After Venezuela’s elections

The presidential elections in Venezuela indicate that the country, without the influence of former President Chávez’s extraordinary charisma and influence, remains essentially democratic in form and practice as it has tended to be since the end of the Jimenez dictatorship, with the polarization between the current two main parties now reaching extreme limits. While expecting that Chávez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) would win the elections (Chávez won in 2009 with 54% of the vote), particularly as it held the seat of power, few observers would have expected that acting President Maduro would have been able to pull out the vote as his predecessor could.

The results suggest, in effect, that if the PSUV did not control the levers of power, it would most likely have lost the election, and this, no doubt increases the displeasure being expressed by Henrique Capriles, the leader of the New Era party (UNT). Maduro’s victory, with his 50.6 per cent also indicates, however, that were it not for the extensive assistance dedicated to the working class voters and the unemployed by Chávez, and his government’s effective control of the electoral machinery, it is unlikely that his party would have won the elections.

It would not be practical to expect that the government would yield to any more than what would be a normal confirming of the result of the poll. But on the other hand, Capriles’s party and other opposition groupings will be satisfied that after fourteen years of holding the reins of power, Chávez was essentially unable to change the voting patterns of the country to any great extent, leaving as it is now clear, the essential two-party formulation hardly disturbed.

From the countries and governments of the Caribbean Community of course, there will be initial relief that the economic assistance arrangements which President Chávez put in place, are likely to continue into the immediate future. It is of course the case that the Venezuelan economy is in disequilibrium, and that the petroleum exploration infrastructure is in need of much modernization. Chávez, resting on his knowledge of the almost inevitable dependence, in the short to medium term, of the United States on his county’s petroleum, seemed to feel that he could ignore, for the time being, the deterioration of the industry’s productive capacity. But Maduro can expect both increased domestic and external pressure to modernize the industry.

Caricom states, however, have been warned by one of our governmental experts, that we should not be sanguine about an inevitable continuation of the terms of Venezuelan assistance. And that is so even if, given the beneficial experiences that we have had, former Prime Minister Owen Arthur who, when in government, had kept his country away from accessing the PetroCaribe arrangements, announced during the country’s recent general elections that he intended, if victorious, to seek access, given the current state of the Barbadian economy.

Last week, however, before the Venezuela elections (a report carried in Monday’s edition of this newspaper), the Chief Executive Officer of the Jamaican Petroleum Development Fund, Dr Wesley Hughes, a former Financial Secretary of the country, suggested that even if Maduro and PUV won the elections, Caribbean countries should not expect that the present PetroCaribe and economic assistance arrangements would remain the same. And he felt confident enough to say that “one candidate may be more favourable to a continuation, but it is not going to be a continuation in the form that the agreement was structured. I am hopeful, but I am also very clear in my mind that we should, as a country be prepared for changes and adjustments.”

Hughes, it will be observed, also suggested that although Jamaica had adhered to the repayment terms of the PetroCaribe arrangement, some other Caricom countries have not, the implication clearly being that the managers of the Venezuelan economy, regardless of who won, would want to be more strict on observance of commitments made.

In this post-Chávez era, it will almost inevitably be the case that the government will be pressed to examine the long-term prospects for Venezuela’s oil production and sales. Indications from the United States that shale gas (derived from within the country itself) can become a major source of domestic requirements, to the possible detriment of Venezuelan exports, will most likely be taken seriously as the Maduro government settles into office.

It will inevitably be the case that Guyana will want to be exploring the orientation of the Maduro government as time proceeds. It is true that Guyana’s relations with Venezuela are multifaceted, and in some respects are now to be placed within a context of a continuing of its relations with significant countries of the South American continent. It is probably not unlikely too, that the Maduro government will be listening to voices from other South American countries including Brazil, which has a government of left orientation, and which has been sympathetic to Venezuela.

For Guyana all this means a determined monitoring of the evolution of the Maduro government, and the reactions of other countries on the continent to it. In one sense, the economic assistance provided by the Chávez government was part of a larger Venezuelan commitment to South American integration, and to ensuring that South American countries, large and small, maintained some capacity in their economic development policies, to resist pressures from the United States.

We can expect also, that Maduro will try to resist a substantial diminution of the resources made available to Cuba, as the United States itself begins to seek ways of finding new forms of influence on that country’s economic policymaking. For at this time, Raúl Castro and his successors are clearly striving to effect a state-led modernization of the economy, without completely capitulating to the evolution of a state capitalist-led economy.

Caricom countries, including even the small ones of the Eastern Caribbean now dependent on the PetroCaribe-Alba arrangements, will do well to harmonise their approaches to Venezuela as policymaking in that country evolves, and to seek allies, particularly in this hemisphere, whose lips may be closer to Venezuelan ears than ours are.

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