By Hernan Gálvez Villavicencio,
Much has been said about the supposed success or resurgence of leftist governments in Latin America. But that socialist bubble was mainly supported by the power Hugo Chavez imposed over Venezuela’s financially dependent satellites such Bolivia, Argentina and, of course, papa Cuba. After the death of Chavez some obvious questions were raised: would that leftist bluff inevitably fade or undergo a profound reengineering by Chavez disciples? For how long(er) will borderline-Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro uphold the flaccid economical heritage over an enraged population? Will Maduro –the president that talk to birds- be capable to resume what Chavez left off?
Let us see: it is undeniable that, at least on paper, leftist governments still have some sort of influence in that region. On paper. Once in power, most of those countries have abandoned the socialist electoral discourse and faced reality, the right reality: the benefits of a free-market economy and elimination of trade barriers, historical enemies of socialism and communism. Some cynics –including me- say socialists are experts on being opposition but, once in power, they have no option but to apply all those liberal formulas they fiercely criticized.
The Cuban revolution inspired political movements with different levels of success. The emergence of Hugo Chavez in the political spectrum proved to be one of the most important –if not the most important- political event in Latin American. That political current later known as Chavism produced international implications that reached other neighboring governments, forming an “area of influence.” Nations such Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador have mimicked the Venezuelan model for reelection and abusive control of the media. So, on the surface, communist enthusiasts believe that this is actually a sort of vindication for the left.
There are basic common places indeed: a clear authoritative –violent- program. Leftwing governments in Latin America follow a classical, structural political view tied to the works of Marx, Mao, and implicitly linked to extreme regimes such Cuba. The heart of Chavism not only openly acknowledges its sympathy towards Cuba and its totalitarian way to conduct politics, but largely subsidizes its economy through low-cost daily barrels of petroleum. They feed their cripple papa.
But, again, not everything that shines is gold. Socialist Latin American governments with modest success have in fact used capitalism guidelines to maintain that so called “prosperity.” That is similar to what occurred in China: a “socialist” vitrine to save faces with a practical openness to free trade and globalization, liberal systems for so long refused and crucified. Some Latin American countries with socialist agendas but outside Venezuela’s financial area of influence such Brazil and Peru, have played it smart by keeping good relations with the US and their regional mentor, Venezuela. That double standard cannot be criticized after all; Venezuela itself has maintained economic relations with America despite their apparent diplomatic tensions. According to the United States Office of Trade Representative, in 2011 -amidst Chavez’s public vows to be reelected for the 4th time- general trade with Venezuela totaled $62 billion. Compared to the year 2000, it increased in an astonishing 122%. When it comes to business, left and right behave as good pals.
As a political leader, what Hugo Chavez started was only comparable to what Castro did in Cuba. But that is as far as it gets. Political and ideologically speaking, Chavism ended with the death of Chavez. It was a current in progress, not yet solidified. It was too centered in the figure of Chavez. Maduro won an election with over two million less votes than what pools gave to Chavez before his death. Had the campaign lasted one more week, Capriles had easily won. There is not Chavism without Chavez. Venezuela’s regional allies will gradually distance themselves from Maduro as the independent press start unraveling the real levels of corruption hidden for years. It is irrefutable Chavism will stay alive in the political imaginary of Venezuelans for the years to come, but at a local level. Somewhat similar to Peronism in Argentina: a caudillo, with critics and defenders that will mystify Chavez. Hugo Chavez will become a myth, but a local myth, with no further international repercussions.
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