U.S. can’t stay quiet over Chavez absence
January 11th, 2013
05:27 PM ET

U.S. can’t stay quiet over Chavez absence

By Eric Farnsworth, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Eric Farnsworth is vice president of the Council of the Americas and the Americas Society. The views expressed are his own.

Remember the climactic scene in The Sound of Music when the von Trapp family fails to appear on stage to receive the top prize even as the band repeatedly introduces their entrance? It’s a little like the spectacle awaiting Venezuelans now that Hugo Chavez has missed his own presidential inauguration under the terms of the recent constitution that he himself instituted.

If he is unable to carry out his duties, Venezuela’s constitution requires another election within 30 days. Recovering from cancer – or not – in Havana, a number of alternatives have been floated by Chavez allies that would allow him to remain as president until such time or scenario as he could be physically sworn-in. Better not cue the band just yet.

Even so, whether Chavez eventually recovers and returns home to govern, transition is underway as the hemisphere contemplates life without him. For the 20 years since he first attempted to gain the Venezuelan presidency by force, and the 14 years since he was first elected, Chavez has played an outsized role in hemispheric affairs. His death or permanent incapacitation will be a watershed.  For Latin America, transition will offer the opportunity for meaningful contributions to democracy based on the demands for active partnership that animated the most recent Summit of the Americas in Colombia.

Chavez remains intensely popular with well over half of the Venezuelan population, and his political movement is entrenched.  There will be no return to the days pre-Chavez. Even his opponents took pains before the last presidential election, on October 7, 2012 to convince voters that if opposition candidate Henrique Capriles had been elected, he would have respected the gains of the Bolivarian revolution.

More from CNN: Waiting for post-Chavez Venezuela

At issue are the constitutional rules of the game, in which the hemisphere put great store during political crises in Honduras in 2009 and in Paraguay last year. While it is manifestly in the U.S. interest that constitutional democracy in Venezuela be strengthened, it is also consistent with hemispheric principles and the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which Chavez signed in 2001.

It should not be possible in today’s Latin America, for example, to designate a presidential successor without an election or to change mandated electoral requirements as may be political expedient.

This is an important test for the regional partnership that hemispheric nations have demanded, and careful, high-level diplomacy is required. For its part, beyond general statements supporting free and fair elections in Venezuela, the United States should be working assiduously to build regional support for constitutional democracy. By publicly supporting transition consistent with Venezuela’s own constitution, leaders would take a stand for democracy, support institutions over individuals, establish boundaries for the transition, and show true partnership in pursuit of a common outcome.

Of course, there is no guarantee that Brazil, in particular, would sign on to such an approach, although Brasilia’s claim to hemispheric leadership would then be undercut. Even so, the effort should go forward with willing partners.

This initiative may require significant diplomatic lifting from Washington, at a time when other foreign and domestic policy issues clearly predominate. The impact on hemispheric affairs would be dramatic, however, if the foreign ministers of the United States, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Mexico, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, and others stood together physically or at least rhetorically to support the democratic process and institutions in Venezuela. It would be analogous to then-Secretary of State James Baker and then-Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze jointly rejecting Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, thus laying the foundation for the subsequent international response.

The United States cannot remain mute given the principles and interests at stake in Venezuela. But neither will Washington be effective if it attempts to move forward alone. Partnership must be active, not passive, both for the United States and for the other nations of the Americas. Support for constitutional democracy in Venezuela, for the inauguration and beyond, demands a robust, regional approach.

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Topics: Latin America • Venezuela

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soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. jacome

    bravo on this comment.

    January 11, 2013 at 6:27 pm | Reply
  2. rightospeak

    What a spin ! Leave the poor guy alone. He has cancer. Unless you had it, like I had, you do not understand life at all. The people of Venezuela will manage and Chavez put people in charge-so what is all this nonsense ? We do not like him bacause he disagrees with us ? We buy his oil .

    January 12, 2013 at 8:26 am | Reply
    • MMeteer

      Rightospeak, i'm sorry you had to experience cancer and congratulations on your survival. It is obvious you are very ignorant about who Cavez is and how he is raping the Venezuelan people and country.

