With the Venezuelan presidential elections less than a week away, expectations are running high regarding whether opposition leaderHenrique Capriles Radonskiwill be able todefeat President Hugo Chávez. In the case Capriles wins, two of the most critical issues that the new president will need to confront include his relationship with the Venezuelan armed forces and how to re-structure the country’s foreign policy.
Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, center, gestures from the top of a vehicle during a campaign rally in Barcelona, Venezuela, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012. Capriles will run against President Hugo Chavez in the presidential elections Oct. 7. In the case Capriles wins, two of the most critical issues he will need to confront include his relationship with the military and foreign policy. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
What happens to the Venezuelan military, if Capriles wins?
If Capriles wins, how will he deal with the country’s military, the Fuerza Armada Nacional (FAN)? The military is meant to be politically neutral, but, for over a decade, the leadership of the FAN has been loyal to Chávez and to individuals such as Diosdado Cabello, a politician and former military officer who has been a Chávez ally since his 1992 coup attempt. In order to maintain his good standing with the armed forces, Chávez has been on a never-ending shopping spree of new weapons, much of which were purchased from Russia. Nevertheless, the billions of dollars spent by Caracas on the military over the past years have not necessarily trickled down to the lower ranks of the armed forces.
With this current situation binding the loyalty of the armed forces, assurances that this group would remain both impartial and apolitical during a potential Capriles administration will be a challenge if Capriles wins. This might mean forcing the retirement of some senior military officers who are known to be outspoken Chávez supporters. The opposition leader has declared that he will name an active military officer as a defense minister if he is elected, potentially as a way to begin gaining support among the armed forces.
Regarding military contracts that have yet to be finalized, Capriles would be well-advised to carefully analyze the country’s finances. It would also be sensible for Capriles to assess Venezuela’s internal security situation as well as relations with neighboring states in order to decide whether such copious amounts of military-related spending is necessary. In other words, a Capriles victory may very well mean that Moscow will lose its biggest Latin American customer.
Capriles on foreign policy
The Chávez era has been marked by its anti-Washington posture as well as rapprochement to nations like Russia, China and even Iran. Suffice to say, Washington looks at Capriles as an opportunity to renew good relations between the U.S. and Venezuela as Capriles made it clear that he wants to reconstruct relations with the U.S. and European nations such as Spain (whose King once publiclyasked Chávez to shut up). Curiously,Chávez recently stated that if he were an American citizen, he would vote for Barack Obama in the upcoming U.S. elections. While this may have just been a passing remark, it can also be interpreted, from an optimistic point of view, that both Venezuelan candidates wish to strengthen ties with Washington after the numerous unsavory incidents of the past decade.
A boy walks beside a a wall covered with campaign posters of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012. Chavez held a 10-point lead over rival Henrique Capriles in a polling company’s final survey ahead of the Oct. 7 election, but the report released Tuesday showed Capriles narrowing the gap. In the case Capriles wins, two of the most critical issues he will need to confront include his relationship with the military and foreign policy. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
Moreover, cooperation between Colombia and Venezuela is likely to continue to improve. This is a positive development as diplomatic relations between the two governments reached a low point in 2008 when the two states came close to war over an incident with the FARC guerillas in Ecuador. Many things have since changed; Colombia’s former president, Alvaro Uribe, is no longer in power, and the current head of state, Juan Manuel Santos, has attempted to improve relations with Caracas. Interestingly, the Colombian head of state and Capriles met in mid-September in a meeting that was characterized as “brief and very formal” by the media. If Capriles wins, he has declared that he will send a list to the Colombian government of the Venezuelan citizens who have been kidnapped by the FARC.
Furthermore, there is the question of Chávez’s pet foreign policy project known as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). The Venezuelan president has been the axis of this Latin American bloc of nations whose heads of state are challenging Washington’s historical influence in the Western Hemisphere. Would Venezuela continue to be a leading-member of ALBA with a Capriles government? This is unlikely, as Capriles would probably want to push for stronger relations withregional blocs such as MERCOSUR, which recently admitted Venezuela as a member, and improve trade relations with countries like the U.S. A Chávez loss may signal the beginning of the end of ALBA, unless other heads of state, like Ecuador’s Rafael Correa or Bolivia’s Evo Morales, take a more prominent role. However, ALBA has revolved not only around Chávez’s charisma but also the financial aid that Venezuela has provided to friendly nations. It is unlikely that Capriles will want to use Venezuela’s petro dollars to continue such initiatives.
Finally, there is the question of the Venezuela-Cuba relationship. TheChávez-Castro friendshipand ideological similarities have been keys to the close relationship between the two states over the past decade. Capriles has stated that, should he win, he will revise his country’s relations with Havana. He has declared that he is willing to sell oil to Cuba, but will not donate it for free as Chávez has done. If Capriles wins, it would likely signal the end of the ideological alliance between the two nations and the return to a more pragmatic and traditional inter-state relationship.
A doll representing opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles is seen during a campaign rally in Maracaibo, Venezuela, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. Capriles will run against President Hugo Chavez in the presidential elections Oct. 7. In the case Capriles wins, two of the most critical issues he will need to confront include his relationship with the military and foreign policy. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
A Capriles government
Should Capriles manage to pull off an upset on October 7, there will be big expectations for his government and what initiatives he will pursue. Certainly, domestic issues like employment and rampant criminal violence will be at the top of his agenda. Nevertheless, some issues he will immediately have to tackle will be how to build a relationship with a politicized military and approach to Venezuela’s foreign policy, which has revolved around Chávez’s personal friendships and political ideology for over a decade. Needless to say, if Capriles wins, it will be very interesting to see what initiatives a Capriles government would bring.