Hugo Chavez should be officially sworn into office on January 10. But with Chavez’s advanced cancer and his recently announced “complications,” it is unclear who will lead the country in 2013. Here is a brief primer.
As Tim Padgett recently argued, Venezuela’s Bolivarian constitution provides a “murky map” on matters of incapacity and succession. The most relevant part is found in Article 233: “When an elected President becomes permanently unavailable to serve prior to his inauguration, a new election … shall be held within 30 consecutive days.” Permanently is causing some anxiety in Venezuela, as noted in this piece on Time.com.
Now, if Chavez dies before January 10, then a new presidential election will be held 30 days later. The National Assembly President will govern in the interim. The election would almost certainly pit Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s vice president, against Henrique Capriles, the man Chavez defeated for the presidency in October of 2012. I haven’t come across any particularly persuasive analysis of why Maduro or Capriles is destined to come out the victor. It seems reasonable to forecast a close contest with Maduro inheriting the entire Chavista political bloc and a sympathy vote while Capriles enjoys the support of a coherent opposition.
If Venezuela’s domestic politics are hazy, the international ramifications are more certain. In large part, this is because the hemisphere already lives in a post-Chavez era. Cuba is undergoing economic liberalization. Evo Morales, perhaps Latin America’s most anti-capitalist president, recently announced a new round of nationalizations; but last year Bolivia also floated its first international bond in 90 years. Only Argentina, or “Argenzuela” as Marie Metz recently pointed out on this blog, has responded to the decline in Chavez’s subsidization of allies by consistently alienating foreign investment. Meanwhile, the United States has become impressively insulated from tumult in Latin America’s largest oil producer, thanks in no small part to its own domestic energy revolution.