#ElmundoestaconChavez. When the news broke on Sunday that Hugo Chavez the charismatic president of Venezuela was temporarily stepping down from office to undergo radical cancer treatment in Cuba alarm bells went off. And although his fourth surgery seems to have gone relatively well the nation is justifiably worried. Chavez was just re-elected in October to another 6 year term by a wide margin and his popularity remains incredibly high. However with elections in 23 states on Sunday and a potential power struggle amongst elites in his government should he step down permanently Venezuelan politics could see a radical shift in the coming months. However, the biggest question hanging over the region isn’t simply what happens to Venezuela if Chavez is gone for good, but who in the region will stand up encroaching power grabs by the United States.
When Chavez came to power in Venezuela in 1999 he already has the resume of charismatic leader. He had been born into poverty and grew up desperately seeking to change the oligarchy that squandered the wealth of South America’s most oil rich nation. After a failed coup attempt and two years in prison he ran for office and the rest has been history. In a stark contrast to the neo-con policies of most other South and Central American nations Chavez Socialist party has openly nationalized businesses deemed unfair to labor, used vast oil profits to lift people out of poverty and given generously to other nations across the world for humanitarian aid.
However Chavez biggest impact has really been in establishing Venezuela as a real power player in South America when facing the United States. He openly criticized George W. Bush and his wars in the Middle East. He famously tried to play Barack Obama at the Summit of the Americas in 2009 and has relentlessly criticized White House actions in South America. Chavez stands as essentially the only voice in South America to stand against American businesses policies of using the lower hemisphere as a cheap source of labor and a petri dish for environmentally dangerous mining and labor practices. While his chosen successor, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, is popular with the base, he can’t possibly match the international charisma of Chavez. There aren’t many presidents popular enough to host their own television shows where they sing and dance and drop policy knowledge. Furthermore National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello also has designs on power and despite Chavez chosen successor there is likely to be a fight for power is a retiring Chavez forces the nation into constitutionally mandated election within 30 days.
Experts say that based on public announcements by Chavez it is unlikely he can fully recover from the type of cancer that he has. Unfortunately, sooner rather than later Venezuela will likely be thrown into political chaos. One of the few powerful leftist voices in the South, not to mention one of the most generous and Democratic OPEC nations in the world will fall silent on the national stage. For all of his flaws, we should hope that Chavez recovers the alternatives for labor, regional stability and the economy of the Western hemisphere may depend on it.
DR. JASON JOHNSON, Politic365 Chief Political Correspondent, is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College in Ohio and author of the book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell. You can read more at www.drjasonjohnson.com or follow him on Twitter @Drjasonjohnson