too much about what they don't say about Brazil. It might be for a good reason.
      On a different noteI am Venezuelan and this is seriously the best article I have seen about Chavez at CNN ever! It accurately reflects the country's terrible realities.
      Please, it is important for the world to realize that Chavez is not the democratic man he pretends to be, and articles like this will help the world see that Arab countries are not the only ones with terrible dictatorships. It's in America's 'back yard'

      February 10, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Reply
    • Big Ego

      It is incredible how ignorance and overinflated self-importance can interact.

      February 10, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Reply
    • Chris

      Brazil doesn't get a lot of news coverage because it's pretty much awesome and ruled by a sane government which is of, for, and by the people.

      Venezuela gets a lot of media attention because Hugo Chavez is a loud-mouth and we like to laugh at the ridiculous things he says, like the suggestion that the CIA gave him cancer. That one made me laugh so hard it hurt.

      February 10, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Reply
    • Lucia

      well frankly, any country would be considered small if compared to brazil, but with near 30 million people I wouldn't call venezuela "small". And with the amount of oil it exports I wouldn't call it poor either, at least not in what concerns countries who are interested in having access to said oil. Are you really surprised? You should've realized by now bad news make for good news reporting. That you don't hear that much about Brazil is more a blessing than a curse. When Brazil declares itself the enemy of the most powerful country in America and spirals into politicized blood baths worthy of the 20th century dictatorships in latin america then you'll hear about it.

      February 10, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Reply
    • gnappi

      Brazil123, you are Carioca or Paulistano???

      February 12, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Reply
    • Brazilian2

      Every reply to this imbecile comment has been already said, but as another Brazilian, I also need to say that not all of us think like this. In fact, I wont deny most people here dont even have an opinion because they simply dont read news, but those guys need to stay quiet instead of being an attention w****.

      Summary: I disagree

      February 13, 2012 at 8:41 am | Reply
    • Venezolano 100%

      amigo, it's not our fault that Cnn and all the main media are interested in us, we are not indeed interested in getting on the spotlight of the international news, but if because you are " richer" and "bigger" you have to get more attention so be it, we don't really care about that execpt chavez. all the best luck for brazil !!

      February 17, 2012 at 8:41 am | Reply
    • VENEZUELAN ALL THE WAY

      Yes indeed, we are getting a lot off attention on American media. It is so because Chavez's ruling is a supporter of terrorist, drug lords and dictators across the entire world. Our wealth, which is not little, had been diverted into funding this worldwide web of anti-capitalists that are willing, and have demostrated, to kill inocent people any where just to make this point across. I feel sorry for my country, which has been too naive believing that chavez is a "MESIAS" of the poorest. Think twice before calling Venezuela a small country. We were for many years an example of progress and democracy to the entire continent, as it Brazil today. Maybe you guys learnt something from our past?

      February 17, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Reply
  4. jose

    CNN, es una compañia dedicada solamente a despotricar de los movimientos progresista en latinoamerica. Es terrible ver como hablan las peores porquerias de los venezolanos..Le tienen mucho odio al Presidente Chavez que a sido elegido tres veces como presidente y muy legalmente. Deben respetar al pueblo de Venezuela, este pais como en los EEUU se da el gobierno que quiere.La oposicion de Venezuela siempre lo que hizo fue robar, matar y desaparecer gente.El pueblo los conoce y no votara nuevamente por ellos. No volveran y la reina de Inglaterra tiene 60 años mandando y nadie lo critica y el pueblo ingles lo quiere y cual es el problema de que Chavez mande cuanto el pueblo quiera. Dejennos tranquilos hacer lo que estamos haciendo y que otros pueblos lo hagan en libertad.Venezuela es un pais pequeño pero se respeta y aqui estaremos esperando a los que quieran quitarnos la libertad que Bolivar nos dio.

    February 10, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Reply
    • Andres

      La reina de Inglaterra es una figura emblemática solamente, los ingleses eligen a su primer ministro. Se nota todo lo que Chavez a mejorado a Venezuela, verdad? que tipo tan ignorante. Bueno comunismo+ignorancia = Chavez.

