In Venezuela, Will ‘Chavismo’ Last Without Hugo Chavez?

Editor’s note: In a collection of opinions by several experts in a PBS Newshour article on “Chavismo” after President Hugo Chavez’s death, Diana Negroponte looks at the responsibility Vice President Maduro has inherited and the future of U.S. relations with Venezuela.

“Chavismo” is based on the theory that an intrinsic relationship exists between the state and the citizen through the person of Hugo Chavez: he is both state and citizen. The state remains dedicated to advance the interests of its citizens and citizens commit to advancing the interests of the state. With the death of Hugo Chavez, who can provide the means to ensure this interlocking relationship between state and citizen?

Vice President Maduro inherited Chavez’s mantle and he understands the philosophy of Chavismo. With plentiful resources, Maduro could continue the intrinsic relationship. But without those resources — current economic problems will decrease disposable state expenditures — Maduro will have to borrow money. Who will bankroll him?

The Chinese National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) seeks to maintain the flow of Venezuelan crude and the stability of the Venezuelan government. Would the CNPC be willing to renegotiate its loans to ensure that both continued oil production and political stability continue? Probably. However, CNPC may impose limitations on Maduro’s use of that “borrowed money”. Maduro will have to accept a degree of austerity and further Chinese management and manpower in the Chinese housing, agriculture and energy projects. The nature of this “new reality” may be difficult for the Venezuelans to accept.

We should, therefore, expect Maduro to face growing domestic restlessness as he fails to deliver the promises of Chavismo. Maduro will seek to shift the blame onto others, including the United States. I anticipate deteriorating relations with Washington and raucous calls for the Bolivarian Alliance, known by its Spanish acronym ALBA, to intensify its anti-Yankee rhetoric. U.S. companies may find increasing restrictions on their activities, if not court cases such as the Chevron case in Ecuador. In the end, without sufficient resources ALBA will wither and Maduro will be a one-term president.

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