Hugo Chávez RIP: A legacy of division

Venezuela seems exhausted after the last 14 years. After Chavez's funeral services, let us hope the Venezuelan people will be allowed to also rest in peace

Chavez: A man with a big legacy
Fernando Menendez
On 7 March 2013 09:06

Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez died March 5th, after a two-year battle with an undisclosed form of cancer. Mr. Chávez was a polarizing figure; given his advocacy of “21st century socialism,” the official ideology of his regime, one either saw him as a champion of the poor and downtrodden or a power-hungry demagogic populist. But, in truth, only a review of his actions, and not his intentions, can help appraise his legacy.

On the international plane, the Chávez regime solidified its anti-US alliance with several notorious states. Venezuelan ships have made at least three ports of call to Syria to help prop up the genocidal Bashar al Assad regime, defying international sanctions. During the uprising in Libya against Muammar Gaddafi, Venezuela offered solidarity and refuge to the tyrant in Tripoli.

Iran has reportedly laundered some $30 billion through Venezuela. Iran’s embassy in Caracas is its largest in the world and Hezbollah operatives travel using Venezuelan passports. As the country with the second largest supply of uranium after Canada, Venezuela may be supplying Iran’s nuclear ambition as well as serving as a base for Iranian penetration in the Americas.

Chávez has given Cuba two-thirds of the island’s oil supply, an estimated $5 billion a year, in exchange for thousands of Cuban doctors, teachers and state security operatives. China has lent Venezuela at least $32 billion in exchange for oil supplies at below market prices. And Russia sold over $4 billion in arms to modernize Venezuela’s military.

Additionally, Chávez spent billions to help elect and prop up friendly regimes in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and a host of other capitals in the Americas.

Promises not kept

On coming to power for the first time in 1998, Chávez pledged to respect the constitution, step down after a first term, and refrain from any nationalizations or attacks on the free press.

Despite his claims, Chávez disbanded Congress, re-wrote the constitution to centralize power in the president’s hands, subordinating the other branches of government, and ran for re-election a record four times. He has strangled the press and nationalized large swaths of the Venezuelan economy.

Some argue the “social missions,” or programs of health and education sponsored by the government, have helped Venezuela’s poor. Others, however, point to the enormous inefficiencies of such showpieces.

At home, arguing that Venezuela should use its vast oil wealth to improve the lives of the poor majority, the Chávez government’s economic policies have led to rising prices and increasing shortages hurting the poor the hardest. Unemployment and poverty persist, despite the regime’s best apologists. And violent crime has made Caracas one of the world’s murder capitals.

A divided nation

The so-called Bolivarian Revolution has conflated the role of the governing political party, the state and the military. Soldiers must pledge the defense of the “socialist revolution.” This ideological loyalty test has caused enormous political division among all sectors of the population. Tens of thousands of Venezuela’s best and brightest have fled the country in a massive brain drain.

Whether there will be chavismo without Chávez is entirely a matter of conjecture. Some point to the memory of Peronismo in Argentina, with its violence and corruption of public life, and its many divisions all claiming to honor the spirit, if not the law, of the great caudillo. No doubt there will be a rush for the ideological bones of the paratrooper from Sabaneta, not unlike Chávez’s appropriation of Simón Bolivár’s memory for his own project.

Venezuela, however, seems largely exhausted after 14 convulsive years of economic mismanagement, violent crime, political and social division, and the erratic dictates of what some detractors called a Tropical Mussolini. After the funeral services, let us hope the Venezuelan people will be allowed to also rest in peace.

Fernando Menéndez is an economist and principal of the Cordoba Group International LLC, a strategic consulting firm

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