Chavez, who led the country since taking power in 1998, seems to be just as divisive in death as he was when he was alive. Even his interim successor was contentious. Chavez appointed his current vice president and minister of foreign affairs, Nicolas Maduro, to succeed him. The country’s constitution stipulates that if the president becomes incapacitated the speaker of the national assembly will assume power until an election is held 30 days later.
This being the case, Maduro will be the majority party candidate and is expected to ride the wave of Chavez grief to office full-time. This has many U.S. analysts worried a post-Chavez Venezuela will look strikingly similar to the current Venezuela.
On March 5, Maduro expelled two U.S. diplomats from Venezuela for trying to destabilize the country. The U.S. responded by doing the same to two Venezuelan diplomats just one week later. If the U.S. is to have less child-like “tit-for-tat” relations with Venezuela, it needs to smarter about its foreign policy.
Despite the fact that the U.S. is one of Venezuela’s biggest customers when it comes to crude oil, Chavez was well known for his hatred of the American “empire,” as he called it, and its “hegemonic pretensions.” These are the kinds of sentiments that allowed Chavez to hold such weight with countries that have fallen victim to U.S. democracy promotion in Latin America, like Colombia and Nicaragua, and generate anti-U.S. relationships with countries like Iran and Cuba.
The U.S. has a bleak history in Latin America that includes promoting puppet governments and helping install leaders through CIA-led coups that are more favorable to US political and economic interests than to democracy itself.
If the U.S., in earnest, wants to improve relations with the next government of Venezuela, the best thing it can do is take a seat. The U.S. can offer diplomatic support and encourage democratic processes like the upholding of the constitution, but from the sidelines. It should only help—and in limited capacities—if Venezuela asks for it.
Meddling just before the election on April 14 will only make the U.S. look more interventionist than ever and breed increased the same Chavez-like anti-American attitudes that will stifle potential diplomatic repair and progress before it even begins.