The authoritarian president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, is dead at 58 years old after battling cancer for the last two years. Chavez will be remembered for his incessant attacks on private property rights, free enterprise, and freedom of the press. Although Chavez claimed to care for the poor, his policies directly caused a flight of capital from Venezuela, skyrocketing inflation, crumbling currency, and shortage of goods. The fear created by his failure to respect the rights of private enterprise through arbitrary expropriation will impact economic growth into the future. In addition to devastating economic policies, Chavez chose to forge relationships with dictatorial regimes in Cuba and Iran.
Like other failed socialist leaders of the past, Chavez's strong personality and mastery of rhetoric allowed him to capture the hearts and minds of citizens. With Chavez gone, Venezuela is a crossroads between socialism and freedom. Before his death, Chavez selected Vice President Nicolas Maduro to succeed him. Although a skilled bureaucrat, Maduro lacks the "charm" exuded by Chavez.
Although Maduro is the frontrunner to earn the nomination of Chavez’s United Socialist Party, Henrique Capriles will likely mount a strong challenge as the nominee of the Unified Democratic Panel. As governor of Miranda, Capriles has proven to be a capable leader. In 2012, Capriles captured an impressive 45% of the vote against Chavez. If elected, Capriles’ pro-business inclinations and aversion to Iran would offer Venezuela a reprieve from the isolation and economic chaos of the Chavez years.