Like almost any other outstanding leader, Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías polarised society, and assessments of his political legacy will differ dramatically. His rise to international fame was evidence of major shifts in global politics… before him, the presidents of countries like Venezuela rarely became global stars. The feeling that liberal* political and economic models had come to dominate the global stage prompted a search for an alternative model. No wonder Chávez and his ardent advocacy of “21st Century Socialism” resonated with left-wingers all over the world, especially in places where discontent with American domination was growing fast.
* “Liberal” is used in the European sense… that is, policies advocated by Anglosphere “conservatives”… that’s why most Americans “misread” Russian political and social commentary. “Conservative” in Russian terms denotes paternalistic nationalism, not godless right-wing laissez-faire buccaneer crapitalism.
No matter what his opponents say about the political system in Venezuela under Chávez, it was definitely not a one-party dictatorship. Overall, Chávez was quick to see that dictatorships were becoming outdated at the end of the 20th century. People around the world, from Eastern Europe to East Asia, from southern Africa to South America, demanded the right to influence their rulers. However, Bolivarian Socialism is unlikely to survive long after Chávez’s death. Like secular socialism, it’s good for redistributing incomes… oil-rich Venezuela will have enough funds for redistribution in the next couple of decades… but it can’t encourage economic efficiency or private enterprise. Chávez’s large-scale foreign policy initiatives will soon wither away, because Venezuela won’t have enough money to satisfy its global ambitions, no matter how high the oil price.
However, this does not mean that Chávez was king for a day, one who didn’t influence the course of history. It may sound shocking, but Chávez wasn’t unlike Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, even though they were diametric opposites politically and very different human beings. Nevertheless, a closer look at these two military men, both of whom became presidents, reveals one more thing they had in common… their policies, even though discarded by their followers, changed the political stage by adding new elements to it.
Chilean President Augusto Pinochet launched neoliberal reforms that revived a Chilean economy undermined by years of shoddy governance, one that the socialist experiments of Salvador Allende Gossens almost finished off completely. Of course, Pinochet’s repressive methods aren’t acceptable, and his economic excesses soon became evident and had to be dealt with. No one mourned his departure, and he spent the last few years of his life hiding from international justice. However, when he ruled the country, he and his supporters promoted a policy of economic responsibility, which is still working. From 1989, when Pinochet left the post of president, until the end of the 2000s, left-wing forces took power in Chile; that is, the dictator’s former opponents, supporters of the man he deposed, Salvador Allende. Yet, Chile remains an efficient state with a stable economy, and the changes launched by subsequent democratic governments haven’t eroded the healthy foundation laid by Pinochet.
The situation in Venezuela is completely different. Chávez added an important element… justice… to Venezuelan politics. Compared to other Latin American countries with a similar social structure, Venezuelan society was extremely segregated, with a haughty aristocracy looking down on the impoverished masses. These masses elected Chávez because they saw him as one of their own, and in response, he turned his policy around to face the poor. You can’t keep redistributing wealth forever, so Venezuela’s policy will change. Yet, even if right-wingers came to power, they’d be unable to ignore what Chávez taught the people, which is to fight for their rights, and, so, these forces would have to maintain the social aspect of their economic policy and, possibly, even strengthen it. Now, “justice” is one of the biggest words in global politics. People demand it when they’re dissatisfied with their country’s economic system and when they question the political privileges of the “chosen” countries, such as the permanent members of the UN Security Council or the G8 nations.
An extravagant and sometimes even grotesque person, Chávez inspired many people in Latin America and influenced global politics through them. The new leaders who’ve come to power in neighbouring countries follow in Chávez’s footsteps by catering to the poor majority. There may not be a future for the inflammatory anti-Americanism of Hugo Chávez, but leaders from Chile and Argentina to Brazil and Mexico have shown that they won’t toe the American line, as their predecessors did in the past. Hugo Chávez was a man of his time. Now that he’s gone, the world won’t only remember his revolutionary statements, but it’ll also remember the measures he implemented to the benefit of his country.