Where will Venezuela go as Chávez goes into mythology?
This article comes weeks after Venezuelan caudillo, Hugo Chávez, died on the 6th of March. Hence, the commentary is neither a farewell nor a note for the enormously-recounted event itself. On the contrary, that is an attempt to understand where Chávez left Venezuela, and where the country will go after his death.1
Where does Venezuela come from?
The country, unable (and unwilling) to recover, faces considerable chaos and a sense of emptiness due to the loss of such a mythical figure that had promised to govern until 2030. Since 1998, the Chávez 4 mandates could be encapsulated in three strands of internal actions: the charismatic rhetoric, the exploitation of oil resources and the Bolivarian missions. The rhetoric of Chávez conquered the Venezuelan people and echoed throughout the world. His magnetism mixed populism, socialism and anti-Americanism in a powerful cocktail that inebriated everyone’s heart (consigning real problems to oblivion). With nationalization of oil production, the economic planning ended up relying exclusively on those resource (whose exports account for roughly 90% of Venezuela’s GDP). Recalling the famous American myth Simon Bolivár, Chávez launched “Bolivarian missions”, reinvesting the oil proceeds in social measures against malnutrition, analphabetism, poverty, making medicines free and sequestering large estates.
Externally, Chávez left an equally gigantic footprint, re-launching the Pan-American idea. Together with Fidel Castro, he gave birth to Alba (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas) in 2004 to counter the economic liberalism of Mercosur integration. He contributed to fund the UNASUR (Union of South-American Nations), and CELAC (Community of Latino-American and Caribbean Countries), operative since 2011, to counter the USA influence with an alternative model. Chávez allied Venezuela with Castro, built relationships with Correa’s Ecuador as well as Morales’ Bolivia and approached the Argentina of Lady de Kirchner. The opposition of Chávez to the US was so fierce when Bush stepped down, there was hardly any chance of talks with the new Obama administration. The relationship with the EU were not free of trouble either, with the unforgettable “¿Por qué no te callas?” (“Why don’t you [just] shut up?”) uttered by King Juan Carlos I of Spain to Venezuelan President at the 2007 Ibero-American Summit.
Where does Venezuela go?
The death of Chávez came after several months of severe disease; nevertheless Venezuela found itself chaotic in the afterwards. Caracas deficit skyrocketed to 20%, strikes and violence augmented and the first depreciation of 40% went hand in hand with inflation growth. As the constitution foresees elections to be called in 30 days, the clashes between classes, militant and civilians, nationalists and socialists skyrocketed. Nicolas Maduro, the man indicated by Chávez as his successor, is trying to fill the void using the revolutionary rhetoric by aggravating the anti-US position, by sustaining, without giving any evidence, that Washington is trying to kill his opposition candidate, Henrique Carpiles Radonski. The latter, equally chancing upon the mythical figure of the caudillo, blames Maduro for having lied on everything, including Chávez’s disease. In the meantime, even if the ex-president embalming issue seemed to have more coverage in the Media, the elections of the 14th of April are approaching soon. It is likely that the one who handles better the mythical figure of Chávez will win, and Maduro starts with an advantage on that.
To conclude, too many question marks remain unsolved and cast gloomy doubts on Venezuela’s future. Will the political game reduce the fierce (and undermining) opposition to tackle real country problems, such as poor economic perspectives and violence? Will Venezuela take distance from Castro and re-approach the EU or the US? Will regional projects, such as Alba, Unasur and Celac survive the death of their main sponsor? All these, and many more questions, are to be answered by the next Venezuelan government, which should resist the impossible attempt to reiterate the myth. It should go back to history and face the complex reality.