Michael Moynihan waves goodbye to the strongman:
His was a poisonous influence on the region, one rah-rahed by radical fools who desired to see a thumb jammed in America’s eye, while not caring a lick for its effect on ordinary Venezuelans. In his terrific new book (fortuitously timed to publish this week) Comandante: Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, The Guardian’s Rory Carroll summed up the legacy of Chávez’s Venezuela as “a land of power cuts, broken escalators, shortages, queues, insecurity, bureaucracy, unreturned calls, unfilled holes, uncollected garbage.” One could add to that list grinding poverty, massive corruption, censorship, and intimidation.
William J. Dobson doubts Chávez’s brand of politics will survive him:
Chavismo served only to showcase the man who propounded it. A man whose humble origins and charismatic personality helped forge a connection with the country’s poor, a population who had long been excluded from politics. A man whose style, voice, and methods were so unpredictable that it took his opponents more than a decade to even understand whom they were opposing.
Jennifer Cyr isn’t so sure:
The chavistas … could remain a political and social tour de force in the country for some time. After fourteen years in office, Chávez leaves behind an institutional, social, and international legacy that will be difficult to overcome. Perhaps just as important, his memory will surely live on among those Venezuelans who fell under his spell, declaring that they love Hugo Chávez (“yo lo amo”). Whether his closest confidants can continue to fuel that love after his death is an open question. (His refusal to cultivate any sort of progeny to succeed him, as well as potentially conflicting interests within Chavez’s coalition of support, help very little in this endeavor.)
Francisco Toro looks at how Chávez spent Venezuela’s oil wealth:
Where Chávez was able to transcend the Cuban model, it was largely due to the advantages of life at the receiving end of an unprecedented petrodollar flood. By some estimates, Venezuela sold over $1 trillion worth of oil during his tenure, and so his was government by hyperconsumption, not rationing. The petroboom allowed Chávez to substitute the checkbook for the gulag; marginalizing his opponents via popular spending programs rather than rounding them up and throwing them in jail. Rather than declaring all out-war on business, he co-opted them. Rather than abolish civil society, he created a parallel civil society, complete with pro-government unions, universities, radio stations and community councils. Such enhancements were tried before by left-wing populists in Latin America, but always failed because they ran out of money.
The Economist adds:
A majority of Venezuelans may eventually come to see that Mr Chávez squandered an extraordinary opportunity for his country, to use an unprecedented oil boom to equip it with world-class infrastructure and to provide the best education and health services money can buy. But this lesson will come the hard way, and there is no guarantee that it will be learned.
Diego von Vacano argues that Chávez’s form of government wasn’t populist but “democratic Caesarism”:
This term, unlike ‘populism,’ describes a regime that seeks to use constitutional, juridical, and legal procedures to institutionalize reforms aimed at ameliorating the plight of poor and working-class citizens. While populist regimes such as that of Perón and Getúlio Vargas in Brazil relied on demagoguery to stay in power, democratic-Caesarist regimes rely on constitutional and public-law mechanisms to legitimate the authority of a form of republicanism with a strong executive that possesses a martial, anti-imperial component.
Gideon Rachman sees few countries are following Venezuela’s example:
The contrast with former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil is striking. Although Chávez was a military man and Lula was a trade-unionist, both leaders espoused radical, left-wing ideas in their early careers. The difference is that Lula was much more pragmatic in office. This does not mean that he sold out. On the contrary, like Chávez’s Venezuela, Lula’s Brazil placed a heavy emphasis on redistributive policies that favoured the poor. Lula was also happy, on occasion, to play to the gallery with some anti-imperialist rhetoric. But he was also prepared to make his peace with big business and with the United States. Brazil has become a favoured destination for foreign investors.
And Massie insists that Chávez “didn’t matter that much”:
In truth, Chavez was vastly over-estimated by Washington. Listening to bone-headed Republicans you could have been forgiven for supposing this bullshitting caudillo was a Latin American Stalin. Chavez never represented much more than a modest threat to mainstream American interests. It suited both sides to flatter Chavez and over-estimate his influence.
(Photo: A poster of President Hugo Chavez reading ‘There is a great future ahead’ is seen at the consulate of Venezuela of Santa Cruz de Tenerife on March 6, 2013. By Desiree Martin/AFP/Getty Images)