Who Lost Venezuela?

What kind of cancer do you think Hugo Chavez has?  He mysteriously disappeared into Cuba for three weeks last month, then suddenly appeared looking drawn and haggard but announcing the success of cancer surgery.  He did not say where the cancer was.  Now he’s talking about chemo and radiation.

Using the medical license bestowed by middle age (and hard experience), my friends and I made a preliminary diagnosis of colon cancer and further agree the prognosis is not good.  “It’s a death sentence,” one said as all agreed to schedule colonoscopies.

Next year will be the 20th anniversary of Mr. Chavez’s failed military coup.  (He has been an elected president since 1998.)  It’s the 10th anniversary of a failed, US-approved coup against him.  A superstitious person might expect a major event for him in 2012.

Regardless of how I feel about someone’s politics, I wish them good health and a long life.  If nothing else, it affords one an opportunity to reflect and perhaps repent one’s less-than-charitable moments.  That written, it’s not outside the bounds of propriety to consider the fate of a post-Hugo Venezuela.

Who gets Venezuela?  A pool of oil that big is a global petro-political game changer, whatever happens.

Scenario One:  More of the same.  During Mr. Chavez’s Cuban sojourn, the most visible Venezuelans were Vice President Elias Jaua and Adan Chavez, Hugo’s older brother and governor of the state of Barinas, where the men were born.

Maybe it’s me, but reading the newspapers, I got the distinct impression that Adan Chavez swings more influence than Mr. Jaua.  It has a Putin-Medvedev feel to it.  The Cubans will be eager for these two to find some kind of arrangement.  After losing one major (Soviet) subsidy, the brothers Castro would miss the 100,000 barrels of oil Venezuela ships to Cuba every day.

A lightweight VP and a scowling governor of a brother are stock characters in a caudillo’s death drama, often followed by unrest and instability, which often lead to….

Scenario Two: Back to the Future.  Say what you will about Hugo Chavez, the fact that his political opposition is so vibrant testifies that his record on civil rights is not as bad as it could be.  When Mr. Chavez stops being president – whenever and however that occurs – there will be a rising by the members of the privileged class who lost power 13 years ago.  Count on it and count on the US supporting it, as least (semi) covertly.

Much as Barack Obama resists being George W. Bush, I think the Osama caper may have him thinking of himself as a Bold Actor and since the CIA will likely act regardless of what the POTUS wants, he might figure adult supervision is better than spooks gone wild.

Scenario Three: Who Else?  Well, China.  Not that I expect the People’s Liberation Army to arrive in force, but the (for now) (comparatively) economically healthy Chinese have been securing rights to industrial metals and agricultural production all over the planet.  American politicians can prate about “unlimited growth,” if only for public consumption, but Chinese decision-makers are luxuriously free of such fantasy.  They know an era of scarcity and resource competition is upon us.

How does it end?  I don’t know, but I’ve hedged myself with three predictions.  One thing is sure: the world has changed mightily since Hugo Chavez led his first coup.  The grasping after oil is not as desperate as it will be in 2032, but it will do.

© Mark Floegel, 2011

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