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After Chavez

As you’ve no doubt read by now, Hugo Chavez finally succumbed to his tumors yesterday. Pravda certainly carried the most amusing title for its obituary: “Chavez loses his battle, Heaven gains an angel”. But the best, most well-rounded assessment of the man’s life and legacy in our view came from The Economist, whose conclusion largely gybes with what we’ve written in the past:

Assuming the PSUV wins the election, it will be ill-equipped to grapple with these problems. None of its leaders has the authority of Mr Chávez, nor his skill at communicating with the masses. While affable, Mr Maduro is a yes-man lacking political weight, according to a former Latin American foreign minister who dealt with him. Diosdado Cabello, the speaker of the National Assembly and an army colleague of Mr Chávez, has declared his support for Mr Maduro, but has ambitions of his own. Perhaps only the Cuban leadership can preserve unity among the chavistas. The stakes are high. Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro, knows that the loss of Venezuelan oil would plunge his country’s economy deeper into penury.

A majority of Venezuelans may eventually come to see that Mr Chávez squandered an extraordinary opportunity for his country, to use an unprecedented oil boom to equip it with world-class infrastructure and to provide the best education and health services money can buy. But this lesson will come the hard way, and there is no guarantee that it will be learned.

Well put.

All eyes are now on acting-President Nicolas Maduro, who expelled two U.S. diplomats just ahead of the announcement of Chavez’s death, accusing the United States of poisoning the Great One and vowing a medical inquiry into the causes of his cancer. It’s a page straight out of Chavez’s own paranoid playbook, and a glimpse into some of the themes and tactics likely to play in the upcoming constitutionally mandated election.

Chavez cursed Venezuela in many ways; the most damaging may turn out to be his failure, despite clear evidence of his coming death, to prepare the country and his movement for the necessary but difficult changes ahead.

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