Hugo Chávez has died. Rumors had swirled around about his impending end for years, but it appears his cancer and its side-effects finally caught up with him. Suffice to say, uncertainties for Venezuela abound going forward. Nicolás Maduro will continue to serve as de facto president while the country prepares for elections. Whether Chávez’s reforms can be institutionalized in his absence, and who could potentially be responsible for institutionalizing them in a post-Chávez context, remains to be seen. Likewise, how the opposition responds to a new political context where they do not face the figure of Chávez had a military background that Maduro does not, and that could matter in the latter’s efforts to remain in the presidency. The opposition has operated primarily on an anti-Chávez platform for years; will they finally be able to provide an actual platform of policies in Chávez’s absence? And how might a Venezuelan population that by and large saw an improved standard of living under Chávez receive such platforms? How will the economy, which has seen both growth and inflation in recent weeks and months, respond? And then there is the role of the military going forward. Chávez had a military background that Maduro does not, and that could matter in the latter’s efforts to remain in the presidency. How will the military respond to his death? Is Maduro’s recent denial that there was a rift between him and the military just a minor issue, or the source of deeper political tensions?
These are just a handful of the immediate questions in a country facing real challenges and sudden, if somewhat expected, uncertainties at the highest level of governance. Indeed, in many ways, the fact that there are so many uncertainties facing Venezuela in the wake of Chávez’s death seems like an appropriate end of an era that was full of both uncertainties and accomplishments. I’ll have more thoughts on what all this might mean for Venezuela tomorrow, but for now – rest in peace.