On September 27, an audience composed of government officials, policy professionals, and academics gathered at the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies (CHDS) in Washington, DC, to listen to the views of a prestigious panel of Venezuela experts in anticipation of the upcoming presidential election in that country. In October, the Venezuelan population will elect a president for the next six-year term, which will begin in February 2013. The two leading candidates, incumbent Hugo Chávez Frias and opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski, appear to present two very different visions for the future of Venezuela, and the outcome of this election will surely have ramifications for regional stability, US-Venezuelan relations, and the people of Venezuela.
CHDS brought together a panel of experts in order to address these and other issues related to the upcoming election. Ambassador Virginia Contreras, former Ambassador from Venezuela to the OAS, currently serves as a Visiting Scholar at CHDS, and provided a nuanced analysis of both candidates from a Venezuelan perspective. Mr. Stephen Johnson, the Director of the Americas Program at CSIS and former US Assistant Deputy Secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs, spoke candidly about possible barriers to a free and fair election due to the high level of interdependence between state and society in Venezuela. Rounding out the panel, CHDS Professor Boris Saavedra addressed the state of Venezuelan foreign policy and how it may change following the election. The panel was moderated by CHDS Professor Isidro Sepúlveda. Following the panel presentations, audience members took the opportunity to pose questions and discuss the contentious election and its implications for the hemisphere.