Vice President Nicolás Maduro, Chavez’s handpicked successor, is expected to be the Chavismo candidate. Latin American analysts said they expect the opposition will back Henrique Capriles Radonski, who ran against Chavez in October and lost by 11 percentage points. Maduro is favored to win.
“I find it almost impossible to imagine that it won’t be Nicolás Maduro,” said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Wilson Center’s Latin American Program. “He is the only person who has officially been given the blessing of Chavez to carry on his legacy.
“Chavismo is very much going to continue without Chavez, but it will never be the same," Arnson continued. “Chavez had a singular ability to keep the movement unified, to keep a direct connection with his mass base and to make decisions. There’s really no known leader in Venezuela who has all of those qualities.”
Even in the U.S., Chavez came in for some praise. Former Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) told the Associated Press that he is mourning Chavez's death. Chavez and Venezuela's national oil company, Citgo, donated heating oil that helped the U.S. poor. Kennedy told AP that Chavez helped more than 2 million Americans.
Now, Chavez’s successor must contend with a deeply disgruntled upper class, including expatriates in the United States, and an emboldened poor, said Purcell. The first group is concerned about security and crime, escalating inflation and shortages of goods. The second expects government help ranging from free refrigerators to health care, she said.
The country’s next president also will have to contend with debt racked up by Chavez and with global oil prices that may fall. Venezuela ranks among the world’s largest oil exporters, but imports almost everything else, Arnson said.
"The running joke in Venezuela is it's easier to get whiskey than milk,” Arnson said.
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