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Rivalries And Infighting Could Follow In Wake Of Chavez's Death


Joining us now to talk about what comes next is NPR's Tom Gjelten. He's covered Latin America for us.

And, Tom, Hugo Chavez, such a dominating figure in Venezuela. What happens now in the immediate aftermath of his death?

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Well, Audie, as we just heard in that report from Juan Forero, the problem in Venezuela is that Chavez dominated the political scene, the government so much that it's hard to see how he can be replaced easily. However, he has been sick for quite a while now, and we really haven't heard from him since December.

He designated his vice president, Nicolas Maduro, as his successor. And under the Venezuelan constitution, Maduro will now take office and will call for new elections within 30 days. And the fact that Chavez designated the vice president, Maduro, as his successor, and also the fact that there will be some sympathy for Chavez in the aftermath of his death would suggest that probably Maduro will win those elections and go on.

CORNISH: And the challenges for the long term?

GJELTEN: Well, in the long term, as Juan also suggested, will be very difficult. Maduro does not have Chavez's charisma. He does not have his populist support. And Venezuela, right now, has huge economic problems, huge problems of violence.

And there's also another matter, which is that Chavez was all-powerful. There are now more than one person who could move in to fill the void left by his death. Maduro was just one. There's the president of the National Assembly, a guy by the name of Diosdado Cabello, who also has aspirations for leadership. So we could see in the months ahead, not probably in the short term, we could see some rivalries and some infighting.

CORNISH: And, of course, the U.S. relationship, obviously a rocky one, so - and just today, the Venezuelan vice president announced that a U.S. Embassy official was expelled from the country.

GJELTEN: In fact, the vice president also said - accuse the United States of having infected Hugo Chavez with that cancer, and therefore being responsible for his death.

Clearly, Maduro is trying to sort of reclaim this hostility toward the United States. But one thing we should point out, Audie, just in November, the assistant secretary of state for Latin America, Roberta Jacobson, had a phone conversation with Nicolas Maduro. There have been contacts between the United States and Maduro. And there is hope, at least on the U.S. side, and I was given to believe on the Venezuelan side as well, that there might be some cooperation going forward.

CORNISH: NPR's Tom Gjelten looking at what's ahead for Venezuela, now that president Hugo Chavez has died.

Tom, thank you.

GJELTEN: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.