Saturday, March 09, 2013

The Last Word on Chavez

The Economist sums up the utter failure of the Chavez demagoguery that for fifteen years [1998-2013] hampered and ultimately destroyed Venezuela's democratic institutions as well as its economy.
BACK in the 1990s Latin America seemed to have turned the page on military rule and embraced democracy and free-market economics, with the sole, beleaguered exception of communist Cuba. And then along came Hugo Chávez, a bumptious Venezuelan former lieutenant-colonel who, having staged a failed military coup against a democratic government, got himself elected as president in 1998.

Mr Chávez proceeded to dominate his country for more than 14 years until his death this week from cancer. His secret was to invent a hybrid regime. He preserved the outward forms of democracy, but behind them he concentrated power in his own hands and manipulated the law to further his own ends. He bullied opponents, and encouraged the middle class to emigrate. He hollowed out the economy by mixing state socialism and populist redistribution with a residue of capitalism. And he glued it all together with the crude but potent rhetoric of Latin American nationalism. Mr Chávez claimed to be leading a “Bolivarian revolution” against the “empire” (ie, the United States). It did not seem to matter that Simón Bolívar, the Venezuelan hero who liberated much of South America from Spanish colonial rule, was an Anglophile conservative.

Chavismo turned out to be a remarkably successful formula: Mr Chávez won four elections by margins ranging from sweeping to comfortable and lost only one of his six referendums. In October he won a new six-year term even though campaigning was restricted by his illness, which was graver than he admitted. He spawned imitators elsewhere in Latin America, financing an anti-American alliance of like-minded leaders and client states. And he was the saviour of communism in Cuba, his aid keeping the Castros in power while slowing the transition to capitalism in a bankrupt island.
Chavez's buffoonery was occasionally coarse and crude, but it was politically effectve, if one considers theatrical gestures a substitute for building a long-term viable democracy. The long sad road that he led Venezuela along like a barnyard animal will soon lead to a fiscal cliff, and the reckoning will be something his followers will use to start another necrophiliac cult ala Peron.

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