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After Chavez

Clara Walther / gbMarch 8, 2013

Venezuela's partners are shaken by the death of Hugo Chavez. But, at the moment, it looks like the old friendships will be maintained, says Bert Hoffmann from the Institute of Latin American Studies in Hamburg.

Cuban President Fidel Castro(R) greets Hugo Chavez(L) upon his arrival at Jose Marti Airport in Havana. Photo: ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images
Image: Getty Images

DW: Over many years, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez built up a network of anti-American allies. The core group, known as the "Bolivarian Alliance of the American People" (ALBA), was made up of left-leaning Latin American countries, like Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. But Chavez also cultivated close ties with Iran and Russia. What happens now after the death of Chavez and who will it hurt the most

Hoffmann: Those affected the most will be the countries that benefited the most materially from Venezuela's largesse; in particular, Cuba and Bolivia. Cuba was and is the most economically dependent on Venezuela. But, at the same time, Cuba is also the country with the most influence over a Chavez successor. The entire script for the changeover was written in Havana, not least because Chavez was hospitalized there. The designated successor to Chavez, Nicolas Maduro, is without a doubt also Havana's preferred candidate. With this in mind we can expect that the subsidies that flowed from Venezuela to Cuba will continue for the time being at least. It is not clear, however, whether or not this will remain the case in the long term.

What bearing does this have on Cuba's politics?

For Cuba this means economic uncertainty. President Raul Castro has already begun preparing his country for changes. In the last few years there have been very hesitant efforts to launch some mild economic reforms, all the while suggesting that one cannot depend forever on external benefactors. In this we can see that Cuba is preparing for the day when Venezuelan support begins to ebb. They are getting ready to reform their own economy and make it more dynamic.

Bert Hoffmann, Kuba-Experte am GIGA- Institut für Lateinamerika-Studien Copyright: GIGA/Susanne Dupont
Bert HoffmannImage: GIGA/Susanne Dupont

Chavez also cultivated a special friendship with the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

This is correct. The relationship between Iran and Venezuela was also very closely watched and scrutinized by the international community. Both countries used their ties to demonstrate that they were not only active in their own regions but also were involved in other arenas far away. Both countries are oil producers in which the state has a great deal of control over the oil income. And both have a common enemy: the United States. In my eyes, however, the ties were more a marriage of convenience than a real strategic alliance.

How do you think the Chavez heirs will deal with this situation?

Essentially, no one is going to scuttle the alliance, especially if we assume that Maduro is the designated successor. He will continue the alliance with Iran, but even so, it is not a relationship that can be expanded much, and more likely, will lose importance on the international stage.

A policy of continued rapprochement with Iran is also not really desired by Venezuela's allies in the Latin American region. Culturally, Iran is very far away from them and most countries in the region are democracies with multi-party electoral systems. I am also not quite sure whether Iran really has a long-term interest in Latin America, or whether its policies in recent years have not just been a series of pinpricks; a demonstration of power; a provocation for the United States.

In recent years, Venezuela has received extensive arms deliveries from Russia. Do you expect anything to change in this business relationship?

No, definitely not. An army just doesn't revamp its weapons systems every two years; so, there has to be continuity. And due to the fact that Venezuela, even after the death of Chavez, will still be on a confrontational course with the US and the West, it will continue to look for weapons supplies from non-western countries. Russia already has its foot in the door, but China could also play a role. Russia will most likely remain the major player and an important trading partner; that is, if we count weapons as commercial goods.

Bert Hoffman works at the GIGA Institute for Latin American Studies, a think tank based in Hamburg, Germany.