Posted on 06-03-2013
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Hugo Chavez lost his battle with cancer yesterday.  The Venezuelan President who was recently re-elected to another term leaves behind a tumultuous legacy.  A man who reveled in taunting the West and consorting with the rogues gallery of the world, he also was genuinely loved by many of Venezuela’s underclass.

It is hard not to review the reign of Chavez and come back with a feeling of a wasted opportunity.  Chavez identified a legitimate problem in Venezuelan society.  Like many resource rich countries Venezuela’s oil wealth did not trickle down to the masses.  Under Chavez poverty levels in Venezuela dropped (as they did across Latin America) and the rise in oil prices allowed him to fund a number of populist policies.  Yet a lot of the largesse was wasted in crony politics, subsidizing Fidel Castro, funding other leftist politicians across Latin America.  The vaunted Bolivarian revolution is proving unsustainable (and hypersensitive to oil prices).  Crime has risen, inflation has skyrocketed, corruption is high and nationalization policies have led to a brain drain in the professional class who have emigrated to more welcoming shores.

A bigger problem for this blogger was Chavez’s authoritarian instincts.  He was a walking example of how winning elections does not make you a democrat.  The judiciary was packed with his cronies, opposition press was muzzled and after losing a referendum on amending the constitution he issued decrees on those provisions in any case.  Under the guise of leftist and anti-imperialist solidarity he funded terrorist movements like FARC and embraced tyrants like Gaddaffi.

As the Economist notes, now comes the reckoning.  For now reflexive anti-Americanism will rule the day.  Chavez may have squandered the opportunity to rebuild Venezuela’s infrastructure, but the oil resources are still available for a wiser ruler to use it for the benefit of the masses as Chavez originally intended.  For that to happen Venezuela needs to avoid any other megalomaniacal Caudillos.

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