Maduro victory could speed the end of Chavismo
As the fragile ground of Chavismo without Chávez begins to crumble under the feet of Maduro, those once willing to tolerate the clownery of Chávez may begin to seek more solid ground
According to Venezuela’s questionable electoral authority, Hugo Chávez’s chosen successor Nicolas Maduro has won the presidency over challenger Henrique Capriles by less than one percentage point, or around 230,000 votes. The unlikelihood that the hapless Maduro won by such a razor-thin margin over the charismatic Capriles has already called into question the legitimacy of his regime. It may also herald a faster fall of Chavismo throughout the hemisphere.
Chávez, because of the cult of personality that he built with near total media dominance, fed a sequacious populace a steady diet of populist propaganda, featuring marathon meetings in which “El Comandante” berated terrified functionaries on live television for supposed shortcomings in their implementation of his often improvised agenda.
The spectacle led Venezuela analysts to compare the public’s adoration of Chávez, despite the continuous economic failures, food shortages, corruption and incompetence, to that of the true believers under Stalin, who were often reported to lament “If only Stalin knew...” when their family and neighbors were assassinated by the local nomenklatura.
Maduro, as one of those bumbling and corrupt nomenklaturi under Chávez, will not enjoy a similar impunity. Nor is he likely to enjoy an unprecedented windfall of inflated oil proceeds to fulfill the similarly inflated expectations of Chávez supporters for subsidies and giveaways in exchange for their votes and deflected blame.
Many in Venezuela and throughout the region have enjoyed Chávez’s largess while also expecting it to be short-lived. Few expected Chávez to stay in power for nearly a decade and a half. Even those who actually believed in his anti-imperialist cant never expected the US to abide the rhetorical eye-poking and actual terror-sponsoring for very long.
The US has long held a stance of not dignifying despots by responding to their histrionics. But Chávez was adept at playing the enfant terrible while not crossing the line that might bring repercussions, especially while the US was preoccupied with dual war fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Maduro will not share the same forbearance, either from the US or his neighbors. He will be tempted to out-Chávez Chávez, and this will likely be his undoing. His pseudo-victory speech last night showed him to be out of his element on the stage still haunted by the predecessor that he was attempting to channel.
As the fragile ground of Chavismo without Chávez begins to crumble under the feet of Maduro’s unsure steps, those once willing to tolerate the rabid clownery and the imperialist scapegoating of Hugo Chávez may begin to seek more solid ground. The rule of the diplomatically uncouth, though it makes for a good sideshow for the politically unserious, may finally be nearing its expiration date.
Jon Perdue is the director of Latin America programs at the Fund for American Studies in Washington, and is the author of The War of All the People - The Nexus of Latin American Radicalism and Middle Eastern Terrorism (Potomac Books)
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