Reports about the condition of President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez differ widely, and one should be careful not to prematurely declare his days numbered — recall how often Fidel Castro’s imminent death has been announced, and yet still he lives. But Chavez was evidently not fit to be sworn in for his fourth Presidential term on 10 January, and speculation is rife as to who will succeed him. Broadly speaking, there are three scenarios and they have differing consequences for Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
On paper, the worst-case scenario for Abkhazia and South Ossetia would be if new elections are held and the opposition comes to power, as they may reject Venezuela’s support for Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a personal project by Chavez. At best, this may mean that Abkhazia and South Ossetia will subsequently be ignored, at worst, the new government could give in to U.S. pressure and ‘withdraw’ its recognition, even though this will involve more than simply signing a document, as Venezuela has ratified treaties and exchanged ambassadors with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. On the other hand, in the less likely event that Abkhazia and South Ossetia continue to receive support by the new government, their recognition can be said to have become properly institutionalised.
If Chavez dies or is legally declared unable to fulfill his duties, and his allies subsequently maintain power, there are two politicians most likely to succeed him: Vice President and Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro and Speaker of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello. It is of course impossible to predict what line of policy they would follow, but of the two, Maduro is the better known quantity, since it was under his tenure as Foreign Minister that Venezuela recognised the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The best Abkhazia and South Ossetia can hope for is for Maduro (or Cabello) to actively promote their cause in Latin-America, which Venezuela’s Ambassador Hugo José García Hernández admitted in August has been hampered by Chavez’s illness. Previously high hopes in the region have been left unfulfilled, which means that there is still a lot left to gain. Certain countries, like Cuba, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic, seem in principle prepared to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but currently don’t care enough to incur the diplomatic cost involved. Venezuela carries the necessary clout to sway them — much more so than Nicaragua, which recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia first. And once these countries are brought around, it could lower the controversy enough to convince further states to follow in their footsteps, like Bolivia, Uruguay and Argentine.