Hugo Chávez: The Death of a Great Bolivarian

Source: Getty Images

Hugo Chávez was a world historical figure whose legacy will continue to leave its hemispheric mark on the side of a politics that guarantees social and economic rights. Such a commitment is all but titanic, because it involves a more equitable distribution of wealth, something anathema to the traditional elites in Venezuela and the proponents of the so called Washington Consensus.

Thanks in part to Chávez’s leadership, most of the region has gradually emancipated itself from United States thralldom, and a number of bold new experiments have emerged in what Chávez would call “twenty-first century socialism.”  Chávez combined the historic memory of Simón Bolívar and other independence icons with the influence of humanist and socialist thought to inform the emancipatory ideology of the Bolivarian Revolution. A good case can be made that Chávez also has been behind the spirit of new multilateral Latin American political, economic and security associations, such as CELAC and ALBA, which do not even list Washington and Ottawa as among their membership.

Source: Leo Ramirez/AFP Images

Social investment in Venezuela has made millions of formerly marginalized Venezuelans better off than they were before 1999 by reducing poverty, eliminating illiteracy, and expanding access to health, education, and housing. Of course the Bolivarian revolution has its shortcomings and challenges. It remains imperative for the next Venezuelan administration to keep basic staple prices, inflation and the debt under control. Public insecurity, most notably the soaring rate of homicides, has risen to intolerable levels since 1999; it remains a formidable challenge for whoever becomes Chávez’s ultimate successor.

Despite the claims that Chávez was an autocrat, there is no doubt that Chávez has been a democratically validated leader throughout his presidency. On the other hand, a great deal of power has been packed into the executive branch, and this will pose a challenge to the development of the organs of popular power. Now with Chávez gone, it is up to the people of Venezuela to further advance and vitalize these organs of political participation to ensure the continued democratic nature of the revolution.

Although the Venezuelan government is most immediately concerned with maintaining security in the wake of the loss of its president, there may soon be opportunities for both the U.S. and Venezuela to reassess their tattered bilateral relationship. After a lost decade of adversarial relations between Washington and Caracas, there will likely be opportunities for constructive engagement. It takes at least two nations to make this happen.


Frederick B. Mills, Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

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For additional news or analysis on Latin America, please go to: Latin News

6 thoughts on “Hugo Chávez: The Death of a Great Bolivarian

  • March 6, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    Chavez relied on bluster, innuendo blatent anti-Americanisms to keep in power "democratically" – while hobbling the opposition by creating a playing field designed to benefit his party and his candidacy. With American "journalists" like Eva Golinger
    repeating Maduro's looney pronouncements that it was the perfidious Yanquis who induced Chavez cancer (, no doubt that Chavez morally bankrupt regime will muddle through. But with Chavismo in power since 1998, the yet-to-begin social-economc revolution should start soon, because there are unfinished problems:

    Homicide rate – Venezuela #5:

    Human Development Index – Venezuela #73:

    Press freedom – Venezuela #117:

    Global Peace Index – Venezuela #123:

    Corruption Perception Index – Venezuela #165:

  • March 6, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    The idea that Chavez has been democratically validated throughout his presidency is laughable. The government's tight control over the media must bring into question how truly democratic the process in Venezuela has been.

  • March 6, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    "The government's tight control over the media must bring into question how truly democratic the process [in Venezuela] has been." Does that critique also apply to the US???

  • March 7, 2013 at 7:51 am

    The idea that millions of poor individuals in Venezuela were benefited by Chavez’s socialism only applies to those who supported him. I have constantly visited Venezuela in the past few years and that is a pattern I observed, people living in poverty continued to be marginalized just because they were not supporters of Chavez and “la revolucion”. This begs the question if his aid to the poor was to help the poor or to only satisfy the principal-agent issue in order to stay in power (which the legitimacy of his elections is highly questionable). He also used millions of dollars to satisfy his needs and his own political agenda which correlates with the previous post of high corruption. I do not think he deserves to be revered as a great Robin Hood because it may also be argued thay he did more bad than good for his country. Such a lack of property rights and institutional transparency hindered investment which in the long-run will prove to have a negative effect in Venezuela’s economic growth. Oil is non-renuable… And Venezuela has been living from it and using it as a Central Bank thanks to Chavez’s abuse of power.

    He is a man who devoted his life to his country and that ought to be respected and appreciated, but it is the time for change in Venezuela.

  • March 7, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    Did I miss something ? What did Chavez have against Canada?

  • March 8, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    It is so easy to creaticize a man who indeed cared for his people. Human? yes he was. Mistakes que made as many of us but he left a mark important in a nation historically ruled by the upper classes who opressed the poor and uneducated. I hope after Chavez we see a different Venezuela not ruled by the oligarchy who traditionally exploited the wealth of the nation. I hope Venezuela is capable of taking the lead of change in Latin America.


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