3 Countries That Will Miss Hugo Chavez the Most
The death of Hugo Chavez is a major blow for Venezuela's allies. Chavez was the keystone for the entire Venezuelan political system and the instability his death will bring will be felt far beyond just Venezuela.
Maduro, Chavez's chosen heir, is likely to continue using the same playbook to the extent he's able. But the effort of consolidating support and a deteriorating domestic economy at home may limit the amount of aid Venezuela has to offer.
Venezuela has been Cuba's economic benefactor since the loss of Soviet subsidies in the early 1990s. Under Chavez, the regime has been sending over $3 billion worth of oil to a year to the island. The free oil was a much-needed source of energy and a product the Cubans traded on world markets for hard currency in order to import other essentials.
The island nation is slowly experimenting with reform, but only out of necessity. The old guard would like to maintain the status quo or at least slow the pace of change; like Argentina, a struggling Maduro presidency could mean more limited support. A Capriles presidency could mean none at all.
Unlike Cuba and Argentina, Brazil doesn't count on Venezuela for aid. What Brazil has been getting from Chavez is support for its policy initiatives in the region.
For several years, Brazil has been pursuing a project of regional integration. It dominates the regional trade organization MERCOSUR which binds it as well as Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay into a nominal free trade zone with a common tariff.
MERCOSUR has helped Brazil to position itself as the voice of the group and the gatekeeper when negotiating with the rest of the world. Chavez was a major proponent for regional integration and his death means the loss of a major ally in this area or Brazil. If political gridlock ensues in Venezuela, the process could stall completely.
But Chavez's death could hurt Brazilian aims in another way.
In 2012, Venezuela achieved full membership amid significant controversy. Part of Brazil's integration agenda includes democracy promotion. If the upcoming elections don't meet at least minimum democratic standards, Brazil's credibility as a regional leader will take a hit. If Venezuelan elections continue to look like they have in the recent past, democratic with an asterisk, it may still make Brazil appear as a second rate regional power that can't properly influence events in its own backyard.
Each of these countries is hit with the fallout from Chavez's death. Argentina and Cuba may soon face the world without the support of a strong Venezuelan backer. Brazil on the other hand is managing a problem that's been a long time coming. As post-Chavez power and politics are renegotiated, all three of these governments will face a difficult road ahead.