01/05/13 - Washington Post - Venezuela's endgame approaches
By Editorial Board
That will be a critical test of Venezuela's post-Chavez direction. The
ruler's inner circle, which has been gathering around him in Cuba, may
consider postponing the election or even calling it off. Their fear - and
that of the Castro regime in Cuba - is that a fair vote would be won by
opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost the October presidential
ballot but is more popular than Mr. Maduro. Mr. Maduro is Cuba's
candidate, the successor most likely to ensure continued deliveries of the
heavily subsidized Venezuelan oil that is keeping the Communist regime
That's why the first responsibility of the United States and Venezuelan
neighbors such as Brazil should be to insist that the presidential
election be held and that it be free and fair. The State Department
rightly made that demand public on Thursday, following recent private
contacts between officials of the two governments. The administration
should be prepared to respond quickly if Mr. Chavez's followers or
military leaders - some of whom are under U.S. sanction for drug
trafficking - attempt a coup.
Whoever succeeds Mr. Chavez will face a catastrophic economic situation.
To win reelection, Mr. Chavez spent wildly last year, increasing the
budget deficit to 20 percent of gross domestic product; his successor will
be forced to order a sharp and painful devaluation. That will only worsen
already high inflation and shortages of staple foods. When poor
Venezuelans realize that lavish pre-election promises of new apartments
and appliances won't be delivered, anger toward the new leader may swell.
Sadly, the economic pain caused by Mr. Chavez could, after his death, help
create a political movement that will revere his memory. Forty years after
the death of Juan Peron, Peronism still haunts and holds back Argentina.
If Venezuela is to escape a similar curse, Mr. Chavez's successors will
have to balance economic stabilization against the need to build a
political system where democracy, and not autocratic populism, can thrive.
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