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Hugo Chavez: The sad irony of his years in power

That Venezuela is split at the moment of his death is the result of his own polarizing politics


 

To say that Hugo Chavez divided Venezuelans doesn’t do justice to the extremes of emotion he provoked in his fellow citizens.

I once spent an evening with a wealthy woman in Caracas who made increasingly lurid and damning allegations about the president, culminating in an anecdote about a friend of a relative of a friend who supposedly knew Chavez and heard him express admiration for Hitler.

This was preposterous, but then so was much of the hagiography that surrounded Chavez when he lived, and that will surely get kicked up a notch now. Chavez was not a tyrant, but nor was he saint who sought to liberate Venezuela’s poor and unite the country behind revolutionary socialism. That Venezuela is so split now at the moment of his death is the natural result of his own polarizing politics.

Chavez was an autocratic populist who governed as if in the midst of a perpetual election campaign in which he was not constrained by normal democratic rules. For Chavez, Venezuelans could be divided between his supporters — chavistas ­­— and opponents. Most chavistas were poor, and many benefited from his polices designed to help them. Chavez brought them subsidized food and more accessible healthcare. He built cable cars to connect residents of mountainside shantytowns to the centre of Caracas.

But to Chavez the poor were also — and perhaps primarily — supporters to be mobilized. So many of his social programs were politicized. The committees administering them were linked to Chavez’s party. Schoolchildren learned to sing his praise. In one particularly telling incident, Venezuelans who signed a petition asking for a presidential recall referendum found themselves excluded from public service jobs — whether they were poor and in need of employment or not.

The sad irony is that after 14 years with Chavez in power, Venezuelans are still poor. Wealth is now distributed more evenly, but there is less of it to go around. While the economies of neighbouring countries such as Brazil and Colombia have expanded during the past decade, Venezuela’s has stagnated. Chavez made economic decisions on the fly, sometimes announcing them during weekly unscripted televised addresses that also included the president singing and dancing.

He devalued the currency. He nationalized the oil industry and managed it poorly. He didn’t diversify the country’s economy. Some 50 per cent of government revenue comes from oil. If its prices hadn’t have soared so high during his presidency, Venezuela would be in even worse financial shape than it is now.

Hugo Chavez tried to raise Venezuela’s global profile by forging alliances with pretty much anyone opposed to the United States. His bonds with Fidel Castro’s Cuba at least made some ideological sense; those with the archconservative theocrats running Iran betray the amoral hypocrisy of his brand of socialism.

If Chavez can be justifiably praised, it is for empowering Venezuela’s vast underclass. They had been variously cheated, exploited, and ignored before he came to power. They cannot be ignored any longer. With luck, a more democratic, liberal, and economically competent president will eventually take Chavez’s place without forgetting that lesson.

 


 
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Hugo Chavez: The sad irony of his years in power

  1. Chavez made the same mistake Saddam did.

    Will Harper?

    • Time to change your tinfoil.

      • I said….will Harper?

  2. “Chavez was an autocratic populist who governed as if in the midst of a perpetual election campaign in which he was not constrained by normal democratic rules. For Chavez, Venezuelans could be divided between his supporters — chavistas ­­— and opponents. ”

    “Chavez made economic decisions on the fly, sometimes announcing them during weekly
    unscripted televised addresses that also included the president singing and dancing.”

    Odd how these two bits remind me of Mr. Harper and Mr. Flaherty. Obviously there are some major differences between them, but how familiar those statements struck me was.. disturbing.

    • Are you SERIOUSLY trying to compare Chavez to Harper? SERIOUSLY? Please, go to Venezuela and live there for a couple of months. Just a couple. Then come back and tell me how bad you have it, etc. Yeah, I am not fan #1 of Harper around here and I’d never vote conservative but… to even pretend to compare him to Chavez shows a severe lack of maturity on your side.

      • The word “obviously” seems to have given you some trouble, because you apparently stopped reading there.

  3. This comment was deleted.

  4. Bad news for Canada if death of Chavez means they have a change in gov’t to more pro-market, and allow foreign investment back into Venezuela’s oilsands (rivaling AB’s in size) – cheaper labour and tidal access.

    More competition for US Gulf Coast refineries if pipeline XL goes through. Give the biz sections a few days to figure this out.

  5. Hebrews 9:27………..And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,………………

    • Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

      Psalm 137:9

      • Heh….you just knee-jerk thumbed down the bible.

  6. Good riddance;

    Hugo Chavez net worth: Hugo Chavez was a Venezuelan politician who had a
    net worth of $1 billion at the time of his death on March 5th 2013. A
    2010 report from Criminal Justice International Associates (CJIA), a
    global risk assessment and threat mitigation firm estimated that the
    Chavez family assets totaled between $1 and $2 billion USD. The vast
    majority of these assets are oil related and were controlled by Hugo
    himself prior to his death. The head of the CJIA, Jerry Brewer, asserted
    that since Hugo’s rise to power in 1999, the extended family has
    amassed its fortune through both legal and illegal methods. Brewer
    further estimates that the Chavez family and hundreds of other criminal
    organization have “subtracted $100 billion out of the nearly $1 trillion
    in oil income made by PDVSA (Venezuela’s state controlled oil company),
    since 1999.”

    • Bush has how much??

      • Bush made his money ($15 million) from baseballs Texas Rangers when he and the other original investors sold to new owners. By 2012 he had a personal wealth of about $26 million.

        • Bush comes from a old-money wealthy north-east coast family, who had to bail him out several times. A lot of the money came from oil

          Do you get injections or what?

