Venezuela: What Happens if Chávez Loses?

Things could get worse before they get better. Capriles has promised to maintain many of Chávez's popular, but expensive, social programs while also investing heavily in an aging infrastructure. High oil prices will provide significant revenues but there is a lack of clarity about the government's current financial situation.

"One of the major challenges of a transition would be to determine the real state of the public finances, including the unaudited off-budget funds controlled by the executive," says the Economist Intelligence Unit's Barriga. The government has been spending heavily in order to win the election and some large debts are due in 2013.

A President Capriles would be severely constrained in what he can do. But it's arguable that candidate Capriles has also been severely constrained. If he can pull off a miracle and defeat Chávez, he may surprise everyone in how he handles the challenges of being president.

Even when the odds are against him.

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