It has been clear for some time that Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez was seriously ill, and trying to keep this information from the country’s population. He has now died at the age of 58, after 14 years in office. He has visited Cuba for medical treatment on several occasions and was too ill to take the oath of office in January. Vice-President Nicolas Maduro will take over but there must now be another election within a month and there are no guarantees that Chavez’s United Socialist Party will win.
All this is of interest on motor racing circles as Chavez has been a very active supporter of the country’s racing drivers, notably with funding for the likes of Pastor Maldonado, EJ Viso and Milka Duno with money coming from the state-owned PDVSA and its subsidiary Citgo, and from the national tourist authorities. There have always been critics who say that these sponsorships were not agreed with the necessary procedures and did not really serve the national interest. This latter argument is doubtful as Maldonado has become a key figure on Venezuelan sport and the next generation of rulers may well choose to go on funding his activities. The Williams team has a long-term rolling sponsorship deal with PDVSA which will be hard to break, but there is no doubt that Chavez’s death will create a little uncertainty in this respect.