The Economist’s Venezuela correspondent put out an informative video on the succession of the next possible leader in Venezuela, that can be found here. I also encourage everyone to read the last few posts on FPA’s Latin America blog for information on Venezuela as well. The consensus among many experts in the region is that Hugo Chavez will likely no longer be the force of the left in the region and that a constitutional dilemma will consume much of Venezuela’s political discussion in 2013. With Chavismo mirroring Che’vismo, Hugo Chavez had used his time in power to export ideas of the left within Latin America and sought to create strong ties with countries abroad, not so much for their social ideals, but for their anti-American stance. Venezuela has been pulled away from relations with some of its neighbors and with the U.S. Chavez and the U.S. have had broken relations since he came into power, with Chavez and his support for factions in Colombia that created a large fracture in relations. In addition, his open support for Iran and some Arab nations that have direct conflict with the U.S. has put Venezuela on watch by American officials that regard any support for Iran and its nuclear program as a priority one foreign policy threat. Since the first years of Chavez, Venezuela has built up its military with the most advanced weaponry in the region as a response.
The ongoing conflict in Syria has been treated very differently from the one in Libya after the Arab Spring movement took hold in the region. The lack of support for Syria’s government might have to do with the lack of trade and ties between Syria and many European countries and the U.S. Syrian oil does not have a large effect on major industrialised countries, so it has received less initial attention than Libya, who supplies much of the oil and gas production for some European countries. Another theory is that Syria’s ties with Iran have made assistance for Syria’s government a quagmire for many foreign policy experts in the West. While rebel forces in Syria are strongly laced with Al Qaeda, Syria’s secular government is seen as closely tied with Iran’s government and is a major source of conflict in the region. For tying itself to Iran, even though Syria’s government has little in common with the Iranian government, it has shut out any support its government might have had if it had taken a neutral position in the region.
The loss of Chavez might have its greatest effect on leftist ideals in the region. The popularity of Hugo Chavez might have been stronger than his reforms, and when populism dominates socialism, the risk of policy change becomes great when the popular figure is no longer available as the tip of the spear to push the movement beyond its initial revolution. For Venezuela’s foreign policy, it was likely Chavez himself that pushed for intervention in Colombia and it was Chavez who sought to create strong ties with Iran. While Venezuela’s new leaders will still maintain ties to Iran, the brotherhood among populists that brought Chavez so close to a conflict so far away may be tamed down, especially if the conflict in the Middle East becomes hot. Without Chavez, oil exports will not be a source of funds for housing for the poor, but simply a source of revenue that will be heavily scrutinized by the opposition. Pressure on Venezuela’s left will have pressure brought on it indeed, but unbearable pressure would come with continued strong ties to countries like Iran and the security threats that peak the gaze of American officials in its wake. With no Fidel in Venezuela to take the reigns of Chavismo, a more passive left and its supporters will remain, albeit for a long time.