Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Hugo Chavez, R.I.P.

Hugo Chavez had a pretty good run, governing Venezuela since 1999, winning four elections, and having lots of time to put in place and to develop his brand of socialism.

He made quite a mark.  At a time when the hemisphere, acting through the OAS, had joined together in a commitment to reject coups d’etat and similar usurpations of democracy, he governed by winning elections and then eroding elements of Venezuela’s democracy, never quite touching a tripwire that would bring an international response.  He benefited from opposition parties that had excluded Venezuela’s poor during their decades in power, and that never found unity or balance in opposition.

Chavez cared about the poor and had an odd way of showing it.  He put social programs in place – health, education, income assistance – and at the same time implemented policies that have gone a long way toward wrecking the economy in which poor Venezuelans and all others live.  He drove away foreign investment, eroded property rights, imposed foreign exchange controls that distort the entire economy and lead to corruption, and created food shortages.  To the latter, his government has responded for years with absurd charges that food producers are hoarding and speculating, as if farmers and distributors go into business for the purpose of keeping their products in warehouses.

All this, in an economy that is more than capable of maintaining both a strong private sector and a large financial commitment to fighting poverty.  Venezuela’s oil wealth gave him the wherewithal to set an example for both left and right, but Chavez’ ideology led elsewhere.

Fidel Castro once dreamed of armed revolution throughout Latin America, where the Andes would become the continent’s Sierra Maestra.  Chavez surely delighted him, along with the advent of like-minded leaders in Bolivia and Ecuador. 

For Cuba, the risk in Chavez’ passing is that the economic relationship with Venezuela may change or end, raising the cost of Cuba’s energy supplies and damaging the entire economy.  Chavez’ socialist party, having won the presidency last October and 20 of 23 state governorships last December, has to be counted as a favorite in Venezuela’s 30-day snap election scenario.  If the socialists win, the Bolivarian project would seem safe, including its international aspects.  If the opposition wins, the relationship with Cuba would likely be scaled back and new prices would be attached to the doctors-for-oil swap that so benefits Cuba today. 

The bottom line is that post-Chavez politics is new in Venezuela, and that brings a note of uncertainty for Cuba, the last thing el comandante Chavez would have wanted to leave behind.  R.I.P.


Anonymous said...

In the final analysis the economic chaos Chavez left behind and possible oil price drops will make it impossible for the Venezuelan government to continue financing his populist policies and continue to subsidize to the same degree all the leftist regimes of Latin America.
Even if Chavez successors are willing to continue financing the rest of the Latin American left they will not have the werewithal to carry it out.

They will inevitably have to choose between continuing their internal populist policies or their subsidies to the Latin American left.

Considering their interest in their own political survival I have no doubt which of the two options they will favor.

This will pressure the Cuban government into trying to negotiate the end the quarrel with the US and have the embargo lifted in order to be able to join the global competitive economy and ensure their own survival.

But the full effects of all of this will not be felt immediately.

We will probably have to wait at least a year or two.


Antonio said...

Raul needs to hurry up with his reforms, lest Cuba sink into another Special period.

Dard Shayari said...

Rare leader Did not bow to global powers..loved by his people and respected by all. I hope Venezuela can give birth to another good leader to its people.

Anonymous said...

what's the matter Phil? Didn't read the Washington Post today?

El Yuma said...

As usual, a very thoughtful, balanced, and clear-eyed analysis. Que en paz descanse. Y mucha suerte para los pueblos venezolanos y cubanos.

Anonymous said...

To the previous Anonymous Contributor,

Que tiene que ver la amnesia con la magnesia?

What did the Washington Post editorial asking for an international investigation into Paya's death have to do with Chavez's death?

What does this editorial have to do with Mr. Peter's statement on Chavez's death?

Is your comment serious?

It frankly does not make any sense to me!

Please clear this up!