Chavez death brings some hope to Washington

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President Hugo Chavez gave Obama a book 'The Open Veins of Latin America' when they met in 2009
President Hugo Chavez gave Obama a book 'The Open Veins of Latin America' when they met in 2009 Photo: Reuters

America is looking at Caracas this morning with some concern and just a little hope.

The White House has issued a statement reaffirming its "support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government."

The death of Hugo Chavez falls right into the White House philosophy of trying to ensure no crisis goes to waste. The President and his team will seek to extract a diplomatic opportunity out of the change of leadership.

Read: Obama seeks 'constructive relationship' with Venezuela

But only hours before the death was announced and the Vice President of Venezuela was accusing the country's enemies of poisoning Chavez. It was a thinly-veiled suggestion that the CIA had somehow assassinated Chavez, mysteriously causing his fatal cancer.

For good measure Venezuela then expelled America's Air Force attache for seeking to destabilize the country.

This all suggests that US-Venezuelan relations are likely to remain volcanic in the short-term.

We can expect Chavez's grieving supporters to be told America is to blame for the country's problems.

A mourners outside the hospital holding the body of Hugo Chavez
A mourners outside the hospital holding the body of Hugo Chavez Credit: Reuters

Pictures: Mourners gather outside Chavez hospital in Caracas

It is the obvious way the regime can divert attention from its own economic mismanagement.

So diplomatic confrontation and angry exchanges are much more likely than ideological reconciliation.

But further down the road don't rule out a more positive and fundamental shift. This is a second term Obama administration that has made no progress in the Middle East and handled the Arab Spring with inconsistency. It would love to change the diplomatic dynamic closer to home.

Perhaps the US President will wait for the election outcome, for passions and grief to ease, and then make a gesture towards Venezuela.

Washington has long hoped to splinter the Havana-Caracas axis. This may be the opportunity.