What's next? Chavez's death leaves many questions

CNN Reports Thousands of Venezuelans were expected to line the streets when Hugo Chavez’s remains are taken from the military hospital where he died to the Fuerte Tiuna Military Academy in Caracas. chavesPresidents arrived in the country for the funeral procession, including Uruguay’s Jose Mujica, Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner and Bolivia’s Evo Morales. The country has declared seven days of mourning, closed schools for the rest of the week and deployed armed forces to “guarantee peace.” The death of the longtime charismatic but controversial leader Tuesday leaves many unanswered questions that Venezuela and the world must now grapple with. Who is expected to succeed Chavez? In the short term, Vice President Nicolas Maduro will take over as president of Venezuela until an election is held. He is Chavez’s hand-picked successor and delivered the news to the country of the longtime leader’s death. Maduro, 50, has long been a high-profile face in Chavez’s administration. He rose from a career as a bus driver in Caracas to Chavez’s inner circle. What is Maduro’s reputation? Chavez minced no words in his support of Maduro. “I ask this of you from my heart,” Chavez told a crowd in December about Maduro. “He is one of the young leaders with the greatest ability to continue, if I cannot.” But other opinions are mixed. Maduro has been Venezuela’s vice president and foreign minister and has been the recent author of some the country’s most radical policies, said Javier Corrales, a professor of political science at Amherst College in Massachusetts. “But he also has been behind some of the most pragmatic and conciliatory decisions, including the turnaround in relations with Colombia,” Corrales said. An election will be called within 30 days, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said Tuesday. Though Chavez has held a tight grip on his presidency for 14 years, there is an opposition movement in Venezuela. A coalition between former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski and a group called the Democratic Unity Roundtable has made the country’s opposition the strongest it has ever been, some analysts say. But, says Carl Meacham of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the opposition may still not be strong enough. “Capriles’ 11-point defeat in October’s presidential election, coupled with Chavez’s allies winning 20 of 23 gubernatorial elections in December, underscores the fact that the opposition still holds little power,” Meacham says. Will Chavez’s death improve relations with the United States? Chavez, for years had a stormy relationship with the US would stir up nationalistic sentiment and popularity by picking fights with the “imperialist” United States and its allies. Senior American officials don’t expect the relationship to change dramatically — at least in the short term — primarily because Chavez’s system still exists. The post-Chavez era started out tumultuously Tuesday when Venezuelan officials accused two U.S. Embassy officials of plotting to destabilize the country and said it was expelling them. The United States will stay out of the upcoming election, an Obama administration official said. But the White House wants it to be “free and fair and credible,” the official said. The U.S. remains open to restoring diplomatic relations with an ambassador regardless of the winner, the official said. The U.S. may seek Venezuela’s help in imposing sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program, senior American officials said. Iran and Venezuela have close relations. Last year, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traveled to Venezuela as part of a tour of Latin America. The two leaders vowed to work together. Over the years, the two nations have signed more than 270 accords, including trade deals and agreements on construction projects, car and tractor factories, energy initiatives and banking programs. The other is oil. Will the death affect Venezuela’s oil supply? It may, some analysts say — and that would be a huge concern for the United States. Venezuela remains the fourth-biggest oil supplier to the U.S. market. If the power vacuum causes exports to drop, U.S. consumers could face higher prices and another hit to the U.S. economy, analysts say. Venezuela is planning a state funeral Friday that is expected to be attended by regional and world leaders and dignitaries, including Ahmadinejad. Chavez will be buried after the ceremony but officials have not said where. Chavez allies, such as leaders of Ecuador, China, Iran and Cuba, expressed sorrow and solidarity. Bolivian President Evo Morales’ voice cracked as he spoke to reporters, describing Chavez as someone “who gave all his life for the liberation of the Venezuelan people … of all the anti-imperialists and anti-capitalists of the world.” Longtime critics had a different view, with some saying his death could be seen as an opportunity for change. “At this key juncture, I hope the people of Venezuela can now build for themselves a better, brighter future based on the principles of freedom, democracy,” Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.  ]]>

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