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Chavez – Who will succeed him?

Editor’s Note – Hugo Chavez has made several trips to Cuba for cancer treatment and most recently, he has backed off the treatments because it has weakened his physical condition considerably. Chavez has been lying to Venezuela about his condition in an effort to find a like-minded successor and to ensure his friends in Iran and Russia approve of his short list of replacements. One of the most corrupt nations on Earth, Venezuela is led by a man who had lied to his people for ages, and now he seeks to ice his legacy by hand picking a replacement.

It is quite likely the person to fulfill Chavez’s seat upon his expiration, which is estimated within a few short months is Nicolas Maduro. However, there are others that seek the leadership of Venezuela. You can bet that the CIA is vetting the names while no one in Hillary Clinton’s shop is working to re-start a viable relationship with Venezuela that, with some diplomatic attention, could work to our advantage, or is that just too much to hope for?

Who could succeed Hugo Chavez as Venezuela’s leader?

By Sarah Grainger

BBC News, Caracas

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has made it clear that he intends to stand for re-election in presidential polls scheduled for 2012, despite having treatment for cancer.

Hugo Chavez is the central and dominant figure in Venezuelan politics

Speaking on his return from chemotherapy in Cuba, he said doctors had found no malignant cells. “I haven’t for a single moment thought about retiring from the presidency,” he said. “If there were reasons for me to do that, I would.”

Mr Chavez, who is celebrating his 57th birthday on Thursday, first came to power in 1999. With his charisma and skills as a public speaker, he centralized government, basking in the political limelight. His style of government has become known as “chavismo” and his followers are dubbed “chavistas”.

“The president’s capacity for leadership is extraordinary,” Reinaldo Iturriza, a member of Mr Chavez’s United Socialist Party (PSUV), told the BBC. “Without doubt, finding another Chavez will be quite difficult.” Few other members of his cabinet and of the PSUV are recognizable faces either within Venezuela or on the international stage.

Nevertheless, if the president’s illness were to leave him unable to continue as head of state or run for re-election, the PSUV would be faced with seeking a successor.

So who would be in the running?

The Brother

Credited with introducing his younger brother Hugo to the world of politics, Adan Chavez is the current governor of the family’s home state of Barinas. Adan Chavez is a year older than his brother. A university professor, he has served as both the minister of education and Venezuela’s ambassador to Cuba in recent years.

“He is considered a favourite of the Castro regime,” says Roger Noriega, former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs under US President George W Bush, and currently at the conservative US think tank, American Enterprise Institute. His appointment would ensure the continuity of “chavismo” in name at least, and would mirror the handover of power in ally Cuba from Fidel Castro to his brother Raul in 2006.

The Party Faithful

When Hugo Chavez left for a first round of chemotherapy treatment in Cuba earlier this month, he signed over some powers to his vice-president Elias Jaua. Hugo Chavez has handed over some powers to vice-president Elias Jaua since his illness. Constitutionally, the vice-president would be expected to step in and take over the reins should Chavez be unable to serve out his current term of office, due to end next year.

But analysts are sceptical that Mr Jaua has what it takes to lead the party and the country in the long-term. “He’s just a sheer placeholder,” says Mr Noriega. “He’s trusted by the Cubans but he doesn’t have any charisma whatsoever.” Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro has been at the president’s side through his cancer diagnosis and treatment, shuttling back and forth between Havana and Caracas when Mr Chavez was recuperating from surgery to remove a tumor.

Other leading lights within the party include Rafael Ramirez, the energy minister, who holds the key to the source of most of the government’s money, and Celia Flores, vice-president of the PSUV. But none has a profile even close to that of the man they would have to replace.

The Dark Horse

Former army officer Diosdado Cabello helped Hugo Chavez to stage a failed coup in 1992 that presaged Mr Chavez’s eventual election to the presidency. During the early years of President Chavez’s government, he served as interior minister before being elected as the governor of Miranda state in 2004 elections.

