Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Hugo = the revolution. So now what?

Venezuelans can be forgiven for being ‘stunned and wary’ upon realizing that the great Hugo Chávez has actually died, given how they were fed a steady diet of the leader’s quasi-immortality for the last decade and a half.

‘We are Chávez, Chávez is us!’ said one sign I read announcing his transubstantiation into the Body of the People, an apt echo of the mystical trappings of his reign. Perhaps someone will propose that mourners take communion at his funeral today using wafers of processed chavista writings and boiled in cabbage leaves.

Another good reason for shock and dismay among the citizens is the steady stream of lies and obfuscations delivered by the people around Chávez as his cancer progressed beyond hope of recovery. That didn’t stop them from making sure he won another 6-year term. As it happened, despite their promises that Chávez could serve another term, he never made it to his own inauguration.

Much has been written about Chávez’s attempts to give the poor of Venezuela a chance at a decent life, and it’s an indictment of his predecessors’ indifference to that task that the country took a sharp turn toward caudillismo. But neither does that excuse the hash Chávez made of his opportunities, which will now play out for all to see. It’s hard to be optimistic.

For starters, there is zero reason to anticipate that the country’s divisions will be resolved through democratic processes, compromise or negotiation after Chávez systematically destroyed any institutional channels for dissent and lambasted his adversaries with relentless name-calling so that anyone not glassy-eyed with ecstasy over Chávez quickly was touted as--and became--a mortal enemy.

At heart, the death of the big guy is yet another lesson in the dangers of concentrating all powers in the hands of one person or building a social movement on a cult of personality. Chávez might have ruled for another 30 years like a left-wing Stroessner, but sooner or later his departure would have ejected the country from the political deep freeze into which he stuffed it long ago.

Once that happens, the meats start to defrost; and if they were rotten when you put them in, they’ll still be rotten when you take them out.

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