Hugo Chavez, the bombastic socialist strongman who rules Venezuela, is dying. Sitting on a hospital bed in distant Cuba, the recently re-elected President of Venezuela is too ill to attend his own inauguration. Chavez, who has a reputation for being a cancer to human rights and free markets, has spent his rule creating a cult of personality around himself in Venezuela. His death will leave a void that creates a great amount of chaos in the oil-rich country.
Fueled by graft and drugs, enforced by intimidation, and commanded by powerful rhetoric and propaganda, Chavez's "Bolivarian Revolution" has guided Venezuela for 14 years. He personally crafted the Venezuelan constitution to reinforce his own power while weakening the power of both his deputies and of the opposition. If he were to die before he was inaugurated, power would pass to the head of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, until an election was held in 30 days. If he were to die after he was inaugurated, power would pass to his vice president, Nicolas Maduro, until an election was held in 30 days.
This is problematic today as both Maduro and Cabello represent different factions within Chavez's leftist movement. Maduro has been hand-picked by Chavez as his successor. The vice president and former foreign minister is seen as a loyal servant to Chavez's teachers in Havana, the Castro brothers, but lacks the charisma of the explosive idealogue. Maduro is a more practical man, and a corrupt one, seen by the United States as tainted by the drug trade, but he holds ill will towards Cuba and the Castros due to previous power struggles with them in Chavez's palace. Both Maduro and Cabello are currently positioning themselves to seize power when Chavez dies.
The reason that Chavez's constitution allows for only 30 days to hold an election is because he thought this would ensure that the opposition does not have enough time to mount a successful campaign against his regime. This constitutional roadblock failed to expect the rise of Henrique Capriles Radonski, the opposition leader who came within ten points of knocking the socialist leader from power in the recent Venezuelan election. If a post-Chavez election were held, it is possible that the opposition may be able to rally around Capriles and topple the regime. For their part, Capriles and the opposition are expressing anger about the secrecy surrounding Chavez's health right now.
The success of the opposition in Chavez's death would depend greatly on whether or not Chavez's regime would be able to unite behind one successor. While unlikely that they would be able to do so, it is very possible. Furthermore, Chavez is the West's single greatest supporter of the world's tyrants, and they will work to try keep his movement in power. China and Russia both have a lot of money invested in Chavez's regime, as does Chavez's dear friend, mass murderer Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Iran relies on Chavez in order to avoid international sanctions on its nuclear program and to assist in further funding of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups. If a less-dictatorial, less-combative and more U.S.-friendly government were to arise, the world's bad guys would lose a lot of clout in the Western hemisphere.
When Hugo Chavez dies, there will be chaos in Venezuela. The nation could become unstable, oil prices may rise, drugs traffickers would struggle to protect themselves, and international human rights abusers, led by the Castro brothers, would fight to maintain their influence in Caracas. It will be rocky - but, so long as the United States and their allies do not grant undue legitimacy to Chavez's designated heirs, and so long as the opposition is able to rally behind Capriles, there is hope for Venezuela. The nation may finally be able to move beyond Chavez's megolomania and begin the work of restoring freedoms to its people and stability to its economy. With Chavez gone, Venezuela can move away from being regarded as a nation that supports narcocriminals, terrorists, and human rights abusers to a nation that promotes peace, prosperity, and goodwill towards all nations. When Chavez dies, his criminal regime may fall and Venezuelans can finally rebuild their country. There is hope.