Chávez’s death to be bad news to Anti-Americans
It will take many years for Venezuela to recover from the incompetent and dictatorial rule of President Hugo Chávez, who died Tuesday at 58. The lack of transparency about the late leader’s long illness, cancer, in itself suggests the corruption of his regime. He spent many of his final months in a Havana hospital, where he “governed” via documents on which his signature was sometimes forged, with the aid of Cuba’s communist dictatorship.
He had long helped prop up that government by giving the island massive quantities of oil and natural gas. Will Hugo Chávez’s death speed the end of the dictatorship of Fidel and Raul Castro? Anyhow, his exit is bad news for that regime, Iran and the other anti-American tyrannies that the Venezuelan boss favored.
The folksy Chávez was a superb demagogue if a feckless administrator. After the former paratrooper failed to overthrow a democratically elected government in 1992 via a military coup, he won a fair election in 1999. But he kept power for 14 years through innumerable antidemocratic tactics, including physical and economic intimidation of his foes, rewriting the constitution in a bid for lifetime power (successfully), dismissing the parliament, suppressing the news media and taking over much of the judicial system.
Meanwhile, he rather chaotically strove to impose his special brand of socialism, including nationalizing key economic sectors, imposing crazy price controls and spending a lot of money on dubious public-infrastructure projects that had a way of not being completed. So bad has been his regime that Venezuela, a huge fossil-fuel producer, now suffers frequent electricity blackouts, and many of its stores lack basic items they once routinely offered, including food staples.
And President Chávez’s cronies have become a new and notably corrupt oligarchy even as the country has lost immense capital and entrepreneurial talent as many businesspeople, engineers and other highly educated people have fled abroad. At the same time, crime has soared, further damaging the economy and quality of life.
None of this is to say that his populist appeal came out of nowhere. Venezuela, like most of the developing world, has extreme differences in quality of life between the small number of rich folks and the many impoverished people. The charismatic Chávez gained much support with his bread-and-circuses appeals to the desperately poor. We have seen in person the terrible slums on the hillsides in Caracas, and the gated mansions of the rich. The poverty must be addressed. But Hugo Chávez made things much worse for the nation as a whole, whatever his concern for the poor.
Meanwhile, the U.S., by wrongly and undemocratically supporting his overthrow in a failed coup, probably strengthened his rule inadvertently.
Chavez said that his successor should be Vice President Nicolás Maduro, who may win the special presidential election to happen within a month. But Maduro is not nearly as effective a demagogue as was Hugo Chávez, whose “Bolivarian Revolution” may soon pass into history as Venezuelans seek to re-establish common sense and democracy in a country that with good government could be very prosperous.
-The Providence Journal, Rhode Island