      February 12, 2012 at 11:20 am | Reply
    • Questionkiddo

      "jose" ridículo! Se ve que te han lavado el cerebro... o trabajas para el gobierno de Chávez? La reina inglesa es sólo una figura simbólica, no tiene poder real... como dijo el otro comentador, los ingleses eligen al Primer Ministro.
      Elegido legalmente? O los venezolanos están ciegos y no ven que Chávez está destruyendo su país, o eso es un mentira.
      "Robando, matando, desapareciendo gente"? Qué no son ésas las especialidades del gobierno de Chávez?

      Por Dios, deja de ver los discursos de Chávez y sus oraciones a Bolívar y mejor ponte a analizar la situación real de tu país...

      February 15, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Reply
    • Pat

      Por gente como tu, murió el joven que lo atropelló la grúa del gobierno en Maracay. Pura Ignorancia y fanatismo bruto y estúpido.

      February 17, 2012 at 11:51 am | Reply
    • Pat

      Bueno, no conozco quien eres no puedo decir eso, pero cuando el fanatismo esta presente en las personas, esta clase de actos vergonzosos ocurren. ¿Y allí estas esperando a quién? ¿Quién te va a quitar la libertad?¿Que vas a hacer o cuales son tus planes si se puede saber? Lo repito, a personas como tu no me gustaría tenerlas cerca. Vamos comenzando a leer un poquito, si?

      February 17, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Reply
  5. Willians Cerven

    quiero un cambio para mi país... Venezuela en la sangre feliz noche.

    February 10, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Reply
  6. ederjony

    True democracy, not the cosmetic one created by Hugo Chavez in this part of South America. Hugo Chavez has always pretended to lead a revolution under an old fashion system that has done nothing but to deprive the people of plenty of rights.

    February 10, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Reply
  7. Juan Cristóbal Nagel

    "historically disorganized"...? Sir, we are holding a massive primary in which everyone has treated each other cordially, and through which a single challenger to Chavez is going to emerge. That is the definition of organized.

    February 10, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Reply
    • Cameron

      "Historically disorganized", yes. The author is saying that in the past there has not been organization, and is acknowledging that this primary is a very positive thing.

      February 13, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Reply
    • Terry

      I agree with you totally Juan. You no some people think they have all the answers to ALL the problems their in my Beautiful Venezuela.But guess what they don't.Lets just hope and pray that we can be victorious in Oct 2012 I hope so amigo.

      February 15, 2012 at 8:38 am | Reply
  8. Anne Usher

    Let´s get some facts in here. Chavez is not a dictator because he has been democratically elected throughout his terms in power. Two, Venezuela may have a small population relative to Brazil but it is the fourth largest petroleum producer in the world with vast dispartiies in the spread of wealth. Three, the Venezuelan opposition, including the gentleman likely to win the primary tomorrow, is consistently fielding candidates from the very families and economic interest groups which caused the problems that brought Chavez to power in the first place. Until the opposition produces genuine options for change, people will continue to vote for Chavez in order to prevent a return to the clientism and nepotism that preceded him.

    February 11, 2012 at 7:27 am | Reply
  9. James

    Chavez is hated by people like Zakaria and his corporate bosses because he stands up to US bullying and represents the interests of the poor majority in Venezuela. That's why he'll win another term.

    February 11, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Reply
    • JackRuby

      ...you must be a bought and paid for chavista...

      February 16, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Reply
  10. Oliver

    A few thoughts on the issue.

    1) Chavez, like Mugabe in Zimbabwe, started out with a nice thought. Let's give the poor (oppressed) people a chance in our country. Only their tactics have failed them both.

    2) Not thinking (enough?) about the time after his rule and not involving the reluctant opposition in the political dialogue in the
    country have made his politics seemingly one-sided and easy prey for the outside world crying "dictator!"

    3) Just like in the case of Syria, the outside world have been too hasty in turning their backs on the leaders in these countries, not involving the in discussion about current situation and/or the future. Don't you agree "advice" to a friend is easier to listen to than "shouts" at an enemy?

    4) The aim of US foreign policy (at least) since the days of Henry Kissinger has always been ONLY to uphold and
    advance the global leadership status of the country itself. Check your Kissinger, if in doubt.

    February 11, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Reply
  11. Ricko

    Many has opinion even living outside Venezuela. Be aware of the secret combinations worldwide; particullarly the United States of America and share your opinion with decency.
    Under God's power rely the future of Venezuela and the rest of the world!!. The only begotten and true leader to all nations will soon comes!!! That it is the promise!!!

