Chavez Death ‘Fundamental Change’ for Region, Farnsworth Says

Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, a New York-based business organization, comments on the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Farnsworth, who also worked on Latin America issues at the U.S. State Department under President Bill Clinton, spoke in a telephone interview from Austin, Texas.

On the regional implications:

“It’s huge. It’s going to fundamentally change hemispheric politics, certainly in Venezuela, but generally. Chavez has been such a symbol for much of the region, not just countries like Ecuador and Bolivia but to people in other countries.”

“From a U.S. perspective it’s going to require a nuanced and sophisticated response.”

On the days ahead:

“The best-case scenario is that you have an election process that is contested fairly and freely and according to generally-accepted democratic principles. The real question is can it be conducted fairly?”

“The worst-case scenario would be a fight for influence either within the Chavista movement or with its opponents.”

On Vice President Nicolas Maduro:

“The Chavez supporters are going to rally around Maduro. They’re very concerned about divisions within the movement. The opposition has their hands full. They’re going to need to rally around their own standard-bearer. Thirty days is not a lot of time” before the election mandated by Venezuela’s constitution.

“The real concern is going to be the longer term. Assuming he’s elected, will Maduro be seen as a legitimately elected president with the authority to govern in Venezuela?”

On the expulsion today of two U.S. officials accused of plotting against Chavez’s government:

“Maduro is already out there trying to intensify the idea of a bogeyman. It’s a tried and true strategy for leaders in Latin America trying to bolster support domestically that might otherwise be tenuous.”

“Maduro doesn’t have anything here except the ‘dedazo’ by Chavez,” Farnsworth said, referring to Chavez’s decision to name Maduro as his successor in December. “Someone within that context trying to build his own popular base finds it very convenient to have his own bogeyman he can rally against.”

“Maduro if anything is actually going to tighten the screws on the U.S. relationship. He needs to be seen as standing up to gringo even if the gringo isn’t doing anything. It’s a way to rally his base and build his own political support.”

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