|Caricature from The Times, 7 Mar. 2013|
For me, after 14 years of his rule, Chavez has been an utter and absolute failure. A disaster to an otherwise semi-dysfunctional democracy. A Frankenstein of a political duopoly that did not know how to develop. I could bore readers with statistics on the economy, crime, prison deaths, human rights violations and so on, but I won't. Chavez's legacy, the one with which 29 million of us will have to deal with for generations to come, is one of hatred. Hatred that just wasn't there. Hatred that was incited, as a state policy, from the highest office. Hatred among Venezuelans, that was not seen, or experienced, since the times of the independence war, when Bolivar and Boves were battling each other to extermination.
All else remains irrelevant, mere side shows. It is inaccurate to say, as many now do, that Chavez brought health care to poor people, as much as it is to say that he nationalised oil. It is untenable to argue that Venezuela is an "illiteracy free" territory. It is preposterous to praise community groups in barrios as a sign of enlightened democratic empowerment of the disenfranchised, when the rights of the minority, in this case the opposition, are systematically trampled as a matter of state policy. Don't take my word for it, just pick any report from the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International, HRW, the EU, or even ILO. It is ignorant, in the extreme, to contend that since Chavez has won many elections, and that since there's lack of evidence of ballot stuffing, elections in Venezuela are free and fair.
Chavez, as Gabriel Garcia Marquez once clairvoyantly said, was a man who had the chance of changing our country for the better, and decided instead to gallop like the deranged and resentful megalomaniac he was in the complete opposite direction. And after 14 years and the largest income that our petro state has ever seen, Ronald Reagan's poignant question becomes all too relevant: are Venezuelans better off today than they were 14 years ago? The answer is: absolutely not. There's more crime, there's more violence, there's hardly an institution capable of dispensing justice, there are no places to go get redress, there are fewer businesses so finding work is much more difficult, the country's infrastructure is crumbling, the state is heavily indebted, the value of our currency is lower, the inflation is out of control, the country is perilously dependent on imports as local businesses have been persecuted to the point of near extinction, there are thousands of Cubans in strategic positions, drug dealing has permeated the top echelons of military power, our country under Chavez has but broken relations with every democratic and advanced state and has forged instead relations with pariah states and leaders whose relationships have cost us billions, in sum, for every positive thing Chavez may have done, there are dozens of negative actions that leaves us in the red. Had Chavez not taken over PDVSA it would be producing in excess of 3.3 MBD with about 40,000 employees. Instead, it is producing less than 2.5 MBD -even importing gasoline to meet local demand- and its staff has increased to over 100,000 employees, ergo less money to get out from the hole.
|Hugo Chavez with his friend Bashar al-Assad|
No amount of Barrio Adentro hyperbole is going to mask the destitute state of affairs brought about by chavismo. Equally, no amount of make believe "disenfranchised empowerment" humbug will change the fact that, within chavismo, democracy is, quite simply, non existent. It was Chavez who decided all relevant matters. It was Chavez who appointed, recycled, empowered and demoted. No one else. Not even "the people". The fact that his movement has not produced one single figure head capable of taking his mantle is the biggest testament to the failure of chavismo's authoritarian personality cult.
Thus, going back to Chavez's legacy, I know what will it be. My poor countrymen will probably feel that Chavez spoke for them, felt for them, and tried to improve their lot. They will certainly say that only Chavez treated them as equals and wanted to give them, rightfully, their place in our society. But that will not make the legacy any less negative. Devolving dignity to the poor will fly in the face of supporting the FARC, the Colombian narco terrorist organisation. Poverty alleviation populist programs will fly in the face of near absolute infrastructure collapse, diminished industrial capacity, and increased indebtedness. Chavez's trademark anti American rhetoric will fly in the face of the fact that he kept during all his rule a de-facto free trade agreement with the USA, in whose market most of our oil is sold and whose resulting income funded his desires of a Bolivarian revolution of global proportions. All talk against capitalism as the root of all evil will fly in the face of stories of Boli-bourgeoisie, a class of thugs styled on Russia's oligarchs who became wealthy beyond measure thanks to the rampant corruption of Hugo Chavez and officials of his regime. All talk about socialism will fly in the face of his militarism and weapons acquisitions. All talk about his "humanitarian intentions" will fly in the face of a prison system ruled by prisoners from within and legal cases such as that of Maria Afiuni. All talk of sovereignty and independence, after what's gone on in Havana, well that'll be indefensible.
After the news of Chavez death pass, and international attention refocuses on other issues, we will have to pick up the pieces and try to mend our ravaged nation. Hugo Chavez's chapter in history will not be written by foreign correspondents, and assorted apologists but by Venezuelans, and after all is said and done I predict he will become an example of what not to do, a misstep, a resentful putschist that should never have been allowed near power. The losers never get to write history, and Chavez singlehandedly lost perhaps the best opportunity our country has ever had to develop.