In December, if only for a brief moment, the prospects of a brighter future for Venezuela-U.S. relations appeared on the horizon. With Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s firebrand socialist president, having just returned to Cuba to undergo what would be his final cancer treatment, his vice president and anointed successor, Nicolas Maduro, announced that Caracas would engage in a dialogue with Washington to examine and possibly improve bilateral relations.
Five months later, Chavez is dead, and this Sunday Venezuelans will vote in a snap election for a new president. The election will decide whether Chavez’s so-called Bolivarian revolution, a policy of social programs financed by Venezuela’s vast crude reserves, combined with expropriations, strict controls on currency exchange and restrictions on foreign trade, will continue or be rolled back significantly. In Sunday’s ballot, Maduro faces opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, the young and energetic social democrat and Miranda state governor who lost an election to Chavez in October.
Nonetheless, as the shortest campaign in Venezuela’s recent history hits the final stretch, U.S.-Venezuela relations have not become a serious topic for debate. What little discussion of the relationship has occurred has been mostly absurd or comic.