Wednesday, March 6, 2013


"The evil that men do lives on,
  The good is oft interred with their bones;
  So let it be with Caesar".
                                           William Shakespeare - Julius Caesar

Hugo Chavez is dead. He leaves behind him a country in chaos and a bitterly divided and polarised society. In the coming weeks and months and years Venezuela is going to struggle to pull itself out of the very deep financial blackhole that Chavez created with his 'Bolivarian socialism'. But it is important to look back and assess both his 'victories' as well as his 'defeats' (for want of better words). His victories first:

When he was elected in October 1998 (he actually first took the oath of office in January 1999) he had run a populist campaign that in itself was recolutionary. Venezuela was then divided between a very few "haves" and a lot of "have-nots". I remember going over there in 1997 and being absolutely shocked at the glaring inequalities that were rampant in that society. Clearly a revolution was absolutely necessary to bring equity and fairness to a society whose value systems seemed to be locked into those of the early fifties. There was too much inequality.

And Chavez was just that revolution. He swept to power promising massive changes for the benefit of the poor and dispossessed. In this regard he kept his promises. He brought in universal health care and gave huge opportunities to persons who would never otherwise have had them. His policies of helping the poor and dispossessed certainly raised a lot of people out of a squalid and dehabilitating poverty. He forced through changes that were absolutely necessary in a society that was atrophied and in which only the rich were able to enjoy Venezuela's fabulous oil wealth.

Now for his defeats: he did all this at great expense ... some would argue that the cost was too high. His rhetoric was extremely divisive and his actions were even more polarising. He pitted Venezuelans against each other and opened up wounds that ought never to have been opened. His critics branded him as spiteful and dictatorial. Indeed, there is a lot of evidence to support these accusations. A Supreme Court Judge, for example, who had the temerity to oppose him was arbitrarily arrested and locked up. Companies had their assets expropriated by the State and their owners received no compensation. The media was severely muzzled and criticisms against the Government were not tolerated. If you were so foolish as to criticise the President you would end up in serious hot water. Venezuela was anything but democratic.

Venezuela's economy began to suffer badly. Mr. Chavez spent a huge amount of Venezuela's oil income last year in propping up his economically failing regime so that he could win the elections in October. He won, but at a huge (and as yet unaccounted for) cost ... a cost which some experts say was the direct cause of the huge devaluation that Venezuela's currency suffered last month.

In the meantime, there has been absolutely no investment by the private sector in Venezuela's factories and businesses for at least the last 8 years. In the oil/energy sector Chavez's purge of Stae owned PDVSA some 10 years ago has resulted in oil production falling (at a time of rising oil prices) and a lot of incompetent personnel running the company effectively into the ground. Corruption in high office is rampant. Many 'Chavistas' are multi millionaires with condos in Miami.

In terms of foreign policy it could also be argued that this also was a disaster for Venezuela. Venezuelan oil subsidies have been propping up Cuba to the tune of about US$9 billion per annum for the last decade or so. What the Castros are going to do now is going to be interesting, to say the least. My guess is that they will try to prop up the Vice President Nicholas Maduro, a former bus driver. But I don't think that he will be able to hold the centre for very long. The only countries that seemed to support Chavez were countries like Iran, Ghaddiffi's Libya, Zimbabwe (remember Robert Mugabe?) and North Korea. To be fair, he did have some friends in Latin America like Bolivia's Evo Morales. But you know what they say about 'show me your friends ...'!

And by the way, if you think that crime is bad in T&T you should check out Caracas sometime. Their crime problems make ours look like a walk in the park!

Venezuela is in for a hard time now that Chavez is dead. There is no one on the horizon who has his charisma and the divisions in the society are too deep to heal overnight. The bad news is that Venezuela's economy is in a shambles and there is nobody in the present Government who has the economic savvy to be able to fix it ... ever! The good news is that Venezuela is essentially fabulously wealthy ... at least potentially so. Now that Chavez is dead it is quite likely that the country will sooner or later move back to the centre and will become once again a nice place to live. Let us hope that in moving back to the centre that the good things that Chavez did do are not buried with him ... although that would surprise a lot of people including old Willy Shakespeare.


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