Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The toxic legacy of Chavez

As Venezuela comes to terms with the death of Hugo Chavez, the beatification process of its former president has already started. Whatever his achievements are in terms of widening social welfare programmes to the poorest and improving access to health care and education, his followers will need his name and aura to continue his political programme of Bolivarian socialism.


Chavez in socialist pose


You may applaud or criticise Chavez for the way he has changed the country yet one misgiving I always feel when a person assumes such a central role in any political movement is that his (or her) apparent indispensability does not bode well for rational debate about future choices. The tenor of his supporters has been that they have 'lost a father'. I am not sure politicians should be 'fathers' of their electorate. It seems to me that such a role implies the subversion of the dispensability of politicians who temporarily and provisionally hold an office by virtue of them being elected.

Chavez has played the card of infallibility repeatedly, infusing his form of 'chavismo' or Bolivarian socialism with something akin to religious sentiment bordering on providence. Indeed, one may argue that this is a feature of many types of socialism where the ideological tenets usually lack political legitimacy or public support and hence cannot be exposed to reasoned argument and open debate.

The central role Chavez played himself and his charisma may just radiate strongly enough into the near future to ensure that his followers elect the current Vice-President Maduro, somebody Chavez personally anointed as his successor before his death. However, with the immediate succession resolved, Venezuelans will have to confront the harsh reality of open politics, questioning the fundamentals of Chavismo and submitting them to public debate. If they fail to do this they may preserve 'Chavismo' but it will be an ideology in aspic.

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