Rumors are rife that Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez’ cancer will force his resignation before his January inauguration, throwing Venezuelan and regional politics into tumult and, in the prediction of the managing director of the global investment firm Jefferies, a Wall Street investment house, “Regime change has probably entered into a countdown phase.”
Western investors, the according to Reuters, have increasingly shunned Venezuela under Chavez, “giving companies from China, Russia, Iran, Belarus and other allies a chance to grab footholds.” News of the cancer sparked an immediate rally in Venezuelan bonds.
Chavez was re-elected to a six-year term on October 7, by a 55-44 percent margin over a future likely contender Henrique Capriles. Another term in office would have deepened Chavez' democratic socialist revolution and his close ties with Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina and other countries from the Caribbean to Brazil. Cuba, for example, depends on subsidized deliveries of Venezuelan oil in exchange for medical and technical assistance to Caracas. The demise of Chavez’ foreign policy would destabilize his bloc of allies and be welcomed by Western corporations and militaries.
The political fight is far from over, however. Chavez has urged his supporters to vote for his foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, as the presidential candidate should Chavez be unable to persevere. In Chavez’ absence, a new election would be called in March or April. In past elections, Chavez’ presence on the ballot has brought an additional 5-10 percent voter difference, and those voters could turn out emotionally in historic numbers to protect his Bolivarian legacy.
A Capriles campaign might focus on crime and domestic issues while trying to downplay foreign policy controversies and links to the US or traditional oligarchs.