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Venezuela’s Election Turns Bloody: Can the Chavista Movement Survive?

Seven people were killed and more than sixty injured during sporadic riots over the past couple days, following the controversial election of Hugo Chavez’s chosen heir, Nicolas Maduro, to the Venezuelan presidency. Already faced with allegations of vote rigging and the surprisingly narrow margin with which he won office, Maduro turned to a tactic from page one of his predecessor’s playbook: blame the United States.

“The (U.S.) embassy has financed and led all these violent acts,” Maduro said on Venezuelan television. He also called Henrique Capriles, the challenger, a “murderer” and coup plotter (which would put him in some familiar company). Reports have emerged that pro-government and opposition thugs alike have rampaged through parts of the country, firebombing political offices and beating up rivals, jailing journalists, and fighting on the streets.

The question now, amidst this chaos: what will happen to the Chavista movement? Without the charismatic Chavez, can it survive? Capriles won a respectable 44 percent of the votes when he faced off against Chavez in elections in February; a few months later, after Chavez’s death, he garnered over 49 percent against Maduro, suggesting that at least some Chavistas don’t think Maduro is quite up to the job, even though he promised to carry on many of the pro-poor policies that Chavez was famous for.

But it’s unlikely that on its own the Venezuelan opposition can take or hold power. With lots of advice from helpful Cubans, the Chavistas have built a political machinery that is determined to hold power no matter what. At every level, from neighborhood block committees to the military chiefs, Venezuela is chock full of organized people who have no intention of letting something as trivial as an election stop the revolution.

The trouble is that without the Great Bolivarean to guide them, the Chavistas are likely to fall out among themselves. There is plenty to fight about, and as Venezuela’s economic horizons darken, the infighting over what’s left grows more intense. Either somebody new is going to unite the Chavistas into a force, or the movement will fragment and tear both itself and the country apart.

Perhaps the most hopeful scenario would be for a coalition to form between one or more elements of the Chavista movement and the opposition. But Hugo Chavez left Venezuela in much worse shape than he found it, and the country faces some extremely difficult times.

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  • ojfl

    “But Hugo Chavez left Venezuela in much worse shape than he found it, and the country faces some extremely difficult times.”

    Not everyone agrees with Via Meadia on this one. I do but judging by the media reaction to the death of Hugo Chávez we may be in the minority.

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