This past Friday, Venezuelans mourned the passing of their president, Hugo Chavez, with a lavish funeral as well as enormous public demonstrations.
Meanwhile, in the United States, there were probably quite a few diplomatic officials quietly rejoicing over the imminent change in Venezuelan leadership. Chavez, although not a serious threat to U.S. interests, was a thorn in the side of the West and an ineffective and bombastic leader for his people.
Fundamentally, the death of Chavez will have regional and international implications in the realms of economic and security. At this time, the United States and the international community should act with haste then the United States has the opportunity to work for the greater good in not only Venezuela but other South American countries and beyond.
The first issue of security regards border tensions between Venezuela and Colombia. Chavez allowed Marxist FARC narcoterrorist revolutionaries to use Venezuela as a staging ground for incursions and attacks in Colombia against the agrarian peasantry, according to the BBC. The FARC, while significantly less powerful today than they were in the 1980s, are still a threat to peace and stability in the region.
Colombia, in trying to move away from being the cocaine capital of the world, has been working to eliminate the FARC, who traffic the drug to fund its war against the Colombian government. The primary casualties of the conflict, however, are the poor Colombian farmers in the region. Luckily, in preparing for the death of Chavez, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said two months ago that he expects Venezuela, under the leadership of Vice President Nicolas Maduro, to support peace talks with the FARC, according to Reuters. The international community should also step in to lend support and legitimacy to the peace process to ensure the protection of civilians.
On issues of global security, Chavez was a vocal supporter of the Iranian security goals and opposition to Western influences under Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This is perhaps the most nuanced and important issue to arise from the death of Chavez.
According to international relations expert Kenneth Waltz, the international community should change its focus to Iran before the Middle Eastern country commits to nuclear weapons to ensure national security stability. To this effect, Chavez, in supporting Iran, gave that country an ally against the West and reduced the need for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon to ensure security.
Thus, the death of Chavez reduces the number of allies Iran has globally, and potentially increases the need for Iran to ensure its own security with greater weaponry or military force. Here, the international community needs to make Iranian leaders feel safe without allowing Iran to develop aggressive tactics.
By giving Iran a place at the international table — something that should be afforded to the nation with the second-largest oil exports in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) — the international community could reduce Iran’s concerns and desire for nuclear weapons. This would likely require further talks and negotiations with Iran, reduced militarization from Israel, a lifting of sanctions against Iran and the ability for Iran to reach out to other nations such as Venezuela to create alliances and goodwill, but that all stands as a better alternative than continuing to pressure Iranian leadership. As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in a speech on campus in October, there is little the international community can do to halt Iranian nuclear proliferation using force; negotiations are our best option.
On the issue of economic security, the death of Chavez creates opportunity for capitalist expansion and aid programs in Latin America. Chavez, according to NPR, was a large donor of oil aid to surrounding areas to spur development and increase his influence in the region. The death of Chavez might herald a change in Venezuelan aid policies, because Venezuela is not as prosperous as Maduro might hope.
If Venezuela does begin to retract aid, the countries previously benefitting will be in a bind; the continued global economic slowdown has prevented these nations from growing and being self-sufficient.
In the interim, to ensure human security, the international community should step in and step up aid programs to create the infrastructure, education systems and health systems necessary to allow various South American countries to create economic development and build better lives for their people.
If the international community does not step in now, the imminent loss of Venezuelan oil subsidies could force most, if not all, of these nations to implement austerity measures that will further hurt their people and slow economic growth. For the interests of human dignity, the international community must strike while the iron is hot.
Dan Morgan-Russell is a freshman majoring in international relations.