The death of Hugo Chavez
What does the future hold for Venezuela?
Photo : Creative Commons Attribution 3.0
Since five years old, I’ve heard Chavez’s name almost non-stop and with his recent death what does the future hold for my country?
Claim to fame
Hugo Chavez’s first claim to fame was in 1992 when he attempted a coup against the democratically elected president at the time, Carlos Andrés Perez. Chavez’s coup failed and as a result he spent a few years in prison before receiving amnesty from President Rafael Caldera – Perez’s rival and successor.
Venezuela’s political history in the early 90s was a succession of misfortunes combined with a failed political system. Having grown up in such a system, I remember the people being exhausted from our politicians, corruption and dismembered political parties. I also remember Chavez modesty facing reporters in 1998, telling them that he wanted to change the situation, and by change he meant ‘revolution’ which was not disclosed to the media at the time. His speech was moderate and he asserted a conscious knowledge that he would have to cope to the existing rules if he was ever willing to be elected, which he did.
During the 14 years that he was in power, Chavez definitely changed Venezuela’s course and today his absence feels particularly odd, even for his opponents. He was a man that insisted on being omnipresent through constant coverage in the media, though his health condition – being diagnosed with cancer – prevented him from many activities including his regular Sunday programme.
In October 2012, Hugo Chavez decided to once again run for presidency after reassuring Venezuelans that his health had completely recovered. Did he believe it, or did he hide it voluntarily? Even if he did believe it, transparency on this matter was non-existent and the entire country ignored the real status of his health, he went on to win the election.
Having regained his power, Chavez had the opportunity to freely run his campaigns without any financial constraint. PDVSA, Venezuela’s oil industry, and its resources were completely in his hands after firing all of employees he deemed competitors, he appointed one of his loyal partisans as president – Rafael Ramierz. During this time, Chavez embarked on a series of social projects, which were never fully accomplished; instead he financed a regional coalition that gained him acclaimed positive publicity in the international arena. Public sector increased more than 50% in 2012 and in January 2013 a devaluation of more than 45% of the national currency was necessary.
On a global scale many believed that Chavez reduced poverty, as several ‘statistics’ confirmed it. The problem is that the social gap between ‘classes’ today is more extreme than ever before. The indiscriminate violence and impunity only seem to make it worse. I would like to believe that this paradigm is still reversible. However, the appointment of a ‘successor’ prior to departing for his last surgery, confirms the state of Chavez ‘soft’ dictatorship.
View of our youth
As a result, there are many questions surrounding recent events in Venezuela, which I put to a group of young Venezuelans. Here’s what they had to say:
What was your first thought when you heard Hugo Chavez is dead?
‘My first thought was ‘are you kidding me?’ It came to me as a shock! It’s been 14 years that in some (awful) way he has been part of my life so it was pretty weird. I wasn’t happy, neither did I feel like celebrating his death but I must admit that I was glad to know that the fact that he was dead meant we will have elections coming soon,’ expressed María de los Angeles Lorenzo.
‘I was both outraged and amazed at how incredibly well Chavismo had used a power that no one in office should ever have - that of maintaining the health of a head of government and state as a secret matter. Then I felt a chill of pessimism and now that Henrique confirmed his candidacy, optimism,’ said José Ramón Morales
‘Mixed feelings, uncertainty and some sort of hope, I also felt scared for my family living in Venezuela,’ claimed Verónica España.
‘It was a shock. We all knew that he was not well, since he had not appeared in almost four months, which was strange given that the President was the most public figure in national politics. But still, it was a shock. Two years ago I could not have imagined reading headlines that announced his death. After 14 years of his omnipresence, suddenly he's gone,’ explained Natalia Gan Galavis.
How would you define ‘Chavez’s legacy’?
‘Insecurity, economical issues, debt, terrorist allies... are part of it but for me his biggest legacy will be the huge division he has created in the country where now being Chavista or Opositor ‘escualido’ defines who you are,’ said María de los Angeles Lorenzo.
‘Chavez did raise the heat of politics, politicised a humongous part of the population, and centered the debate on overcoming social exclusion. Those are the only positive things I would point out after 14 years of the Chavez era. He leaves a legacy of crime, killings, corruption and deepened moral decadence. He leaves a legacy of undermined liberty and republican and democratic principles, and broken social capital. He leaves a legacy of opportunism in the management of our natural resources, and he leaves a legacy of increased foreign dependence, both political and economic. Mostly, he leaves a legacy of division between fellow countrymen. He leaves a legacy of totalitarianism that will separate brothers for years to come. All in all, the latter is the most transcendent and most repugnant outcome of his tenure,’ voiced José Ramón Morales.
‘I think it has good and bad things, obviously more bad than good, he left the country broke, the Venezuelans divided in two sides and hating each other and thousands of violent deaths around the country. But also the situations we have lived with Chavez as the president gave a lot of young people "political consciousness", including me. This I think helps defining the things that we want and that we do not want in the future for our country. I think it also made people realize that there is an important part of the population that lives in poverty and needs more attention, that they were not heard before and for good or bad they felt identified with Chavez's "revolution". I think all this people need to see their life quality improved better education, safer communities and a lot of social programs, I hope that the future government takes this into account and make Chavez's social missions much better than they are now,’ said Verónica España.
‘I think that Chavez was part of the Venezuelan historical process. If it had not been Chavez, it had been someone else. The political system was fractured and the product of it was Chavez's success based on his promises to a sector largely ignored. His legacy: awareness of the poor, social missions, exacerbation of state capitalism, high public spending, socialist discourse, propaganda, numerous elections, charisma as a mean to overlook concrete failure of policies, personality cult, love/hate speeches, extreme political polarization, social resentment, exclusion of opponents, talent flee, inefficient justice system, rampant crime and insecurity, armed revolution and armed civil population, non-independent public powers, inflation, expropriations without indemnification, increase in imports/ decrease in national production including oil, informal economy, political prisoners, controversial foreign policy, gifts to other nations, supranational project, red uniforms,’ Natalia Gan Galavis.
I guess, only time will tell what the future holds for my country.