President Daniel Ortega last night followed other Latin American presidents in expressing his solidarity with ailing Venezuelan comrade Hugo Chávez, who is again fighting for his life as he undergoes is fourth cancer surgery today in Cuba.
“In the name of the people of Nicaragua, I want to salute our brother, our compañero, the liberator Hugo Chávez Frías, who once again is confronting a great battle that he has been confronting,” Ortega said during a political act Monday night.
Ortega, who has received more than $2.2 billion in Venezuelan largess since 2007, compared Chávez’s “struggle for the liberty of Venezuela, our America and humanity” to the historic efforts by Simon Bolívar, Augusto Sandino and José Martí.
Thanks to Chávez’s leadership in regional projects such as ALBA and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the hemisphere today is “more united than ever,” Ortega said. And the process will continue, the Sandinista strongman insisted.
“The Bolivarian Revolution with compañero Hugo Chávez has planted and the harvest is there in Venezuela and in all of our America, and the harvest is also here in Nicaragua. And there is no turning back in this battle,” Ortega said.
The Sandinista Youth this week made some pious noise by organizing a group prayer session on Sunday night. More than 5,000 identically dressed members of the Sandinista Youth gathered in Managua’s Bible Park Sunday night to light candles, hold hands, raise their palms to the heavens and pray collectively for Chávez’s health.
The golden coin toss
Though Chávez, 58, has been publically battling cancer since mid 2011, he declared himself fully recovered prior to his successful reelection bid last October. Two months after being elected to another six years in office, Chávez is back in Cuba for another cancer surgery that even he seems to think is a long-shot.
The Venezuelan president’s address to the nation Saturday night sounded like a farewell speech. After explaining that the cancer had returned, a somber Chávez named his vice-president and foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, as successor.
Chávez’s failing health has caused considerable political and economic uncertainly in Venezuela and Nicaragua. Though he finally appointed his successor, the Venezuelan voters will ultimately have the final say over who comes after Chávez. And that’s why analysts say the events of the next few days could determine the future of Venezuela, ALBA and even Nicaragua.
If the president-elect dies before his Jan. 10 inauguration, the head of Venezuela’s congress becomes the interim president and a new election would be held in 30 days. But, according to Nicaraguan political analyst Oscar Rene Vargas, if Chávez dies after his inauguration in January, Vice President Maduro would essentially be the incumbent candidate, which makes a big difference.
“Right now there is a golden coin in the air and we don’t know how it is going to land,” Vargas told The Nicaragua Dispatch.
If opposition political leader Henrique Capriles, who lost his first presidential bid to Chávez last October by 10 points, were to win in a second-chance election against Maduro in the next few months, ALBA—as Nicaragua knows it—would most likely end, analysts claim. And even if Maduro continues at the head of the “Bolivarian Revolution” for the next six years, without Chávez the ALBA project would probably start to wither on the vine, Vargas predicts.
“ALBA might last a few more years, but geopolitically Venezuela would need to look more toward Brazil to defend itself from the U.S.,” Vargas says. Nicaragua, he says, would become far less important to Venezuela without Chávez in the picture to keep the relationship alive.
That would also cast a longer shadow of doubt over long-term Venezuelan-backed megaprojects such as the Supreme Dream of Bolivar Oil Refinery, the analyst says.
New management in Venezuela would also spell uncertainty for the Sandinistas’ main financial arm, ALBA de Nicaragua, S.A. (ALBANISA), a company that is 51% owned by Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) and 49% owned by Empresa Nicaragüense de Petróleo (PETRONIC). ALBANISA currently receives hundreds of millions of dollars in concessional loans generate from deal that sends 50% of Nicaragua’s oil bill into a trust fund that is owned by PDVSA but managed by ALBANISA.
The current arrangement between Chávez and Ortega nets an average of $500 million for the Sandinista government each year. In comparison, all other forms of aid that enter Nicaragua each year from multi-lateral lenders and bilateral donors totals $360 million, according to the 2013 budget.
Some analysts think political change in Venezuela could even get nasty for Nicaragua.
“The ALBA relationship between Venezuela and Nicaragua has never been totally clear, and when it comes to the end people are going to try to figure out what happened,” says ex-foreign minister and former opposition congressman Francisco Aguirre. “Venezuelans are going to want to know what happened to all the money they gave Nicaragua. And that’s when the witch hunt begins and that’s when the shit will hit the fan.”