Hugo Chavez’s announcement that he has cancer will terminate his ascent towards dictatorship even if he survives. Dictators cannot appear to be mortal. They cannot name successors, unless the successor is a personal extension, such as a son.
Preparing the groundwork for a successor-son takes time and absolute power as the Kim dynasty in North Korea can attest. The more common approach is to name no successor and let the fight begin after your death.
Stalin wrote the game book on modern dictatorship. He removed immediately, and usually permanently, anyone even rumored as his successor. Stalin understood that dictator remains in power only as long as his subordinates do not coalesce into a coalition strong enough to unseat him.
The naming of a successor facilitates the formation of a coalition around the successor and that is the end of the dictator.
There is one other factor: Dictators do not have dynamic and forceful deputies around them. Instead, they prefer Yes Men. Nonentities are less likely to attract coalition followers. In Stalin’s case, the result was a USSR run by party hacks for almost fifty years.
In the Soviet and Chinese communist cases, the party dictatorship survived the deaths of their “Great Leaders” (Lenin, Stalin, Mao) because of its dominant position. But in each case, a power struggle ensued within the party. Power struggles fought without rules are the consequence of the dying leader not specifying a successor. Only Lenin wrote a political testament, but it concluded that only he was suited to run the country.
Chavez’s run towards a personal dictatorship is over. He has not built a strong party. He is surrounded by non-entities, who have already begun jockeying to replace him. Worst of all: Unlike Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, he has not had time to eliminate other parties and elections. The coming election will either pit an ailing Chavez or a Chavez non-entity against a real opponent in the midst of a collapsing economy.
There is again reason to be bullish on Venezuela.