The man who claimed he could smell sulfur at the UN General Assembly podium after George W. Bush, (whom he called "El Diablo") spoke may finally be getting a real dose of the smelly element. After a bout with cancer that began in 2011, Hugo Chavez is meeting his eternal reward today, after nearly wrecking his native Venezuela's democracy and economy. His death may have been due to an infection incurred while he underwent treatment in Cuba's medical system. The wizards of the M.D. Anderson cancer institute in Houston might have done much better, but Chavez's hatred of America would not allow him to seek treatment where it might have done him some good.
An election to replace him as president must held within 30 days, and it is expected to see his vice president and chosen successor Nicolas Maduro face Henrique Capriles, a centrist state governor who was narrowly defeated by Chavez in the presidential election late last year. While Maduro lacks Chavez's charisma, he still has the advantage of control of most of the media, and the gratitude of Venezuela's poor, who received subsidies and benefits, even as the economy languishes and inflation roars, impoverishing the very people who feel gratitude. Think Obama phones on steroids. There is no way to predict the election results from this distance.
The death is a blow to Iran, which found a Western Hemisphere ally in Chavez, who shared the mullahs' anti-Americanism and their anti-Semitism (many Jews, including some of the country's best doctors, fled Venezuela during his persecution). It also harms the socialist regimes in Cuba, Bolivia, and Ecuador, all of whom received financial and other support from Chavez. The narco-terrorists supported by Chavez join the mullahs and the socialists in mourning.
Venezuelan oil production has been falling, in no small part because capable technocrats have been driven out and replaced by political stooges. Now that American oil production is rising thanks to fracking, Venezuela's high sulfur heavy crude may need to find new markets.
The story is far from over, but at least Venezuela has the possibility of recovering some of the freedom and prosperity lost under Chavez's regime.