Latin America again on the move

One of the disappointing aspects of recent years in Latin America, has been the division wrought by the late Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, with his Alba grouping drawing in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, against the market economy nations of Colombia and Chile.

His recent death from cancer has left a charismatic void, not only at the top of Venezuela, but also of the Alba grouping itself. The election result in Venezuela underlines this.

Whereas the pundits assumed that the Chavez legacy, hyped up by his anointed successor, would carry Nicolas Maduro to a clear victory, the election resulted effectively in a dead-heat, with Maduro only 1.6% ahead on the preliminary returns, and his rival, Henrique Capriles, has demanded a manual recount. TheVenezuelan regime has been quick to reject this, and is equally quick to arrange the formal swearing-in, now to take place on Friday. This has left a bitter legacy, with unrest the outcome.

Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s nominated candidate, is a former bus driver and trade union leader, who successively became Chavez’s Foreign Minister, and Vice President. He has been acting President since the latter’s death. With roots in communism, his rhetoric has been nationalist, and loyally anti-american.

He will be confirmed in office with a term running to 2019. He has massive challenges, with a rapidly devaluing local currency, high inflation, food shortages and electricity blackouts. Chavez’s mishandling of the economy and the Venezuelan oil industry, has led to ever increasing reliance on the latter for revenue, at a time of falling production added to oil price falls in the wider world. Chavez’s commitments to subsidise the Cuban economy and other foreign governments, has added to the problem, and indeed damaged his popularity.

Maduro not only faces a rejuvenated and effective opposition in Henrique Capriles, but also opposition within his own party. Diosdado Cabello, President of the National Assembly, has openly expressed his unease at Maduro’s performance.

Will Maduro last? The cards are stacked against him. The accelerating deterioration of the Venezuelan economy, and of internal security, makes it likely that he is a mere stepping stone in the path of change. The situation is very fluid, and open to change. What change, to repression or to an open economy, is the question.

Jacques Arnold was the Member of Parliament for Gravesham in Kent for ten years. He is now a consultant and lecturer on Latin American Affairs

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