Editor’s Note: Wikistrat recently concluded a 10-day simulation exploring possible pathways of a post-Chavez Venezuela. The following simulation conclusions are provided by Wikistrat Contributing Analyst Alfredo Montufar-Helu.
President Hugo Chavez, who has governed Venezuela since 1999, is currently being treated for cancer, and many believe he is likely to pass away. Such an event would have severe consequences both within and outside Venezuela, as the country’s political system and Latin America’s “Bolivarian” movement rely heavily on him. Recognizing this, over 50 Wikistrat analysts cooperated in developing 16 of the most probable scenarios that could materialize after Chavez’s death.
Though each of these scenarios has its own particular dynamic, the analysts’ expectations were largely pessimistic. One of the cornerstone conclusions is that Chavez’s death would not imply in any regard a peaceful transition towards a more democratic style of government. Chavismo is deeply ingrained in Venezuela’s institutions and the incumbent PSUV is too strong for the opposition. Moreover, even if the opposition were able to succeed Chavez, its margin of action would be severely constrained by Chavistas and supporters of the outgoing regime.
But this does not mean that Chavistas would have it easy in a post-Chavez Venezuela. Overall, the sudden death of President Chavez would be followed by a certain degree of instability. Politically, PSUV factions could compete furiously to control Venezuela’s government. Furthermore, the two individuals who are more likely to succeed Chavez, i.e.: Vice President Nicolas Maduro and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, lack his charisma and popular support.
Economically, Venezuela’s dependence on oil revenue to finance populist programs, coupled with PDVSA’s deplorable state, could translate into an economic crisis which would certainly be followed by popular outcry, chaos and violence. If this were to happen, the government could respond by increasing its intervention in society (e.g. expanding the role of the military) and implementing more authoritarian policies, actions which would further damage Venezuela’s records on human rights protections. Yet, according to some analysts, the possibility of social instability could prompt a Chavista regime to behave more pragmatically and conduct several reforms in the energy sector.
Regarding Venezuela’s international panorama, analysts widely agreed that Chavez’s death would not bode well for the member states of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). For instance, the next Venezuelan government will likely pay more attention to the country’s domestic problems, rendering ALBA a second priority. This would also mean that cheap oil exports to these countries could diminish, which would clearly impact their finances. Consequently, nations such as Cuba would take action to secure their own interests.
Other countries such as China and Russia could be benefitted, as Venezuela’s next administration would look to inject more money into the country’s economy and the populist programs that sustain its legitimacy vis-à-vis the people. This could be achieved by selling larger contracts to exploit energy resources to these two countries. Some analysts fear, however, that this could render Venezuela a de facto satellite state of these powers. For their part, the Western powers would look to incentivize (without much success) a peaceful transition to democracy, but not because of “pure democratic love,” as these countries are also interested in Venezuela’s vast energy resources.
As the previous paragraphs imply, the futures of Venezuela and Latin America without Chavez are difficult to predict. Thus, it is no wonder that his weak health condition has been at the center of policy discussions. If he were to die in the following weeks or months, the repercussions would be far-fetched. By developing these scenarios, the Wikistrat community looks to provide valuable insights that can be of use for researchers, academics and, indeed, decision-makers in their search for plausible and successful responses to an uncertain and risky future.
Be sure to stay tuned for the simulation’s executive summary that will be available in the weeks ahead, here on Wikistrat’s blog.