With President Hugo Chavez's passing on Tuesday, one would expect international relations between Venezuela and the United States to mend. But Chavez's widespread hand of influence, even in death, should put those expectations to rest.
Over the course of his 14 years in office, Chavez routinely denounced the political and cultural influence the U.S. exerts worldwide and ran an aggressive propaganda campaign to limit the influence that would have in Latin America. At every turn, American moves in politics, economics, counter-terrorism and foreign policy had been rejected by Chavez and his thoroughly cultivated anti-American agenda.
Former-President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama have had to contend with opposition from the Venezuelan government in some of the most critical foreign policy issues over the last decade, as Chavez had consistently supported tyrannical regimes in Libya, Syria and Iran.
While seeking to capitalize on the passing of the world leader to improve international relations may seem morbid and disrespectful, government goes on. But aside from reestablishing the presence of ambassadors within each other's borders — the U.S. and Venezuela haven't had ambassador relationships since 2010 — not much can be done right away. Chavez's policies, supporters and anti-American sentiments are too deeply entrenched in Venezuelan political culture.
Consider the iron grip Chavez's governing party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, maintains in Venezuelan politics. Chavez had been consistently criticized for carrying out "free but not fair" elections, in which his government used heavy resources to back his campaigns, drowning out opposition. The practice will surely continue in the next month, as Venezuelans prepare to elect their next president.
Former vice president, and current-interim president, Nicolas Maduro is the likely successor to take office, hand chosen by Chavez in December of last year as the man Venezuelans should vote for in the event of his passing (Chavez battled cancer through the end of his life).
Chavez would not have so heavily endorsed President Maduro had he not had faith in Maduro's commitment to his policies, both domestic and abroad.
Mending a sour relationship is difficult enough for nations sparring in policy and ideology. A transfer of power typically offers a small window of opportunity to begin repairing a poor relationship, but that window shuts when the next leader basks in the shadow of his predecessor. President Maduro will be Hugo Chavez 2.0, and nothing between the U.S. and Venezuela will change.