Now that Hugo Chavez has gone to meet the arch-enemy of his Maker, it’s time to remind all and sundry just how dreadful a legacy he has left behind.
First, let’s take account of the purblind:
US filmmaker and long-time Hugo Chavez supporter Oliver Stone hailed the late Venezuelan leader as a “great hero” on Tuesday, saying he will “live forever in history.”
Actor and activist Sean Penn, another Hollywood friend to Chavez, also paid tribute saying the world’s poor had lost a “champion” and America had also lost “a friend it never knew it had.”
“JFK” and “Natural Born Killers” director Stone said: “I mourn a great hero to the majority of his people and those who struggle throughout the world for a place.
“Hated by the entrenched classes, Hugo Chavez will live forever in history,” he added in a statement released by his publicist, adding: “My friend, rest finally in a peace long earned.”
Stone has regularly praised Chavez, whom he interviewed for a 2009 documentary “South of the Border,” exploring the outspoken Venezuelan leader’s role in bottom-up change sweeping South America.
Penn, in a statement reacting to Chavez’s death aged 58, added: “Venezuela and its revolution will endure under the proven leadership of Vice President (Nicolas) Maduro.
“Today the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion. I lost a friend I was blessed to have.
“My thoughts are with the family of President Chavez and the people of Venezuela,” he added.
Uh-huh. Let’s consider just how good Chavez has been to the people of Venezuela.
We’ll start with the fact Chavez left Venezuela in terrible shape:
Dead at 58, Hugo Chávez leaves behind a country in far worse condition than it was when he became president, its future clouded by rivals for succession in a constitutional crisis of his Bolivarian party’s making and an economy in chaos.
A former paratrooper, Mr. Chávez had a radical vision for “21st Century Socialism,” which was never fully explained. His skillful rhetoric, which filled supporters with utopian dreams, was used to justify the methodical destruction of Venezuela’s democratic institutions and the free market.
Shortly after coming to office, he rewrote the constitution to his liking and aggressively set out to rig elections and stifle adversaries in the legislative branch and the courts. Unable to brook criticism, he turned his fire on the independent news media, eventually silencing most voices of opposition by bully tactics and economic intimidation.
His Bolivarian regime rewarded supporters and punished opponents, giving rise to enormous corruption and the creation of a new class of greedy oligarchs with political connections. Unfortunately for Venezuela and for all his political skills, the president was both an incompetent executive and a worse economist.
In an energy-rich country that once knew no blackouts, electrical shortages are frequent, the result of Mr. Chávez’s plundering of the country’s public oil company. In a country that once enjoyed a thriving free market, prices are controlled and food items often scarce.
In recent weeks, while Mr. Chávez was hospitalized, Venezuela was once again forced to devalue its currency, this time by one-third. This was the inevitable outcome of a series of disastrous economic decisions that included nationalizing the telephone company and other utilities, which scared off foreign investors and spurred capital flight.
This might help explain why Venezuelans in the United States—who unlike those in Venezuela proper, are free to express their opinions—are so delighted that Chavez is dead:
Venezuelans in the U.S. cheered and expressed cautious optimism that new elections will bring change to their homeland after the death of President Hugo Chavez.
“My hope is that Venezuela will become a free country once again,” said Elizabeth Gonazalez, 52, who wore a smiley face sticker on her sweater with the words, “Venezuela without Chavez.”
A jubilant celebration broke out in the Miami suburb of Doral late Tuesday after word spread of the death of the 58-year-old leftist. Many dressed in caps and T-shirts in Venezuela’s colors of yellow, blue and red.
“He’s gone!” dozens in the largely anti-Chavez community chanted.
IN Caracas, Venezuela, you could tell a summit meeting mattered to Hugo Chávez when government workers touched up the city’s rubble. Before dignitaries arrived, teams with buckets and brushes would paint bright yellow lines along the route from the airport into the capital, trying to compensate for the roads’ dilapidation with flashes of color.
For really big events — say, a visit by Russia’s president — workers would make an extra effort, by also painting the rocks and debris that filled potholes.
Seated in their armor-plated cars with tinted windows, the Russians might not have noticed the glistening golden nuggets, but they would surely have recognized the idea of the Potemkin village.
That same dramatic flair deeply divided Venezuelans as he postured on the world stage and talked of restoring equilibrium between the rich countries and the rest of the world. It now obscures his real legacy, which is far less dramatic than he would have hoped. In fact, it’s mundane. Mr. Chávez, in the final analysis, was an awful manager.
The legacy of his 14-year “socialist revolution” is apparent across Venezuela: the decay, dysfunction and blight that afflict the economy and every state institution.
Read the whole thing, which makes clear that just about everything Chavez touched turned to ashes. More from Michael Moynihan:
Chávez presided over a political epoch flush with money and lorded over a society riven by fear, deep political divisions, and ultraviolence. Consider the latest crime statistics from Observatorio Venezolano de la Violencia, which reckons that 2012 saw an astonishing 21,692 murders in the country—in a population of 29 million. Last year, I accompanied a Venezuelan journalist on his morning rounds at Caracas’s only morgue to count the previous night’s murders. As the number of dead ballooned, the Chávez regime simply stopped releasing murder statistics to the media.
