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Hugo Chavez Death Watch: If the Venezuela President Dies, Who Will Replace Him?

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has named his heir. The man is Nicolás Maduro, probably his most trusted and loyal follower. A former union leader, Maduro escalated to National Assembly president, then to chancellor of the Republic, and today he currenly serves as Chávez's vice president, second in the line of succession.

As the Associated Press reports, the Venezuelan constitution, in its article 233, establishes that, if an acting president dies, or is declared incapacitated, the vice president is sworn as interim president. If a president-elect dies or is declared incapacitated and unable to be sworn in, the National Assembly president would temporarily take charge of the government. In both cases a new presidential vote must be called within 30 days.

Here is the weird part: Chávez is both the acting president and the president-elect, and the constitution does not specify what to do in this case because it was first drafted assuming that reelection was not an option, until that was changed by a national referendum in 2009. This means that it depends on an arbitrary interpretation of the constitution whether the successor in line is the vice president or the National Assembly president. Venezuela's supreme court is subordinated to Chávez will, but if he dies before he is sworn in January, the justices are free to decide which interpretation holds, and that will depend on which political actor is more powerful.

If vice president Maduro is Chávez most trusted acolyte, but he is not the regime's most powerful man. That would be National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, a former military friend of Chávez since their days in the academy. He is the leader of the military, one of the main drug trafficking operators in the country, and he is among the wealthiest man in Venezuela. In contrast, Maduro is the natural successor to the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela): he is a civilian, a steadfast socialist and a close friend with Cuba’s Castros.

Cabello has no close ties with Cuba, and many doubt if he is a sincere socialist at all. His military coalition is begrudged at the Cuban intervention in Venezuela, whereas Maduro represents the far left wing of chavismo, and one of Cuba’s closest allies.

Many fear that Chávez' near demise might unchain civil and military unrest. The echelon between these two factions is the supreme leader, and once he is gone, there is little we can know about what will happen.

Meanwhile the opposition is preparing for the upcoming states elections this Sunday, and many speculate in the media the possibility of launching Henrique Capriles Radonski one more time if presidential elections are called early next year. Given his exhaustive campaign, he is the best chance the opposition has, but there is a growing discontent in the electorate and social networks with the opposition leaders, as they cling to the status quo, and do not express all the tension and emotions gathering around this storm.

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