The next Venezuelan President - Maduro or Capriles - would have the task of rejuvenating the Divine Chavismo the Latin American nation has experienced in the last 14 years

With the most vociferous critic of ‘yankee imperialism’ losing his two-year battle with cancer last week, the most powerful person on the planet could afford to indulge in some friendly banter (or so he thought) over the weekend.

The Nobel Laureate — his joke writers apparently having been placed on a furlough — took a dig at the ‘sequester’ about to set in; his VP’s presidential ambitions; even Bob Woodward.

All fine. After all, “It’s easy being a humourist when you’ve got the whole government working for you!” to quote Will Rogers.

Americans’ voracious appetite for the black gold is unlikely to come down anytime in the next two decades and Venezuela is sitting on arguably the biggest oil reserves. Ergo, Washington cannot afford to do a Cuba with the OPEC nation, Hugo Chavez or no Hugo Chavez.

Chavez’s chosen successor, Nicolas Maduro, has announced that he is unlikely to deviate from the fiery leader’s path if appointed President.

Henrique Caprilles is surely the opposition’s best bet, having garnered 44 per cent of votes in the November election — the best showing against Chavez by an opposition leader.

The elections to be held on April 14, Pollsters Hinterlaces recently predicted Maduro winning by 14 points.

As an analyst pointed out “It will be a battle between the divine and the human.” So, Caprilles is up, not against Maduro as such, but against the Commandante’s legacy.

As Chavez said after the failed military coup in 1992 in an epic, thirty two second television address “The objectives have not been possible to achieve now” — por ahora — “but new possibilities will arise again, and the country will be able to move forward”.

Be it Maduro or Caprilles, the import of these words would be ingrained in his subconscious as he takes up office.

The U.S-Venezuela ties have, meanwhile, been further downgraded, with Washington on Monday expelling two diplomats in retaliation against Caracas ordering out two American military attaches, on the day Chavez’s death was announced. This was for conspiring against the government.

Conspiracies, perceived conspiracies and counter-conspiracies are common in the volatile region. However, with the Commandante having chosen to centralise powers in his hands, and the legislature and judiciary being full of Chavistas, it would be interesting to see if Washington is able to arm-twist the new President into altering the Constitution.

Keywords: Hugo Chavez