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Will Chavismo persist without Chavez?

Nicolas Maduro, Hugo Chavez’s hand-picked successor, has won a narrow victory in the Venezuelan presidential election. The official returns have Maduro with 50.66 percent of the vote and his opponent, Henrique Capriles, with 49.1 percent.

Citing evidence of rampant fraud, Capriles has called for a recount, . However, the National Electoral Council, which is controlled by the chavistas, declared the outcome to be “irreversible.”

The skewed nature of the Venezuelan electoral process is widely understood. Former Colombian President Andres Pastrana cited it as the reason for his refusal of an invitation to observe the election. And more than 200 regional dignitaries, including former Mexican President Vicente Fox and former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, issued a statement demanding “electoral transparency” and “equal access to the media and institutional resources.” Their demands were ignored.

Where was the Obama administration on this? According to Roger Noreiga at AEI, the clearest statement from the administration came in the form of congressional testimony from national intelligence chief James Clapper. He erroneously predicted a comfortable win for Maduro.

We used to say that Jimmy Carter never met an anti-American dictator he didn’t like. Judging by its response to the Chavismo, the Mother Brotherhood, etc. I wonder whether Team Obama has ever encountered an anti-American political movement whose ascendancy it doesn’t deem the wave of the future.

As to whether Chavismo actually has much of a future, Ben Cohen provides a good analysis (including a soccer reference). Cohen suggests that, although the election conferred a six-year term on Maduro, it may well represent the beginning of the end for him:

In the abstract, Maduro had everything going for him. He was the anointed successor of Chavez. He had the pledge of the defense minister, Diego Molero, that the armed forces, in violation of the constitution, would support the continued reign of chavismo. He spent much of the last few weeks insinuating that state employees, among them the 115,000 workers of the state-owned oil company PDVSA, would lose their jobs if they didn’t vote for him. And he has cracked down on the last remnants of the independent media in Venezuela, most obviously the Globovision television station, which had been among the most tenacious critics of the Chavez regime.

Yet Maduro failed to persuade almost one million previously faithful chavista voters that he was a worthy inheritor of Chavez, whose personality cult in death is larger and more pervasive than when he was alive. He also presides over a bitterly divided nation that is on the edge of economic collapse–Venezuela may be a petrostate, but it is also a narcostate, as evidenced by the participation of senior military and political officials (including Molero) in the drug trade, and on the road to becoming a failed state.

Indeed, some may legitimately question whether Venezuela is in fact a state in the meaningful sense of the word, given the enormous influence of the Cuban regime over Maduro, who served as foreign minister under Chavez, and the continued provision of billions of dollars of subsidized oil to Havana.

What yesterday’s election proves is that the death knell for chavismo has already been sounded. The question now is whether the regime will agree to negotiate with the opposition or whether it will become a fully-fledged dictatorship, thus risking a repeat of the violence that accompanied the attempted 2002 coup against Chavez.

Chavismo with Chavez was nasty and brutish. Without Chavez, Chavismo will likely be nasty, brutish, and short.

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