As Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is battling complications from his forth cancer surgery, more and more questions arise about what this means for the future of Venezuela and if there is any hope to strengthen the rocky relations between Venezuela and the United States. As a child, Chavez and his elder brother Adán were sent to live with their grandmother because their parents lived in poverty. Chavez started his career as a military officer before becoming the leader of the Fifth Republic Movement, and then went on to become leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Chavez is no stranger to controversy throughout his presidency which began in 1999. While Chavez recently won a new six-year term, evidence suggests that he will not be able to be sworn in on January 10 in Venezuela because he is recovering from cancer surgery in Cuba. This development has many of Chavez’s closest allies to remain tight lipped about future plans.
If indeed Chavez is unable to be sworn in on January 10, the speaker of the national assembly, Diosdado Cabello will temporarily assume power until a new election is held within 30 days. Cabello has a background in the military as a member of the armed forces. However, Chavez has said that he would like current vice president, Nicolás Maduro to be his successor.
Maduro started his career in politics by working as a bus driver and was eventually appointed as vice president by Chavez shortly after the latter won a new six-year term during the 2012 Venezuelan presidential election. This has led to the perception within the government of Venezuela that there will be division among Cabello’s circle and Maduro’s circle. Despite these speculations, both Cabello and Maduro affirm that they will not let differences get in the way of the present and future of Venezuela. In fact, Maduro has said in a statement, “We’ve sworn before commander Hugo Chavez, and we’ve ratified the oath today before commander Chavez, that we’re going to be united, together with our people, with greatest loyalty.” Cabello has also insisted that the Venezuelan people have nothing to worry about when he said, “We aren’t going to betray the nation” and “we Chavistas are very clear on what we will do.” This certainly shows that Cabello and Maduro are trying to put their best foot forward in this uncertain time.
Foreign policy analysts believe that if he is unable to be sworn in, this provides a great time for Venezuela and United States to work out differences they may have had in the past. The relationship between Venezuela and the United States has been shaky to say the least during Chavez’s tenure. It can be seen that Chavez’s attitude toward the United States is a series of contradictions. In the past, Chavez has gone on to call former U.S. president George W. Bush “dumb” and challenged the United States to put Venezuela on the list of countries that supports terrorism. However, he also offered the United States aid and supplies after Hurricane Katrina.
In another contradiction, Chavez condemned President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, while saying that if he could he would have voted for Obama in the 2012 presidential election. However, because Chavez is facing ongoing health issues, many think that this could open the door for better U.S.-Venezuelan relations. Recently, reports have surfaced that contacts have been made between U.S. and Venezuelan diplomats in regard to improving relations between the two nations if Chavez were to die. In response to this, vice president Maduro has said that Chavez himself authorized this contact and contact was not made by the diplomats to seek improved relations if Chavez were to pass away like the report suggests. This has led to further strain between the U.S. and Venezuela because vice president Maduro suggest that the U.S. is manipulating reports and trying to take advantage of relations while Chavez is in bad health.
Whether or not the United States and Venezuela will improve relations is yet to be seen and only time will tell if the two countries will look past their differences. However, if the tenure of Chavez as president of Venezuela is truly over, now is as good a time as any to forge a relationship between both nations that is not marred by hostility and accusations from both sides.