Chavismo after Chavez

Venezuela's United Socialist Party is already facing a succession battle between two prospective successors to Hugo Chavez: Nicolas Maduro, an avowed communist and close friend of Cuba, and Diosdado Cabello, a former military official with ties to the country's business community. Whichever man wins, he will have to remember that Chavez has skillfully relied on a mix of both strategies to win the love of his people strident anti-americanism and largess for the poor on the one hand, and kickbacks to big business and billions of dollars in oil sales to the United States on the other writes JAVIER CORRALES

These days, the Venezuelan government is busy preparing for the re-inauguration of the country's beloved president, Hugo Chavez, and also for his funeral. Ch‡vez, who has been in office for 14 years, was re-elected for a third time in October 2012. He is scheduled to take the oath of office once more on January 10. But Chavez has been sick with an undisclosed form of cancer since at least 2011 and, after months of press releases that said he was getting better by the day, the government announced on December 30 that new complications had emerged during the leader's fourth surgery in Havana. Ch‡vez, still in Cuba and presumably still alive, might not make it back for his swearing-in ceremony.

Venezuela's constitution offers some guidance on what to do. If the president dies, the vice president (in this case, Nicol‡s Maduro, an avowed communist) will take office. He will call a new election within 30 days. If Ch‡vez survives but cannot attend the inauguration, most jurists agree that the president of the National Assembly (Diosdado Cabello, who will presumably be reelected to that post in a vote on January 5) will take power. If the government then rules that the president-elect is only "temporarily absent," Cabello will govern for 90 days, which will be renewable for 90 more. If it instead declares the president-elect to be "permanently absent," Cabello would be constitutionally obligated to call an early election.

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