Hugo Chavez dies. After 14 years in power
In office, his government has aligned itself with Russia to confront the United States. Venezuela is now a “failed state”, with regular armed clashes taking place between soldiers and barrio gangs. Maduro himself is a controversial figure, having led the country for almost two decades with an iron fist.
But at least he tried. Assessing where we are six years after Hugo Chavez’s death With Chavez dead at the age of 58, it’s worth looking back at where we were then and what it would take to get back to where we were then…
Chavez’s legacy: from critic to hero
Chavez was a polarising figure. He supported Cuba and was ultimately a champion of Chavez’s “21st century socialism”, which saw the transfer of private and state assets to private hands. The Venezuelan government was keen to portray itself as a model for other countries to follow. But Chavismo was a deeply unpopular socialistic project that brought impoverishment, hyperinflation and political instability. Its economic model was unsustainable, with oil production falling sharply during his tenure and a dramatic rise in global oil prices.
In the six years since Chavez’s death, there has been an outpouring of grief from the Venezuelan people and their leaders. Maduro called a national holiday to mark the day andT-shirts and mugs bearing his image have become a staple of Venezuelan living rooms. Maduro himself has become an increasingly polarising figure – a Marxist who is famous for his love of Fidel Castro and his opposition to the US and its military presence in Venezuela.
The economic crisis
The roots of the economic crisis that has gripped Venezuela can be traced back to the days of Chavez. After years of demanding social justice and raking in the wealth from oil production, Maduro has presided over a crushing economic crisis. It is estimated that around 80% of the country’s wealth has been transferred from the private sector to the state. In his zeal to show that he had done everything possible to avoid a financial meltdown, the Venezuelan leader reprinted the country’s banknotes 3,500 times.
But inflation is at a staggering 1,500 times the official rate, meaning that daily supplies of basic goods are dangerously low. The average monthly salary is less than $40 and as a result of the economic crisis, 40% of the population lives in poverty. Inflation reached 2,000% in February and March, the fastest it has been in three years.
Hugo Chavez and the politics of chaos
Chavez’s willingness to dispossess his own class and impose a radical redistribution of wealth has been a source of immense frustration for his successor, Nicolás Maduro. Chavez’s popularity was sky-high during his time in office and he had overwhelming support from the poor and the middle classes. But increasingly, the government is being seen as a proxy war between the United States and Russian Federation.
In this climate of fear and hatred, scapegoating and violence, it is easy to understand the rise of the “Chavistas”. But the protesters who have taken to the streets of Venezuela for six years now are not simply frustrated citizens – they are increasingly uniformed “Chavistas”, resentful of the barrel-oil profits of the elite and determined to remove them.
From T-shirts to tanks: the Chavez era in pictures
Chavez’s rise to power in 1999 was meteoric. Within a few years he had transformed Venezuela from a failing state to a wealthy, developed country. This was largely due to the rising price of oil and the decline in the price of oil. In addition, the military assisted in this process by removing itself from civilian control and handing over administrative and financial functions to the state. Chavez’s “21st century socialism” created a welfare state that socialised most of the country’s wealth. Here are some of the more iconic images from the Chavez era:
Words of hope for the future
Chavez’s legacy is a mixed one. On the one hand he has been a hero to many for consolidating social and economic justice. But his Supporters’ Executive has presided over the worst economic crisis in Venezuelan history and the rise of the “Chavistas”. Now, a year after Chavez’s death, we are faced with a political and economic Situation akin to that which existed before Chavez came to power. There is hope though, that the country will turn a new page and move forward with a more just and equalitarian society.
Key questions after 6 years since Chavez’s death
How has the situation in Venezuela evolved over the last six years? What is the mood in the country now? How do people feel about the direction the country is taking? How has the situation in the country changed since then? What are the implications of this for the rest of the region?
The death of Hugo Chavez in 2013 marked the passing of an important and transformational leader for the entire region. He laid the groundwork for the current political and economic landscape in his home country by successfully building an oil-based economy and social system. Chavez’s relationship with the United States was always complicated. While he was in power, he challenged US hegemony in Latin America by aligning himself with Russia against the United States.
The end of his presidency has been marked by economic difficulties, political polarisation and repeated acts of violence. These factors have made the path to political and social transformation in Venezuela difficult, but not impossible. What is even more significant though is that in many ways his policies have been more lasting than those of any other leader in Latin America. The region has now entered a period of uncertainty, with no clear path forward. And it will be interesting to see how this impacts on the country and its people.