Venezuela’s problems go far beyond chavismo
Many international analysts suggest not only that Venezuela's President Maduro is about to fall, but also that the end of chavismo will inevitably be the starting point of a process of economic and political recovery of the country with the world's largest proven oil reserves. Both are wrong. A closer analysis reveals that Maduro can be expected to remain in power for now -- and the greatest threat to his rule does not come from the political opposition, but from the armed forces. Secondly, it is an excessively optimistic view based on a simplistic assessment of a country that whose ailments are far more numerous and complex than chavismo alone. This should not be understood as an implicit show of support for President Maduro's continued hold on power. Quite to the contrary, it seems fairly obvious that any kind of recovery, both economic and political, can only be led by Maduro's successor. In addition to the economic collapse, the current government is directly responsible for the countless political prisoners and hundreds, probably thousands of people who have needlessly died to the lack of even basic medicine in Venezuela's public hospitals.
Yet overcoming chavismo alone will only be a first step in a far longer and complicated process that requires changing not only how elites relate to the rest of society, but also how society as a whole views the role of the state in the economy. As any historian can point out, Venezuela's deep problems -- most of them related to the country's obscene oil wealth and its economic dependence on it -- precede the rise of Chávez, and there is little to suggest that any future, post-chavismo government, can solve them easily. That explains why a surprising amount of Venezuelans wants Maduro to go, but many are surprisingly skeptical about whether the opposition will do a much better job.
There is another, rather uncomfortable truth that many opposition politicians only rarely mention when speaking about a post-Maduro Venezuela. If Maduro was removed from power today, the most likely successor would be somebody from the armed forces, ideologically aligned with the president. Paradoxically, however, even even if an anti-chavista politician were to succeed Maduro, he or she would still depend on the support of chavistas both on the bureaucratic and the political level. Chavez and Maduro have merged state and party to such a degree that no neutral technocrats are left, and purging anybody who sympathized with Chávez or Maduro would leave the country entirely dysfunctional. That means that, should Maduro fall, a witch hunt must be avoided at all costs -- actually, behind closed doors, opposition people admit that transition may have to involve giving a broad and generous amnesty -- and basically keep most public employees in place.
For both the United States and neighboring countries, that means two things: Pushing Maduro out and then leaving the country to its own devices will solve very little. Second, Venezuela will be a long term patient, and as such, Foreign Ministries in the region must adopt a long-term strategy when it comes to dealing with the country. This, however, could generate unforeseen tensions. Brazil, for example, will try to avoid that any post-chavismo government turning into a staunch US ally, similar to Colombia, as this would increase US influence in South America far more than Brasília would like.