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Chavismo without Chavez

Venezuela is debating its political future as President Hugo Chavez arrives in Cuba for a fourth cancer operation.
Last modified: 11 Dec 2012 02:03
Chavez supporters praying for his health in Caracas hold a sign saying "Keep going, Commander!" [Reuters]

How to keep a political movement from coming to an end when its founder and main figure dies? The question has been raised as Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has to undergo another cancer operation. For the first time, he has opened the game so that one of his closest aides, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, succeeds him should he become incapacitated.

Even though Chavez may not die anytime soon, the fact that he has already chosen his successor has an enormous impact in Venezuela where until now a future without Chavez seemed unconceivable for many of his followers.

Georgina Sequeira says that she hasn’t been able to sleep since Chavez announced his cancer relapse. “I am a Venezuelan who voted for one leader voted for Hugo Chavez, but only for him. Not for his brother or anyone else. If he tells us we need to support Nicolas Maduro then we will do anything so he can rest and recover. But we want him, and for now nobody else is an option”, she told me

For the first time Venezuela is seriously debating its political future without the controversial president who arrived in Havana on Monday to undergo his fourth surgery to treat his cancer.

“The fact that President Chavez has informed the public of his risk and sets up a stage where he won’t be here, and shows his backing for a political figure that has accompanied him for many years, shows us a man that is thinking of a political project that is not around his personality but around values”, political analyst Nicmer Evans told me.

I am Argentinean and I have always said that for me, Hugo Chavez is the Venezuelan Juan Peron. Not that he has many things in common ideologically with the former Argentine president, but both of them have revolutionised their countries by empowering the poor in such a way that it seems difficult to think of someone trying to undo many of the things they have achieved. This doesn’t mean that their leadership or policies where unflawed. But just like Peron, Chavez has taught his people that they have rights and a voice and it seems difficult to believe that those who have benefitted under his government will allow that anyone takes away what they have received. There is no going back.

Hugo Chavez calls himself a socialist. As an Argentine I am still not sure what type of ideology Peron had. Some believe he was a left-wing leader while others call him a right-wing populist. Whatever he was, he drew a line in Argentine society, strengthened the labour unions and his movement has become so powerful that the Peronist party is still the one that decides an election in Argentina. More than that, President Cristina Kirchner is supposed to be a Peronist but the main opposition to her government is also from the Peronist Party. So Argentina is Peronista all the way.

What will happen to Venezuela without Chavez? Many here say that the opposition shouldn’t get their hopes up just yet.

“The last political demonstrations and the elections show that the Chavismo is not a movement but a structure and it's already deeply rooted in society," Trino Marquez, another analyst in Caracas, told me. "They can resolve their issues. The opposition should be careful in believing that the Chavismo is over if Chavez dies.”

Unlike Juan Peron, Hugo Chavez has named a political successor and even though he may not have Chavez's charisma and will probably have to go through several political tests, for many Maduro is the right man for the difficult task ahead. That is of course, if something happens to Chavez. His supporters here in Caracas say that they are not ready for a transition just yet and while they continue to debate their alternatives, for now they continue to hope that their president will come back in good health.