THE BLOG

What Will Happen to Venezuela After Chavez?

06/03/2013 14:29 GMT | Updated 06/05/2013 10:12 BST

Vice President, Nicolas Maduro, announced on 5 March that the controversial figure and President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, is dead. Having battled with cancer since 2011, news of the death of the 58 year old will not have surprised many yet Chavez's sudden departure has led to questions of what will happen next.

Elections for a new President are due to take place within the next 30 days and will see Chavez's chosen successor, Maduro, most likely compete against Centrist opposition leader and vocal critic of the policies of Chavez, Henrique Capriles.

Who will take the political reins of the country in the next 30 days, however, is perhaps of secondary importance for the time being.

Indeed, having radically restructured the political, social and economic infrastructure of Venezuela and politicised the majority of the poor population, the most pressing question on the minds of most Venezuelan's is most likely related to concerns over Chavez's legacy; will Venezuela continue to eschew the neo-liberal economic model, will Venezuela's participatory model of democracy be replaced, and will the millions of poverty stricken voters that Chavez sought to reintegrate into society be once again marginalised?

Critics of Hugo Chavez will no doubt argue that Venezuela can now once again return to a free and fair liberal democracy and the legacy of Chavez will be one of determination not to succumb to a populist leader once more. Indeed, with accusations of corruption, poor economic management and clientalism, Chavez's decision to get rid of 80% of Supreme Court judges and his decision to rule by decree on several occasions provided critics with legitimate examples to use in a call for an end to the Chavez administration.

However, others have championed his radical social policies and efforts to redistribute land and wealth in an attempt to eliminate inequality and concerns about a shift away from the Chavez 21st Century Socialist Model is, therefore, prevalent amongst supporters.

That this is the case can be linked to Chavez's apparent success in tackling key issues that plagued Venezuela. Back in 2012 both The Guardian and the BBC reported that extreme poverty in Venezuela had fallen to around 8.5% whilst the inequality gap had been reduced and GDP per capita had increased. Additionally, according to the Gini Index used to measure poverty and inequality, under Chavez's 14 year presidency, life expectancy rose from 72 to 74 and education enrolment increased to 102% in 2011.

Having held onto the political reins for 14 years and almost single-handedly remodeled the political structures, can someone else carry on his legacy and what will happen if Capriles attempts to turn back the clock and re-introduce liberal, representative democracy and a free market?

The death of Hugo Chavez is likely to have sent shockwaves around Latin America. Having eschewed traditional liberal democratic values such as the free market and representative democracy, Chavez was regarded by regional allies such as Brazil as the champion of a new way of governance for Latin America.

Whether this remains to be the case following Chavez's death and whether Maduro or Capriles can live up to the expectations of a population, who only in October of last year voted decisively in favour of yet another Chavez administration, is yet to be seen.