Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who died of cancer on Tuesday in Caracas, will be remembered by some as a tireless man, as a tireless dreamer, who led and designed a socialist project for Venezuela meant to empower the country’s poor and to deeply transform the social and moral fabric of the oil-rich nation.
He will be remembered by some as an unconventional man of epic historical import; a military man from a humble, rural household who rose to the highest political office in the country; a man who developed, in his 14 years as president, an almost sacred bond with the poor and the voiceless; a showman; a jester; an international figure of long, passionate speeches; a man who, in life, had already achieved the presence and size of a legend.
Today, Venezuela’s crime-ridden capital city of Caracas—the place that witnessed Chávez’s failed coup attempt in 1992 and gave him multiple victories at the ballot box—moves in silence.
The sudden panic that ensued in the hours following the news of the president’s passing has now subsided into a somber calm as Chávez’s supporters prepare to bury their leader.
Late Tuesday night, the Venezuelan government declared seven days of national mourning. The president’s funeral, scheduled to last until Friday, is expected to bring a countless number of Venezuelans into the streets of Caracas.
In the midst of everything that involves the passing of a recently re-elected president, many unanswered questions loom in the minds of Venezuelans—among them, those that pertain to the short-term political future of the country.According to the constitution, the person who should assume the presidency of Venezuela in the days to come is Diosdado Cabello, the president of the national assembly and a close collaborator of Chávez. Cabello would have to call for new presidential elections to be carried out in the next 30 days.
However, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua announced Tuesday that Vice President Nicolás Maduro will continue in the role of interim president. Maduro, who was publicly chosen by Chávez as his successor in the president’s last televised message to the country, is expected to be the government’s candidate in the next presidential election.
The opposition candidate will likely be Henrique Capriles Radonski, the current governor of the state of Miranda and the last political leader to challenge Chávez’s rule in a presidential election.
For some in the Venezuelan opposition, Capriles’s leadership is an uncontested fact of the country’s political present. Others, however, say his candidacy should be debated.
Judging by the events of the last few hours in Venezuela, the upcoming presidential election will once again be a contest of contrasts and polarization. Although the call for peace and respect has been unanimous among politicians across the spectrum, the subtle differences in their message point to a greater divide in Venezuelan politics.
Government officials who fear Chávez’s death might fracture a highly centralized political movement have called for unity as they move toward a process of transition. The leaders of the opposition, who have tried to gain popular support, have called for the unification of Venezuela. The difference in their message will likely color the months to come as Venezuela enters its future without Hugo Chávez.