Latin America Without Chávez

BOGOTÁ – Venezuela is poised to vote on a new president to replace the recently deceased Hugo Chávez. In the 14 years of his administration, Chávez was one of the major leaders in promoting changes in relations among Latin American countries and between them and the United States. So, what will the post-Chávez era in Venezuela mean for diplomacy within the hemisphere?

A significant group of Latin American countries with leftist governments have created new mechanisms for integration among themselves, as well as more autonomous relations with the US. Traditional bodies such as the Organization of American States and the Andean Community of Nations – in which US influence is a defining feature – have weakened, making way for Chávez’s Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).

Chávez transformed Venezuela according to a program that he called “twenty-first century socialism.” With his populist style, demagogic language, and authoritarian behavior, he replaced the country’s former elite, demolished traditional power structures, and sharply increased spending on anti-poverty programs and social inclusion.

Chávez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” needed external support, and, to assure it, he implemented a high-profile foreign policy, sustained by the country’s oil wealth. Above all, the US was to be considered an imperialist threat and treated as such. This orientation led directly to closer ties with anti-American regimes around the world (including Muammar el-Qaddafi’s Libya, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran, and China), as well as cultivation of ideological allies within the region, including Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua.