With crime at an all-time high, continued drug-trafficking and a faltering oil sector, Meacham says the new Venezuelan government will be looking inward for the foreseeable future.
"The U.S. doesn't want to be in a situation where it is viewed at all as getting involved in domestic affairs of Venezuela," he says. "If Maduro wins, he will be trying to keep the focus on domestic issues, and that could put the resolve of Chavismo to the test. And that could mean the hardest days between the U.S. and Venezuela is not behind us, but ahead of us."
While the ability for the United States to shape a post-Chavez Venezuela may be limited, U.S. officials hope Chavez's death presents some political space for the political opposition, which until now has had problems uniting. The challenge for Washington is to try and seize the opening to engage with Venezuela's current leaders while trying to develop the opposition and help usher in new era of Venezuelan politics that doesn't revolve around one man.
Roger Noriega, a former assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs under former President George W. Bush, says the United States should not engage Venezuela until its leaders demonstrate they will respect the constitution and implement democratic reforms.
"We should defend the right of Venezuelans to struggle democratically to reclaim control of their country and its future," Noriega wrote in a blog for the American Enterprise Institute.
A key indicator of how the U.S. will proceed will be who is sent to Chavez's funeral, which is likely to be full of left-leaning, anti-American leaders. In the absence of an ambassador, sending a low-level embassy official suggests the United States is still looking to the past, while sending a senior delegation from Washington could signal an opening for Venezuela to seize.