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Chavez is dead. Long live the 'great man' theory

Love him or loathe him, Hugo Chavez was a larger-than-life figure who changed Venezuelan politics forever

by Rashmee Roshan Lall on 6 March 2013 15:22

In death, as in life, Hugo Chavez, has taken over the ether. Within minutes of TV, radio and the internet simultaneously announcing the Venezuelan president had died, journalist Jonathan Katz re-tweeted “Chavez’s last tweet”. It read: “Still clinging to Christ, trusting docs & nurses. Then quotes Che & Fidel, adding: ‘We will live’.”

Slate magazine chimed in with the “fun facts” about the military officer who went on to become president of Venezuela and guiding light of a political ideology he called Bolivarianism: “He was a 9/11 truther and he doubted that the moon landing happened”.

They might have added this absolute corker from Caracas – that Mr Chavez was given cancer by the evil West; that it was a plot, a conspiracy.

Chavez’s death leaves a gaping hole – in conspiracy theories, just as much as in Venezuelan politics; in stop-start regional attempts to forge ever closer union; and in the eight-year-old, 18-nation Petrocaribe (a good gig for Caricom; a costly attempt at peddling influence by Chavez).

But mostly, of course, Chavez’s final removal from the scene – 15 days after he returned to Caracas from a Cuban hospital – raises huge questions about Venezuela’s future. Chavez’s oversized personality, strident opinions, and absolute certainties made him a hugely controversial and enormously charismatic figure.

He exemplified the Great Man Theory of history, i.e. that a certain time and place in the life of a country can be explained by the impact, both positive and negative, of “great men”. For Venezuela, that was the last 14 years.

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