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Venezuela after Hugo Chavez: why US eyes upcoming elections warily (+video)

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The Venezuelan constitution says a new election must be called within 30 days of the president’s passing, but no date has yet been set.

A Venezuelan election that exacerbates the divide between the forces of chavismo and an opposition that is more favorable to a free market economy, to democratic rule – and to the US – is likely to extend the country’s political turbulence, regional experts say.

Perhaps even more worrisome for the US, a political fight in Venezuela along Latin America’s ideological fault lines – broadly speaking Chávez’s leftist populism versus Brazil’s model of change through economic growth – risks deepening the region’s divisions and complicating US interests, some analysts say.

US relations with Venezuela “are likely to remain difficult if Chávez’s preferred successor [Mr. Maduro] succeeds Chávez, at least in the near term,” says Patrick Duddy, a former US ambassador to Venezuela who is now a visiting senior lecturer at Duke University in Durham, N.C. 

And turmoil in Venezuela would only harm US goals across the hemisphere, he adds. “Political instability and violence in Venezuela would damage US efforts to promote democracy, increase regional cooperation, combat narcotics, and protect its economic interests in the region,” Ambassador Duddy says.         

US officials who first made contact with Maduro last November (as Chávez’s condition worsened) and had been working to launch a dialogue with the government were dismayed by Maduro’s accusations Tuesday against the US – in part because they suggested the man who may very well succeed Chávez was adopting his mentor’s tactics.  

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