Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Adios Presidente: On the Passing of Hugo Chavez

I used to write a bit about the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.  I moved on, there are only so many world affairs one analyst can follow.  Here is a link to past blog-posts about him.  Better, visit the fantastic Caracas Chronicles for serious analytical work on Venezuela under Chavez (and buy their book!).

In retrospect, as far as dictators of the last century go he was a piker.  He was a bully, he expropriated property, and was pretty tough on his opposition.  He tried to export his "revolution" across the region, but without much real success.  While he wrecked Venezuela's economy and marginalized independent media.  During his rule, Venezuela became a drug-trafficking haven and the murder capital of the world.  But, there were no forced labor camps and no mass murders.

It cannot be ignored that Chavez did not arise in a vacuum.  Venezuela is blessed (or cursed) with vast oil wealth.  But Venezuela's elites had failed to govern effectively and the country remained - on the whole - poor.  Chavez appealed to that popular frustration, although unfortunately long-term his policies will only handicap the country further.

Ultimately Chavez was seen as an international buffoon.  He ran the country through his TV talk show Alo Presidente where off-the-cuff pronouncements became policies.  But for all of his zaniness, there were very nasty ideas embedded in his rhetoric. Below is an article I wrote about his Christmas Eve speech of 2005.  (Side-note, my wife translated it for me - if translating the rambling ravings of Hugo Chavez isn't love, I don't know what is!)

Nasser was also seen as a buffoon, but he destroyed much of the modern human capital of Egypt (from which the country has never recovered) and started several awful wars - including a much forgotten war in Yemen in which he used poison gas.  Chavez wasn't that bad.  Is it because he wasn't quite that much of a villain, or because liberal democracy is more firmly rooted in Latin American than in the Middle East and his ideas could only go so far?

It is an interesting question, but hopefully Latin Americans will not see many further experiments along these lines.

Published on The Weekly Standard (http://www.weeklystandard.com)

Blast From the Past

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