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Analysis, book reviews and photography from Abkhazia and the wider Caucasus — updates when time permits

Venezuela and Russia and flawed democracy

Following Tolstoy we may say that all happy democracies are alike. And probably, so are all totalitarian dictatorships. But all flawed democracies are flawed in their own way, as the Venezuelan Presidential election of last weekend demonstrates.

According to the official result, the election — following the death of Hugo Chávez — was won by Nicolás Maduro. His tiny majority (50.8%) puts paid to the commonly portrayed image of Venezuela in the west as a dictatorship. In comparison, such a close result is unprecedented in Russia, as is the fact that his challenger — Henrique Capriles, who scored 49.0% — is governor of Miranda, Venezuela’s largest state. Elections are fairer in Venezuela than in Russia. The problem with democracy in Venezuela is a weak rule of law and that, between elections, the President has near-dictatorial powers. Actually, these are also Russia’s problems. The difference lies in the fact that while Putin is generally recognised to be the choice of most Russians — however unfairly elections may be conducted — the administrative support Maduro enjoyed combined with even the smallest amount of manipulation make his popular majority dubious.

Filed under: Elections, Russia, Venezuela, ,

Succession of Chavez also affects Abkhazia and South Ossetia

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.

Filed under: Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Venezuela, , ,

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