Today, Jan. 10, was the day when Hugo Chávez was scheduled to be sworn in for the fourth time as Venezuela’s president. Instead, he is lying in a Cuban hospital, suffering serious complications from cancer surgery, and the country’s legislature, dominated by the president’s loyalists, has delayed the ceremony indefinitely. As Venezuelans grapple with the political uncertainty created by Chávez’s precarious health, the prospect of a post-Chávez era poses complex choices for a number of other countries, not least among them, the United States.
During almost 14 years in office, Chávez made anti-Americanism the cornerstone of his foreign policy, working at every step to antagonize U.S. goals and undermine Washington’s influence. Perhaps the greatest irritant of all was the close relationship he forged with Iran, a country the U.S. and its allies believe is trying to develop nuclear weapons and sponsoring international terrorism.
As the U.S. spearheaded efforts to pass United Nations sanctions to stop Iran’s nuclear enrichment, Chávez traveled to Tehran and, along with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, provocatively announced the creation of what they called an “Axis of Unity” against the U.S. The two countries work together in a number of areas. Of particular interest to the U.S. is Venezuela’s help to Iran in circumventing international sanctions.