Hugo Chávez, The Unraveling of the Washington Consensus, and The Skewed Future Direction of U.S.-Latin-America Relations

Source: Priyo News

The spirit of Hugo Chávez, in death as in life, has inspired a region-wide movement to overcome five centuries of rampant inequality and eliminate crippling poverty. At the same time, much of Latin America has witnessed an upturn of experiments in more participatory forms of democracy that extend the concept of human rights to include intrinsic social and economic benefits. There is a clear call for further equality as a greater good derived from public accessibility, rather than from private property. Instead of seeking to subvert such rare periods of enlightenment, the Obama administration, which might have displayed an act of grandeur and generosity, ought to have engaged in an act of bonafide change and in a spirit of mutual respect. It is time to abandon a long history of ill-serving hemispheric policy driven by what has been called the Washington Consensus. Now is the moment to put aside the strategy of containment and subversion of democratic revolutions. Such an approach has fewer and fewer converts and belongs with the rubble the Berlin wall.

Chávez took up the Bolivarian sword, and with it a determination to advance the unfinished dreams not only of Bolivar, but of Allende, Arbenz, Cárdenas and other giants of the left who were murdered or disappeared before they could fulfill their legitimized populist democratic mandates. It was Chavez’s destiny to be linked to the unfinished business of his predecessors and the dramatic political transformations that have taken place throughout the region.

Perhaps one of Chavez’s great accomplishments in his relatively short life would be to have helped make the trend toward emancipation in the Americas irreversible. Indigenous peoples now can be seen rising up to defend their ancestral claims to their ancient land; nation states are reclaiming control over their natural resources; the poor are to an increasing degree becoming the protagonists of their own emancipation; and Latin America and the Caribbean are forming new associations that enhance their mutual interests.

Chavez’s repeated references to the Bolivarian cause are part of a general cultural development throughout the region to recuperate the historic memory from the point of view of the oppressed and those who championed their liberation. Many of the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the right wing regimes dotting the last three decades of the twentieth century are only just now being adjudicated by national and international courts of law. For example, Rios Montt, the unforgiving former dictator of Guatemala who came to power during the 1982 coup and proceeded to unleash a reign of terror, is currently on trial. Lamentably, in the so called new world order, there seems to be no room in Washington’s foreign policy calculations to adjust, in a productive way, to this new reality and its exciting possibilities.

Washington’s natural proclivity for corporate elites unsurprisingly has formed the core of its hemispheric policy. The bottom line is that structural changes in the region mean that some of the previously privileged elements of the population will have to do with less and that national resources, in large part, will prudently be better invested in a process that prioritizes human needs and sustainable development. It is no surprise that given these priorities, Chávez had to confront a persistent and relentless hostile opposition both in Caracas and in Washington.

Hugo Chávez, like Bolivar, will continue to leave his mark on generations to come. Shamelessly, Washington could not afford a cost-free act of magnanimity and extend at least a perfunctorily warm abrazo to a nation where millions are grieving their great loss. The Comandante Chávez, we can safely say, perhaps more than any other public personality of this generation, has helped to keep hope alive for the dispossessed of our hemisphere, while back in Washington, Obama’s campaign promise of a new relationship with Latin America has come apart brick by brick. Perhaps now Washington might take into account the changing economic and political landscape to the South and forge a new hemispheric policy based on mutual respect.

Larry Birns, Director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, and Frederick B. Mills, Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

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5 thoughts on “Hugo Chávez, The Unraveling of the Washington Consensus, and The Skewed Future Direction of U.S.-Latin-America Relations

  • March 13, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    Oh pulllease – with new Venezuelan appointee president interim Maduro accusing US of poisoning Chávez, Obama acted correctly in his terse recognition that Chavez gone, hope things get better for Venezuelans. There is absolutely NO doubt that Chávez if he were alive, or Maduro, would totally reject any "abrazo" by Obama. They would rightly see it as crying crocodile tears – and thats just reality. Why should the US be anything other than perfunctory when its been the butt of Chávez war of words, and indeed, has publicly called Obama a puppet and worse?

    Venezuela currently has fifth-highest murder rate in the world, and is way down at #165 in 2013 Corruption Perception Index. Chávez got into power in 1998 and hasn't improved THOSE important indicators.

    • March 13, 2013 at 9:09 pm

      Thank you for your comments. The war of words? Let us remember how the Obama-Chavez relationship started. At the Summit of the Americas of April 2009, Chavez offered, in good faith and with the hope shared by the many Latin Americans who joined the refrain "yes we can," a very good book: Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano. This was not an affront; it was a positive gesture and message. Having been temporarily deposed in a short lived coup just three years later, opening another vein, (and let us remember he was democratically elected), and not having very many fans in Washington, it should be no surprise the rhetoric turned into high gear. The term "abrazo" is indeed an exaggeration, but it does point to the need to humanize the relationship on both sides. As for the murder rate, your point is well taken and we did address this issue in other posts. Thanks again for sharing your views.

  • March 13, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    While it is true that Chavez’s intentions were the “liberation” of Latin American, it was done in a fashion that violated democratic and human right principles, by encroaching liberties and accumulation of power. He was very successful in denaturalizing all the institutions and pervert the poor he said he was going to pull out of poverty by opening with out control the country’s treasuries and giving away money with out work.
    What is true that one way or another it is true that the country is not going to be the same from now on, the ruling class will have to consider the part of the population with less resources but the reconstruction of institutionally, order of law, social discipline, corruption and criminality will take generations.

  • March 22, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Thank you for this article Larry. As a Venezuelan, I'm pleased to know that truth-seeking thinkers, analysts, researchers and journalist are still out there, trying to counter-balance the negative biases of corporate mainstream media, which does everything in its means to lobby for hidden agendas, except, reporting real news. I've voted for Chavez previously, and if he would have survived his cancer and ran for President again, I would have voted for him once more! My family has benefited tremendously from his Misiones, just as millions of Venezuelans have. I recalled the time during his first presidential campaign, I was very skeptical about his intentions, specially about his political platform, until one day… While in Washington DC, I was at a social gathering with members of the back-then "agreagdos-militares" along with their respective wives…. I was so disgusted by their open bragging about stealing government money to be able to keep up their exquisite and lavish lifestyles…. I just had to rethink my position. To my knowledge, Chavez has done nothing in a 'fashion that violates democratic and human right principles" …. Nothing that at least, his political predecessors have not done. My childhood memories of "El Caracazo" are harsh, but my memories of not having potable water, or scarce food, are worst! Any Venezuelan that chooses to forget those times, has either really bad memory, suffering from a terrible case of amnesia, or, are true classists bigots! Before Chavez, I was part of those statistics, in which the 72% of Venezuelans were living in poverty, now, thanks to Chavez, us, the majority of Venezuelans are able to live with dignity. For how long did we, Venezuela's poor put up with the ruling class? Now, I think is time they put up with us, the majority! Yo Soy Chavez! -Gracias Larry!


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