    February 11, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Reply
  12. Andres

    Well, here in Colombia we will feel a lot safer. Chavez currently protects FARC and promotes terrorism against the Colombian government. He is a maniacal and delusional man, his last job was being a bartender... for crying out loud!!!!

    February 12, 2012 at 11:17 am | Reply
  13. ROBPREZ

    CHAVEZ IS A DICTATOR WHO HOLDS ON TO POWER USING ELECTORAL FROUD,TERRORISM ,ESTORTION AND VIOLENCE ,HE IS ALSO A TOOLON THE HANDS OF FIDEL CASTRO TO SPREAD HIS DOCTRIN ALL OVER LATINAMERICA ,IGNORE CHAVEZ AND YOU SOON WILL BE SORRY,YOU WILL HAVE ALL 34 COUTRIES TO WORRIE ABOUT ;

    February 12, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Reply
  14. CRojo

    Normally I would hold back on harsh criticism, but this piece is some of the worst garbage I have read in a long time.

    Over the course of his tenure, Chavez has accomplished the reduction in poverty and an improvement of living standards for millions of venezuelans. He has respected democratic norms and suffered much damage because he chooses only to combat his enemies within the letter of the law. He allows personal attacks such as this piece to be broadcast to his unwitting populace (and is criticised when he publishes counter-information... apparently the government is not allowed freedom of speech in the Western Liberal Model). He has respected democratic outcomes at every turn, even when they do not favour him (see the 2007 referendum, and the parliamentary elections last year), and has, for the most part won in elections always deemed free and fair by credible observers.

    And yet pieces like this are still published by people who either have a love for re-writing history that outclasses that of Goebbels, or are simply so blinkeredly ignorant that they believe this kind of crap and regurgitate it ad nauseam.

    There have been many problems during the Chavez era, including rising crime and an inability to lower inflation (though it has not been increased during the Chavez era, actually, it is a problem inherited from the neoliberalists), but it these are apparently too small problems for the anit-Chavistas to be content with.

    The writer of this piece should be ashamed.

    February 13, 2012 at 3:59 am | Reply
  15. Terry

    ok here it is,my scoop on the situation their in Venezuela.Look folks one of the main reasons that Mr.Chavez is and was able to take control of Venezuela is,because,all of the Presidents before him,did not care one bit about the poor people living their in Venezuela.They're only concerns was with the "rich" Venezuelans and thats it.The majority of the people in Venezuela don't have a education,and they are easily misled,do they really care about Mr. Chavez, no I don't thank so,but he does do something for them,even if we call it "Buying" they're votes. And if you live in a Country where you have nothing,even a little bit helps,and your not going to be so fast to "Bite" the hand that feeds you.If they truly want to end the Chavez era,then the opposition must pay close attention to the poor people who have nothing,except "Voting Power".I live in Venezuela,and yes it's sad to see such a beautiful country go down like it has in the past.But the people living their are the only ones that can change Venezuela.Not the people who left her and moved to richer places like " Miami,New York,San Francisco ect.

    February 15, 2012 at 8:18 am | Reply
  16. Terry

    I would like to say this to CRojo,I don't know what planet you are from,but you need to get in sync with reality,when it comes to Venezuela.Oh let me guess you must be one of the Arm Chair Quarter Backs that was lucky enough to leave the Beautiful Venezuela,and landed up living in Coral Gables Florida,or perhaps Doral Florida.How can you write this crapp.The worst thing that could happen to Venezuela is happening right now mi amigo o amiga..Get real please !!

    February 15, 2012 at 8:27 am | Reply
  17. nfrly

    he wouldn't be held up like che in cuba, what a sloppy line. he'd be held up like chavez. at least have the balls to say what you mean, which I'm sure was castro.

    February 15, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Reply
  18. JackRuby

    Fat-boy-huge-o is all but dead.....he is very bloated from the chemo-drugs and will not see the end of 2013 (and may not see the end of 2012). He has all but destroyed Venezuela. How do you unwind socialism? It is the same problem Greece is facing, but without the dictator. I visted the country nearly 20 years ago. Back then it had prioblems, but the work ethic was till alive and the country had vast resoureces. I do agree that Brazil will probably have a bigger role in the outcome than the U.S.

    February 16, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Reply
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