The burning question of the moment in Latin America: Will it be a peaceful transition or a civil war?
With Hugo Chavez' death, Venezuela is once again given the opportunity and the historical choice of abiding by its own laws or take the force road and push its way through.
On one hand, according to the Venezuelan constitution, the presidency now falls on Mr. Diosdado Cabello, President of the National Assembly, with a term of 30 days to call elections and let democracy run its course and elect a new president for a new term.
On the other hand, Vice President Mr. Nicolás Maduro has been exercising power since Mr.Chavez' cancer treatment begun in Cuba late last year. He has been the visible head of government ever since, and even when Chavez failed to be in Venezuela for his inauguration for the term awarded him by the 2012 elections, Mr. Maduro has been seen as the leader of the Venezuelan government, with no intention to leave.
Now, two perspectives are to be considered here, namely the legal way and the popular sentiment. The law states that Cabello is the president upon Mr. Chavez' death. But popular sentiment remembers that Mr. Chavez selected Mr. Maduro as his successor should anything happen to him, and considering the populist measures the Venezuelan government took over many years, this sentiment is an issue to reckon and weigh.
Everytime a country becomes divided in this fashion, a conflict follows. In the case at hand, unless Mr. Cabello and Mr. Maduro reach an agreement to follow the law, a conflict lurks in the near future. Now, considering that the Chavistas, loyal to Chavez and his cabinet, will likely line up behind Mr. Maduro, the opposition will definitely do so behind Mr. Cabello, because the law so dictates, in spite of Mr. Cabello's being a member of the cabinet himself.
Summing up, Venezuela is presented today with a difficult choice. Its laws support one man the country does not, and its sentiment exalt another man whom the country definitely does not care for. The probability of this dicotomy escalating into a civil conflict is high, especially when one considers that since late last week, reports have been coming in from within Venezuela that the government has been mobilizing the military to various parts of the country, with the obvious, yet silent, intention of controlling any uprisings pursuant to Mr. Chavez' death announcement.
It seems that the government knows that a confrontation might soon begin in the country. Should that happen, the already prolific flight of Venezuelan citizens to neighboring countries will increase spectacularly. As a Colombian, I hope to be wrong about it all. But the disdain and the non-compliance with the laws that the Venezuelan government has displayed over the last years does not indicate anything different.