What comes after Chavez in Venezuela?

In fact, in these past few days many references have been made to Cuba and the possible role it would play in the event of Chávez’s disappearance. Clearly the relationship between the two regimes is something more than platonic, but Venezuela is not — as some opponents of Chávez like to argue — a Cuban colony. Venezuela provides Castro’s faltering economy with 100,000 barrels of oil a day (most of which it resells on the world market for hard cash). In exchange, the Cubans provide Chávez with security personnel, intelligence officers, and political advisers. Cuban doctors, teachers, and sports trainers are also offered to sweeten the deal. But the economic aspect is so asymmetrically tilted in Venezuela’s favor that one could hardly speak of the country as being controlled (or even heavily influenced) from Havana. Quite the contrary; Havana’s worst nightmare is a reversal of political fortunes in Venezuela, without which its own survival would be problematic…

Chávez’s illness — and its possible mortal consequences — casts into sharp relief the profound moral and political crisis of Venezuelan society. The old governing class that was ousted from power by Chávez in 1998 was so discredited by decades of corruption, mismanagement, and lack of disciplined focus that it has been unable thus far to regroup its forces and offer a credible alternative.

What this means is that after Chávez — if he in fact expires — Venezuela will be deeply divided, much as Argentina was after the overthrow of Perón in 1955. In the best of cases, it will be ungovernable, poisoned by the legend of what might have been (“if only Chávez had lived”); in the worst, it will collapse into civil war. The most likely immediate outcome is a kind of military dictatorship, which by the way is also what awaits Cuba after the Castro brothers leave the scene. What its ideological coloration will be, what foreign- and domestic-policy choices it makes, are beyond prediction. But Venezuelans have good reason to fear the future.