          • Emily, you’re so dumb. Tell us how a socialist, who by very definition eschews the idea of private wealth, amasses a fortune of $2 billion while working in government by any other means than theft. Show me a “socialist”, and I’ll show you a hard core capitalist in the mould of the so-called robber barons of the 19th century disguised as a socialist. The bottom line is that socialists believe in socialism for everyone else, and capitalism for themselves. (See: USSR, Cuba, Peoples Republic of China, Romania, German Democratic Republic, et al)

          • Bill, you’re so dumb.

            Anybody has a line of hooey to sell….you’ll buy it.

            It’s actually how everybody makes money….selling hooey to rubes like you. Big bucks in that.

          • Again I ask: How (and why) does a socialist, who by definition eschews wealth, amass a $2 billion fortune unless he’s a thief? You tell us. I say you’re dumb because you lack the intellect to assess the question and provide us with a semi-coherent answer.

          • You are assuming things. You assume he was a socialist. [Your understanding of a socialist] You assume he amassed $2B.

            You were told these things by whackjob wing sites, and believe them without question….and to you that makes him ‘evil.’

            You’ve never read much about him beyond your wingsites

            He was also elected…4X I believe….very popular obviously, and helped Venezuela a great deal. The poor of Venezuela that is. The rich hated him, and with American help, tried to remove him.

            The US has been interfering in Venezuela [indeed in all of south and central America] for generations….even so, Chavez donated heating oil and the like to the US poor.

            Chavez made the same mistake Saddam did. He tried to take control of his own economy, and he even ridiculed a US president. His fate was sealed.

            Now that he’s gone, the place will be much different…..so let him go ….you’re not poor in Caracas anyway, so it’s not your problem

            http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTJtZDf7v2k2GoTMplcCX8N-0C61dKwE-EPcleRI5lvnAwoHo_W

          • George W. Bush lost money in his oil ventures before becoming president.

            Someone let you out of your straight jacket again?

          • Dubya was born wealthy. And every time he screwed up, his family wealth bailed him out.

            It’s like trying to claim Donald Trump is a self-made man.

            And these people are your heroes.

  7. Mugabe should be the next one

  8. Hugo Chavez was a great man who spoke the truth , there is a reason why so many are mourning his death , It is true that Stephen Harper and his slaves in the Canadian media including CBC are celebrating his death and going really low in showing their insensitivity. The people of Venezuela apparently are yearning to fall in love with United States and Canada (as Washington and Ottawa believe) in compliance with the wishes of Washington they must stop crying for their leader and start crying for Holocaust instead , only then they can hope to gain the love and respect of so called international community . To think that people in Venezuela are trying to gain the love of US and Canada is the most Idiotic thinking that comes from people without character like Harper . only time will tell , when Harper dies , only his children will cry and CBC will dare not say how many people hated him.

    • PLUMBLINE! REMOVE UR MASK AND FUNNY HAT AND LETS TAKE AFTER THAT

    • Both you and EmilyOe need to broaden your perspective. While he did provide a leg up for the poor people of Venezuela, for which he deserves kudos, he also did great detriment to his country (as mentioned in the above article). I was watching CNN and a person who visited Chavez with Sean Penn+ Oliver Stone(so that should meet your approval as left-wingers) said that Hugo was a believer in 9-11 conspiracy and did not believe Apollo landed on the moon. So, that’s your great man. And I’m sure that his hand-picked successor (a former bus driver) will carry on his great legacy.

  9. Venezuela is divided. So is Canada, The USA, Britain, Syria, Israel…

  10. I am always stunned by the lefties and the righties swaping off accountability , morals , ethics and excusing their darlings “crimes” by claiming they were no worse than someone else.Expect better of all leaders and hold all of them accountable.

  11. Chavez had no buisiness “donating” oil money to any one incl Castro.The monet belonged to the people of Venezuela .The money should have been spent there

  12. Venezuela currently has a growth rate of 5.7%, as even the CIA acknowledges, far, far better than Brazil’s or Colombia’s, and we won’t speak of the economies of North America and Western Europe. The author of this piece, in a conspicuous piece of statistical slight-of-hand, wants to factor in the earlier years when (he does not mention) the Venezuelan rightwing launched the “business strike” aimed at overthrowing Chavez by wrecking the economy. That certainly did destroy the economy, but the populace blamed the oligarchy, not Chavez, and Chavez went on to win democratic election after democratic election, in landslides.

    The business strike followed the old oligarchy’s 2002 attempt to overthrow the democratically elected Chavez government by military coup and installation of a totalitarian dictatorship (dismissal of the Parliament, dismissal of the Supreme Court, dismissal of all the provincial governors, and rule by decree by Pedro Carmona, the head of the most powerful business federation — elected, of course by no one). That coup government was immediately recognized by the Bush administration and praised by the New York Times, The Times of London and El Pais of Madrid as a popular repudiation of Chavez and a first step along the road to a return to democracy. The newspapers were still on the newsstands when Chavez was restored to the Presidency by a popular outpouring in his favor by the people of Caracas, which inspired key elements of the military to reverse the coup.

    Those three editorials bore an amazing resemblance, as if they were all written in the same office, as perhaps they were. And this article, rehashing the same talking points as so many other articles, makes one wonder whether it, too, was written according to formula.

    Back during the 1970s Church Committee investigation of CIA operations, F.A.O. Schwartz, the Committee’s majority counsel, expressed astonishment at the ability of the CIA to fly reporters from 30 different countries into Chile during the Salvador Allende Popular Unity government, and all write almost exactly the same article in newspapers and newsmagazines across the planet. I have the feeling we are seeing the same thing here.

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