6 March 2013

Hugo Chavez's legacy? Utter failure

Caricature from The Times, 7 Mar. 2013
London - With the news of Hugo Chavez's passing inundating the world's media, his life and legacy will be the topic of many debates. Having been blogging about Venezuela since 2002, I thought I could venture my views. Hugo Chavez was not this, somewhat benign guy, who had his heart in the right place but couldn't overcome what I will call "Venezuelanness", read a people with a pretty anarchic outlook and general disregard for rule of law, order, and authority.

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
Our country was never a model of democracy, but among other Latin American nations ravaged by continuous military coups in the second half of the XX century, it was an example. Our country, let me remind you readers, was centre stage in suspending from OAS both Trujillo's hard right dictatorship and Fidel Castro's hard left one. Our country's diplomats were key in liberating political prisoners from Pinochet's Chile. Our country was a net recipient of immigrants, not only those who were running away from the Second World War but also those escaping brutal dictatorships in the region. Who emigrates to Venezuela nowadays? Who sets up businesses and risks it going now? I'll tell you who: thugs from Iran, Zimbabwe, Libya, Sudan, Bolivia, Colombia, Nicaragua, communist Cuba, Russia, and China that's who. Our country, for instance, received a bunch of Basque terrorists after an agreement between Carlos Andres Perez and Spanish Premier Felipe Gonzalez, that, for years, were kept monitored and on check. Nowadays they work in the highest offices, are protected by the Chavez regime, and have even been naturalised. The US spends billions helping Colombia struggle with FARC's narco terrorism, while Chavez used to give them money, sanctuary, and support. That's what our country has become, a gangsters' paradise. In the words of former Venezuelan Ambassador to the UN, Diego Arria, Chavez put early on a big neon sign that read: Venezuela is open for business, all criminals welcome.

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.


Anonymous said...

Great article. Describes the situation in our country very well. It would be useful to point out that the "the people" or the poor are not all cavista supporters: the hatred and division cuts across all of society, more or less in equal numbers between chavistas and opposition (if that is the way you see it). A lot of the violence is among "the people".
Again, thanks for this post.

Unknown said...

Well said Alek, too bad the apologists have been preparing for the blitzkrieg spin following the "on cue" death announcement from yesterday.
Still, it has to be said and we responsible Venezuelans must have our voices heard among all the paid spinners.

Mr. Suarez said...

Absolutely brilliant. I've been reading your blogs since 2002 and wanted to thank you for all of your time and effort and for being a legitimate source of information amidst the postering of a ridiculous regime.
Muchas gracias.

nicacat56 said...

Alek, bravo! This was a well-written, well thought out piece, and probably one of the best ones that you've written. It's a sad, frightful situation that Venezuela is facing now, one in which the Constitution (which one?) has been violated, in which all the powers, military, judicial, etc., have been co-opted, and in which the seeds of hate that Chavez planted, have sprung living from the ground. Certainly not a place where I'd want to go any time in the future. Stay strong, my friend!

Span Ows said...

Just listening to the RT debate. Well one. I concur with the comments above. the hatred came early on and splits families too.

Unknown said...

"there are fewer businesses so finding work is much more difficult"

So how has unemployment dropped from 16% to 6% since 1999?

AB said...

And where do your unemployment figures come from, Mr Hildon?

Unknown said...

Trading economics website

AB said...

Right, and the Trading Economics website, where did it get the numbers from?

INE, correct?