The Venezuelan strongman died of cancer on Tuesday. As the CNN story notes, he left a deeply divided, economically fragile country behind. The vice-president of Venezuela noted that Chávez’s cancer was most likely caused by “outsiders” infecting him.
Chávez was a populist; a politician who gained office by exploiting the worst fears of the population and using that fear to pave the way for stronger and stronger government controls. After his first run at the presidency resulted in a loss, Chávez led a coup attempt. When he was released from jail after the coup attempt, he managed to create a populist machine and won the presidency in 1999. He then changed the constitution to allow himself to continue in office without term limits. Elections themselves were clean, but the government shut down opposition parties, refused to allow popular opposition politicians to run for office, and managed to control all major media outlets in the country. The opposition media in Venezuela was shut down paper by paper and television station by television station until only the state-run media was left. Removing alternate sources of information is the best way to control your population.
Chávez espoused communist/socialist/populist views, but the reality is, he was president of Venezuela for the power and personal gain he could amass (a close look at his political ideology reveals a little bit of everything espoused at various times when convenient – incoherent and jumbled). Venezuela is practically drowning in oil and is a member of OPEC, but its citizens face rolling blackouts, chronic food shortages, a crumbling infrastructure, and an economy that tops the list of “worsts” in debt, deficit, and inflation rate. They have the honor of being the only OPEC member to be in such dire straits. That means they are worse than Nigeria. Typical of leaders and governments who have promised the moon, yet cannot even deliver a rock from earth, when economic numbers and things such as crime rates continued downhill, the government simply stopped publishing any statistics. Because, after all, if you don’t admit to it, it didn’t happen, right? Chávez not a man whose leadership benefitted “his people.” Yet there are many in the United States who regard Chávez as a hero who, in the colloquial term, “stuck it to the man.” Of course, those that feel that way don’t have to live in Venezuela.
Typical of such people is Joe Kennedy, who brokered a deal to have Citgo, the Venezuelan oil company donate gas to the needy in the US. I heard a radio ad a few months ago that touted Citgo as the only oil company that cared enough to keep poor people warm. You have to admire such propaganda when you run across it. Kennedy commented that Chávez cared deeply about the poor while others who made “more money than they can ever reasonably expect to spend” did not. Of course, Kennedy and his wife made over $1.2 million from Citizens Energy, the company that distributed oil to the needy. So, it’s ok to make a buck off the poor, just be sure to tell them how much you care.
Venezuela is at a cross-roads. If the opposition can regain its footing, perhaps the country will begin to head down the long, slow road to recovery.