Revolution Likely Won’t Survive Death of Hugo Chávez

Latin Americanist David Pion-Berlin analyzes impact of death of Venezuela's president

David Pion-Berlin

David Pion-Berlin

RIVERSIDE — David Pion-Berlin, a professor of political science at the University of California, Riverside and a Latin Americanist widely known for his research and writings on civil-military relations, defense, security, political repression and human rights, offers this analysis of the impact of the death of Venezuela President Hugo Chávez:

“The death of Hugo Chávez today will have definite consequences for Venezuela. His revolution will not be easily sustained in his absence. Whether his vice president or some other candidate sympathetic to Chávez’ cause wins the next election or not is in some sense immaterial.  Neither V.P. Maduro nor any other figure tied to Chávez and his party has anywhere near the former leader’s stature, charisma and influence, and will not be able to command the authority needed to sustain the radical social-economic agenda laid out by Chávez, at least not without considerable difficulty. The opposition which has made headway in recent years, will be emboldened that much further, and will now have an opportunity not only to win at the presidential level, but gain many more seats in the Congress.   After a period of mourning, there will be persistent calls for a return to a more pluralist, competitive form of democracy, and a turn away from Chávez’ populist model of government.

“Another question has to do with the armed forces.  A top military commander today asked for national unity, and promised that the armed forces are ready to defend the country, and added that the military would never turn its weapons on the Venezuelan people. This is no doubt in response to fears that the armed forces would attempt to defend by force, if need be the revolution in Chávez’ absence.  But it remains to be seen just how loyal the military stays to the “cause” as it were.  No doubt, there are resentments among many officers that reside under the surface, especially concerning Chavez’ development of a people’s militia which acts as a parallel military force, designed to defend the country against alleged imperialist threats. Few militaries in the world like the idea of a parallel military force, because it represents a challenge to their own monopoly on violence, and in the Venezuelan case operates along a separate chain of command.  Undoubtedly, with time, many officers within the regular military will call for its dismantling.

“For now, I expect a period of real fluidity, where the Chávez order will not remain firmly in place, and where elements of the opposition will have a real opportunity to win power and change laws in ways that Chavistas may not desire.”

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