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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Hugo Chávez’s Death: Implications for Venezuela and U.S. Relations

Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

The death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on March 5, 2013, after 14 years of populist rule, has implications not only for Venezuela’s political future, but potentially for the future of U.S.-Venezuelan relations. This report provides a brief discussion of those implications. For additional background on President Chávez’s rule and U.S. policy, see CRS Report R40938, Venezuela: Issues for Congress, by Mark P. Sullivan.

Congress has had a strong interest in Venezuela and U.S. relations with Venezuela under the Chávez government. Among the concerns of U.S. policymakers has been the deterioration of human rights and democratic conditions, Venezuela’s significant military arms purchases, lack of cooperation on anti-terrorism efforts, limited bilateral anti-drug cooperation, and Venezuela’s relations with Cuba and Iran.

The United States traditionally enjoyed close relations with Venezuela, but there has been considerable friction in relations under the Chávez government. U.S. policymakers have expressed hope for a new era in U.S.-Venezuelan relations in the post-Chávez era. While this might not be possible while Venezuela soon gears up for a presidential campaign, there may be an opportunity in the aftermath of the election.

The Venezuelan Constitution calls for elections within 30 days, although no date has yet been set. It is likely that Vice President Nicolás Maduro, who is serving as acting President, will be the presidential candidate for the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), while Henrique Capriles, governor of Miranda state, who ran in the October 2012 presidential election, will likely be the candidate for the unified opposition. Many observers expect that the outpouring of sympathy for President Chávez, as well as the fact that Chávez himself called on his supporters to elect Maduro if anything were to happen to him, bode well for Maduro’s election prospects. Whoever wins the election will face enormous economic and political challenges.

Date of Report: March 8, 2013
Number of Pages: 9
Order Number: R42989
Price: $19.95

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