Chávez: The Legacy and the Challenges

Originally posted at Carta Maior, translated by North Star — The most charismatic political leader in decades has died. In a democracy, charismatic leadership creates a political relation between rulers and ruled that is particularly mobilizing, because it combines democratic legitimacy with an identity of belonging and a set of shared objectives that go far beyond political representation. The popular classes, which are used to being beaten down by a faraway and repressive power (a power that low-intensity democracies foment), live through moments in which the distance between representatives and the represented almost disappears.

line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-style:italic”>Crying out  “We are all Chávez!” in the streets of Caracas, the people are lucidly conscious that Chávez was one man and that the Bolivarian Revolution will have enemies, internal and external, strong enough to put in question the intense democratic experience  of the last 14 years. In Brazil, President Lula was also a charismatic leader. After him, President Dilma Rousseff took advantage of the strong institutionality of the state and Brazilian democracy, but she has had difficulty complementing it with popular participation. In Venezuela, the strength of institutions is much weaker, while the impulse of popular participation is much greater. In this context, we should analyze Chávez’s legacy and the difficulties on the horizon.

mso-bidi-font-style:italic”>Chávez, like other Latin American leaders, took advantage of the boom in natural resources (especially petroleum) to achieve an unprecedented program of social policies, especially in the areas of education, health, housing, and infrastructure, that substantially improved the lives of the immense majority of the population. Saudi Venezuela gave way to Bolivarian Venezuela.

Regional integration. line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-style:italic”>He was an enthusiast of all forms of integration that helped the continent quit its role as the “backyard” of the United States. He led the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), later known as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA-TCP); he also wanted to be a member of Mercosur. The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) are other integrationist institutions that Chávez gave impulse to.

Anti-imperialism font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-style:italic”>Chávez did not manage to construct 21st-century socialism, which he called Bolivarian socialism. What was his model of socialism, taking into account that he always showed a reverence for the Cuban experience, which many consider excessive? It consoles me to know that on several occasions, Chávez referred with approval to my definition of socialism: “Socialism is unlimited democracy.” Of course, these were speeches, and in practice it would undoubtedly be more difficult and complex. He wanted Bolivarian socialism to be peaceful but armed so that what happened to Salvador Allende would not happen to him. He nationalized businesses, which raised the ire of foreign investors, who took revenge with an impressive demonization campaign against him in Europe (especially in Spain), as well as in the United States. He broke up the capitalism that existed but did not replace it. Hence the crisis of supply shortages and investment, inflation and growing dependence on oil revenues. He polarized the class struggle and put the old and new capitalist classes on alert, classes that for a long time had an almost total monopoly over the media and always maintained control over finance capital. The polarization came to the street, and many felt that the great increase in crime resulted from it (would they say the same of the increase in crime in Sao Paulo or Johannesburg?).

The communal state. line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-style:italic”>The Challenges

The civic-military union. mso-bidi-font-style:italic”>The Bolivarian Revolution deepened Venezuela’s dependency on petroleum and natural resources in general, a phenomenon that, far from being specific to Venezuela, is today present in other countries administered by governments considered progressive, such as Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Excessive dependence on natural resources prevents the economy’s diversification, destroys the environment, and, above all, constitutes a constant aggression against indigenous and campesino populations in whose territories these resources are found, contaminating their water, ignoring their ancestral rights, violating international law (which demands that such populations be consulted), expelling them from their lands, killing their communitarian leaders. Just a day before Chávez died, Sabino Romero, a great indigenous leader of the Sierra de Perijá, Venezuela,whose struggle I have for years been in solidarity with, was slain. Will Chávez’s successors know how to confront this problem?

The political regime. line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-bidi-font-style:italic”>With the unifying figure of Chávez now gone, ways of expressing internal diversity must be found. Only an intense exercise of internal democracy will allow the PSUV to be one of the national expressions of democratic deepening that will block the advance of the political forces interested in destroying, point by point, everything that the popular classes have conquered in recent years. If corruption is not controlled and internal differences are reprimanded with declarations that all are Chavistas and each is more chavista than the next, the path will be opened for the enemies of the revolution. One thing is certain: if the example of Chávez must be followed, it is crucial that critics not be reprimanded. The authoritarianism that has characterized large sectors of the Latin American left must be abandoned.


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