All of this could have been predicted, and wasn’t particularly surprising from a president who believed that one must take the side of any enemy of the “empire.” That Zimbabwe’s dictator Robert Mugabe was a “freedom fighter,” or that Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko presided over “a model of a social state.” Saddam Hussein was a “brother,” Bashar al-Assad had the “same political vision” as the Bolivarian revolutionaries in Venezuela. He saw in the madness of Col. Gaddafi an often overlooked “brilliance” (“I ask God to protect the life of our brother Muammar Gaddafi”). The brutal terrorist Carlos the Jackal, who praised the 9/11 attacks from his French jail cell, was “a good friend.” He praised and supported FARC, the terrorist organization operating in neighboring Colombia. The list is endless.
His was a poisonous influence on the region, one rah-rahed by radical fools who desired to see a thumb jammed in America’s eye, while not caring a lick for its effect on ordinary Venezuelans. In his terrific new book (fortuitously timed to publish this week) Comandante: Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, The Guardian’s Rory Carroll summed up the legacy of Chávez’s Venezuela as “a land of power cuts, broken escalators, shortages, queues, insecurity, bureaucracy, unreturned calls, unfilled holes, uncollected garbage.” One could add to that list grinding poverty, massive corruption, censorship, and intimidation.
This was Chávez’s reign and his legacy; extralegal, vindictive, and interested in the short-term gesture rather than the more difficult, long-term solution. From his revolutionary comrades in Cuba, he borrowed the slogan “patria, socialismo o muerte”—fatherland, socialism or death. The fatherland is a shambles, Bolivarian socialism has failed, and Comandante Chávez is dead. May the “revolution” die with him.
Quite so. It should come as no surprise that the Iranian regime is deeply saddened by Chavez’s death, having lost in Chavez an inspiration for how to annihilate a country’s prospects and oppress its people.
It’s worth noting as well that Chavez left behind a country with an unbelievably dysfunctional political system. Link:
In one neighborhood, Chávez supporters set fire to tents and mattresses used by university students who had chained themselves together in protest several days earlier to demand more information about Mr. Chávez’s condition.
“Are you happy now?” the Chávez supporters shouted as they ran through the streets with sticks. “Chávez is dead! You got what you wanted!”
Let it be noted that in Venezuela, asking for political transparency can leave you vulnerable to mob attack. More:
Shortly before announcing that Hugo Chávez died, Venezuela’s government resorted to one of the late president’s favorite ploys to try to unite his supporters: allege a conspiracy by the U.S. to destabilize the country.
Vice President Nicolás Maduro kicked out two U.S. military attachés for allegedly plotting against Venezuela and even suggested that Washington may have been behind Mr. Chávez’s cancer.
“Behind all of [the plots] are the enemies of the fatherland,” Mr. Maduro said on state television, flanked by the entire cabinet, state governors and Venezuela’s military commanders.
Mr. Maduro said that the U.S. Embassy’s Air Force attaché, Col. David Delmonaco, and another unnamed U.S. military official had approached members of the Venezuelan military and tried to recruit them into plans to “destabilize” the oil-rich South American nation. Mr. Maduro didn’t offer further details on the alleged plot.
Mr. Maduro also suggested that the country’s “historic enemies,” a phrase long used in Venezuela to refer to the U.S. and its allies, may have caused Mr. Chávez’s cancer. He said the country would likely discover in the future that Mr. Chávez “was attacked with this illness.”
This is the response of the government of a country which is going down the tubes?
And let’s remember what the last presidential election was like. Consider this story about Henrique Capriles, who challenged Chavez last year, and who is likely to challenge his successor, Maduro, in upcoming elections. Look at what he had to put up with:
Last year, government supporters threw racist and homophobic taunts at Capriles, who has Jewish roots and lost great-grandparents in the Treblinka concentration camp in German-occupied Poland during World War Two.
One can be certain that these attacks were approved by Chavez, or by people close to him.
This blog post has gone on for a while, so I will close it by recommending this piece by Zack Beauchamp, who is on the other side of me politically, but who is a worthy and interesting interlocutor on Twitter. He urges Democrats not to think fondly of Chavez—and isn’t it sad that some Democrats needed urging? Finally, consider this from the late and missed Christopher Hitchens regarding a 2008 trip to Venezuela:
Recent accounts of Hugo Chávez’s politicized necrophilia may seem almost too lurid to believe, but I can testify from personal experience that they may well be an understatement. In the early hours of July 16—just at the midnight hour, to be precise—Venezuela’s capo officiated at a grisly ceremony. This involved the exhumation of the mortal remains of Simón Bolívar, leader of Latin America’s rebellion against Spain, who died in 1830. According to a vividly written article by Thor Halvorssen in the July 25 Washington Post, the skeleton was picked apart—even as Chávez tweeted the proceedings for his audience—and some teeth and bone fragments were taken away for testing. The residual pieces were placed in a coffin stamped with the Chávez government’s seal. In one of the rather free-associating speeches for which he has become celebrated, Chávez appealed to Jesus Christ to restage the raising of Lazarus and reanimate Bolívar’s constituent parts. He went on:
“I had some doubts, but after seeing his remains, my heart said, ‘Yes, it is me.’ Father, is that you, or who are you? The answer: ‘It is me, but I awaken every hundred years when the people awaken.’ “
As if “channeling” this none-too-subtle identification of Chávez with the national hero, Venezuelan television was compelled to run images of Bolívar, followed by footage of the remains, and then pictures of the boss. The national anthem provided the soundtrack. Not since North Korean media declared Kim Jong-il to be the reincarnation of Kim Il Sung has there been such a blatant attempt to create a necrocracy, or perhaps mausolocracy, in which a living claimant assumes the fleshly mantle of the departed.
If only Hugo Chavez were as obsessed with venerating the living as he was with glorifying the dead, Venezuelans may have done better under his leadership.