But he lost that position four years later to an opposition candidate and his political star seemed to be on the wane.

Nevertheless, Mr Caballo is a powerful member of the political elite and among those who has the president’s ear. “There are seven or eight people surrounding the president and accompanying him at the moment,” says Nicmer Evans, a political analyst at Venezuela’s Central University. “Jaua, Ramirez, Maduro, Diosdado Cabello, Celia Flores are his inner circle right now.”

The Army

Hugo Chavez spent 17 years in the army. He often appears in military uniform, emphasizing the control he has over the organisation. Could the military play a key role in deciding who would take over from him? “The army is one of the various players in any future selection of a candidate,” says Miguel Tinker Salas, a professor of Latin American history at Pomona College in California. “The PSUV will have to balance various forces.”

The Grassroots Socialist

President Chavez has always been quick to point out that he represents the grassroots members of the PSUV. He has emphasised his poor upbringing in the hot and dusty plains of central Venezuela and his mixed ethnic background. The party may find the charismatic figurehead they need to galvanise their traditional power base from among local leaders.

“There are a lot of social movement leaders from poorer neighbourhoods like the Barrio 23 de Enero in Caracas,” says Tinker Salas.

“They don’t have the national standing so they would have much more difficulty in trying to win support.” But perhaps the party would chose to groom one of them for a leading role.

Corruption Report Claims Business as usual in Venezuela

By Alessandro Parma,

The Venezuelan Vice President, José Vicente Rangel, and the leader of the National Assembly, Nicolas Maduro strongly criticized a report that said Venezuela is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Vice President Rangel called Transparency International, the report’s publishers, “mercenaries at the service of international powers.”

Transparency International, a Berlin-based anti-corruption campaign group, released their “Corruption Perception Index,” or CPI, on Tuesday. According to the CPI, countries that score high are less corrupt and countries that score low are more corrupt. Venezuela has a score of 2.3 out of 10, placing it at rank 130 out of the list of 150 countries. The opposition has tried to use this as an example of how corruption has become worse under the Chavez government. El Universal, a leading opposition newspaper yesterday ran an article on the report with the title, “Venezuela stinks of corruption.”

However the CPI shows that Venezuela’s corruption rating has changed little since the evaluations began ten years ago. It has remained at around 2.5 out of 10, since 1995. Dr. Aurelio Concheso, an executive board member of Transparency International’s Venezuelan associate, Transparency Venezuela, said, “over the past few decades the corruption situation in Venezuela has probably been about the same, not getting much worse or much better.”

The CPI is calculated by averaging a number of corruption studies that poll international business people and country analysts about the level of corruption they perceive in different countries. Transparency International says, ” It is difficult to assess the levels of corruption in different countries based on hard empirical data,” which is why studies of perceptions are used instead.

Vice President Rangel and Assembly Leader Nicolas Maduro have both reacted angrily to the report’s assessment and have alleged political motives for the low score. Maduro said, “They want to present Venezuela as a nation with a corrupt democracy and a corrupt government and this is in line with the US Government’s position.” Vice President Rangel stressed, “the struggle against corruption is an absolute priority in all levels of the government.”

The government has increased the transparency of ministerial budgets reducing by 80% the funding which was previously kept secret. The public financing of political parties, the church, and unions has been virtually eliminated. There have also been attempts to better train and supervise judges and law enforcement officers. Despite these efforts corruption is still considered to be widespread and according to the Venezuelan Comptroller’s office, thousands of cases have been filed against people in the public administration.

Alejandro Salas, the co-ordinator of Transparency International Latin America, praised some parts of the government’s policy, saying that the Misions in particular are, “characterized by the transparency of their processes and distribute their services well with open accounts, including the details of incomes and expenditures.” He also said they, “have the double impact of benefiting social inclusion.”

Regarding the Venezuelan reactions to the report, Concheso of Transparency Venezuela said, “the government seems to have made a gut reaction to this and it was inevitable that the opposition would try and use it for political reasons during an election year.”



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