Foreign governments, not least the US administration, will watch closely to see if the late president's movement, "Chavismo", succeeds in holding power and perpetuating his "21st-century socialist revolution", a model entailing state control of the economy, subsidies to Cuba and rhetorical broadsides against Yankee imperialism.
Ah, the rhetorical broadsides. It’s not cool to say so outright but I think a lot of the way opinion on Chavez has split is down to the holder’s opinion on that issue. I mean, people don’t say ‘how very dare that buffoon say mean and nasty things about the United States of Wonderful’ they just fret insincerely about demagoguery or about how Chavez never diversified the Venezualan economy. Likewise, behind the talk of the man who empowered the poor, there’s a definite undertone of ‘go on, Hugo, show Uncle Yanqui your arse again!’ This is partly why some people went off him after Bush left: ‘you can’t show Obama your arse! He's Obama! And he’s a Democrat!’
But the rhetorical broadsides did a bit of wider good. You have a leader who survived a coup attempt that the US very much wanted to see succeed and who then based his foreign policy around the Khrushchev principle of throwing a hedgehog down Uncle Sam’s pants at every opportunity: and Uncle Sam went on and let him do it. Uncle Sam was busy at the time rampaging elsewhere and the whole golpista approach was waning after the end of the Cold War. But it sends a signal to even the dimmest Brazilian general, say, that he’d better knuckle down and learn to live with Lula. It lets the coca farmer in the Altiplano know he can vote for who he wants without worrying about the army showing up and conducting a limpieza. It creates political space.
The problem with Hugo’s variation on the Lat Am left-nationalist-military nexus is that this tradition never survives the death of the founder, at least not with any integrity. Think of Noriega succeeding Torrijos in Panama or the evolution of the PRI in Mexico. Right now Chavismo looks like it may be good for another election, not least because the opposition seems like such an incoherent horrible mess. But it’s difficult to see how an organization whose ideology basically amounts to The Personal Generosity of Hugo Chavez is going to survive over the longer term.