      January 13, 2013 at 5:55 pm | Reply
      • Sean

        Like Bush?

        January 22, 2013 at 11:21 am |
  3. george thorn

    There is an elected vice president.

    January 12, 2013 at 4:01 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Indeed, Nicolas Maduro is said to be friendly, jovial and open to dialogue. He doesn't seem to share this anti-American sentiment that Chavez nourished. Obama should focus on him.
      Should Chavez die or be incapacitated, there will be new elections. Cabello, who is not at all popular among the opposition and within his own party, wouldn't stand a chance to be elected. So either Capriles or Maduro would take over.

      January 12, 2013 at 6:17 pm | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        As a matter of fact, it was highly selfish and irresponsible of Chavez to run for election in October 2102, given the diagnose of cancer in June 2011. He had managed to dupe his voters, that led to his reelection, despite the fear that he might not have the full capacity to govern the country.

        January 12, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
    • Ignorance is not bliss

      The Venezuelan VP was NOT elected. He was appointed by Chavez as he was to depart for his final trip to Cuba. Madura is a puppet of the Castro regieme.

      January 13, 2013 at 6:02 pm | Reply
    • Ignorance is not bliss

      The Venezuelan VP was NOT elected. He was appointed by Chavez as he was to depart for his final trip to Cuba. Madura is a puppet of the Castro regime.

      January 13, 2013 at 6:02 pm | Reply
  4. americaninparis

    Fareed,
    Did I hear you correctly just now? When you said that Venezuela is the only petro-state to suffer from power outages?

    I'm sure the inhabitants of Chad and Nigeria will be relieved to hear that. ;-)

    January 13, 2013 at 7:44 am | Reply
  5. JFVEN1958

    Venezuela has become the hidding place for ALL CRIMINALS AND EXTREME COMUNISTS IN THE WORLD FROM DRUG TRAFFIC MONEY LAUNDERING, IRANIANS ARE GETTING URANIUM AND BUILDING GUNS,BELLORUSSIAN MAFIA TERRORIST ETC ETC ETC; THE PEOPLE IN POWER IN VENEZUELA HAVE USED THE EXCUSE OF HELPING THE POOR WHICH THEY HAVE !! BUT AT THE SAME TIME ADOCTRINATING THEM (BY EXTORTION) THAT XXI CENTURY COMUNIST IS THE ONLY WAY TO LIVE. CUBA IS ORQUESTRATING THE SPREADING OF THE "REVOLUTION" FINANCED BY VENEZUELAN OIL. HUMAN RIGHT VIOLATIONS NO LAW 21000 PEOPLE DEAD YEARLY AT GUN POINT AND AN EXTREME! ANTI AMERICAN! POLICY. IF THE US HAS LEARN SOMETHING ABOUT CUBA IS THAT THEY WILL NOT STOP AT ANYTHING (MISIL CRISIS) VENEZUELA IS A MODERN VERSION OF WHAT FIDEL TRIED TO TO FOR YEARS. THE US HAS TO KEEP A VERY CLOSE EYE ON WHAT IS GOING ON AND WHAT WILL HAPPEN NOW THAT THEY ARE RUNNING OUT ON MONEY AND 'CIVILLIZED' OPTIONS. IT WILL BE A "BAD" END FOR THE VENEZUELANS NO MATTER WHAT!!

    January 13, 2013 at 4:57 pm | Reply
  6. Arald Jean-Charles

    Hi Fareed,
    Usually your analysis is forward thinking. However in the case of Cuba, you mention that Venezuela would pull out his doctors from Venezuela if the oil that Chavez gives them dries up. Wrong! Cuba is in the process of letting a big chunk of their workforce go (to work) abroad. They just relaxed on the visa requirements for Cubans to travel abroad. My personal analysis is as follows. This move will diminish unemployment in Cuba ( thereby releasing social pressure), and the Cuban expatriated would be a source of foreign currency ( mainly dollars ). By the way there is a bunch of Cuban doctors in Haiti after the big earthquake, I don't see the Cuban government in a rush to pull them out.

    January 14, 2013 at 4:20 am | Reply
  7. MartinP

    A very good proposal. I like thisidea very much.

    January 17, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Reply

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