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U.S.-Venezuela Relations After Chavez

Dan Drezner speculates that post-Chavez Venezuela is likely to continue Chavez’s foreign policy:

Venezuela is the perfect breeding ground for populist, anti-American conspiracy theories. And once a conspiratorial, anti-American culture is fomented, it sets like concrete. Only genuine political reform in Venezuela will cure it, and I don’t expect that anytime soon.

Drezner could be right about that, but even in the absence of conspiracy theories I wouldn’t expect a dramatic change in Venezuela’s relations with the U.S. A relationship less defined by antagonism on both sides would be welcome, but after more than a decade of the current strained relationship Chavez’s allies and opponents probably feel no urgency to seek rapprochement with Washington. Chavez leaves behind a large number of supporters that have incentives to continue his policies and probably don’t see why they would change them, and to the extent that his allies share Chavez’s stated ideology they will try to keep conducting Venezuelan foreign policy as he did. Even if the opposition candidate had prevailed in the last election and Capriles were now president, there would not be much reason to expect a significant departure from Chavez’s foreign policy, at least not in the near term. Especially in a country with a political culture saturated with anti-imperialist and anti-American rhetoric, members of the political opposition are limited by their local foreign policy consensus, and reconciling with the U.S. is usually not a high priority for them (and why would it be?). Whenever there is an authoritarian regime opposed to the U.S. to whatever degree, many Americans make the mistake of assuming that the current leadership of that regime is the chief and sometimes only obstacle to good relations, but it is often the case that the authoritarian leadership profits from perpetuating a strained or hostile relationship because it is broadly popular to do so. Naturally, it doesn’t help the cause of improved relations with the U.S. when the last period of close relations is identified with earlier, widely-despised political leaders.

In the near term, Chavez’s would-be successors are probably going to be doing more to compete over who is best-suited to managing and/or improving upon his legacy rather than planning to throw out parts of it. Michael McCarthy outlines what can be expected from the forthcoming election campaign:

For Maduro, Chávez’s legacy is summed up in one word: patria (fatherland). If Maduro, a former union leader and then a loyal foreign minister in the previous government, follows the Chávez playbook in 2012’s elections, he will tamp down the Leftist discourse and situate his platform in the nationalist sentiments chavismo cultivates and deploys. This will include nationalism’s jingoistic side—depicting opponent Capriles as an inauthentic Venezuelan, a piti-yanqui.

For Capriles, the relevant part of the Chávez legacy is the social question. During the campaign, Capriles ran with a center-right party slate but as a center-left politician promoting a future of progress. He proposed deepening Chávez’s social policies, but still lacked populist credibility. After Chávez, will Capriles continue the same strategy or change gears? Can he frame Maduro, a man who lacks the charisma Chávez used so effectively to link nationalist and ideological rhetoric, as an out of touch bureaucrat?

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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