According to Venezuela’s vice president, Nicolas Maduro, Hugo Chavez died at 4:25 PM, local time, on Tuesday from complications related to cancer.
FSG has been predicting for some time that it was unlikely that Hugo Chavez would be able return to lead the country, as his health has been in serious decline since he underwent his fourth cancer-related surgery in December.
While there might be a temptation for multinationals with operations in Venezuela to greet this news with cautious optimism, FSG stresses that executives should focus on managing expectations for any material change in the operating environment over the near-term.
The government is constitutionally mandated to hold presidential elections within 30 days; however, there is a possibility that this requirement could be ignored, with elections falling as far out as June.
Regardless of the timing of the elections, the most likely candidates will be Vice President Nicolas Maduro and Governor Henrique Capriles. FSG expects Maduro to win a clear electoral mandate due to a strong sympathy vote as well as the relative weakness of the opposition, which is still suffering the after effects of two big electoral defeats at the end of 2012. Recent poll results casting Maduro as a legitimate heir to Chavismo bear this prediction out.
Given Maduro’s ideological affinity for the key social tenets of Chavismo, as well as the fact that most legislators will not be up for reelection until 2015, it is highly unlikely that multinationals will see any major policy adjustments over the near-to-medium term. The one exception to this is a probable second devaluation sometime after the elections, along with the establishment of a new parallel exchange rate system to replace SITME.
The long-term picture is somewhat more optimistic as it is unlikely that Chavismo will hold together as a cohesive political force without a strong and charismatic leader at the helm. As such, there is a strong possibility that the opposition will slowly gain strength, leading to a modest opening of the economy to investment over the next few years. While this would be a welcome scenario for multinationals, it is also one fraught with a good deal of risk if the fragmentation of Chavismo leads to social unrest and instability.