Venezuela after Chávez| by Alejandro Bendaña

by Apr 17, 2013Magazine

880462-nicolas-maduroEven with the death of Venezuela’s Chávez, his continuing legacy – ‘chavismo’ or the Bolivarian revolutionary process – is here to stay. Twenty years of social, political and ideological change are not easily reversible. Chavismo represents a process of revolutionary change identified with Chávez, but that is by now much larger.

Venezuelans have repeatedly voted for a project as well as a person. The fact that poverty was reduced by more than 70%, unemployment cut by half, the number of people eligible for state pensions tripled, and access to health care and education vastly increased help to explain one electoral success after another. Chávez was an icon who was not simply favoured, but positively worshipped by a majority of Venezuelans. As a social phenomenon, the Bolivarian process will not die, if for no other reason than it no longer belongs to Venezuela alone.

But there are threats to chavismo. It is the political-organisational component that worries observers on the left. Chávez, with the support of the Venezuelan masses, stitched together the Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), composed of various forces chiefly but not exclusively on the left. So one concern is how these forces will evolve in a post-Chávez Venezuela. Parallel to that is the concern about a state bureaucracy riddled with virtual fiefdoms. And then there are the armed forces, which are decidedly loyal to a President who came from their own ranks. Where will their loyalties lie now he is gone?

On the right, efforts continue to discredit and delegitimise the government. Venezuela’s ex-oligarchy can count on the support of large media within and outside Venezuela; its influence in right-wing quarters globally should not be underestimated. The irony, however, is that all Latin American governments have now accepted the Bolivarian Republic as a fact (and powerful business partner). Also, Washington’s undisguised hostility towards Venezuela ironically strengthens chavismo. Washington is largely isolated diplomatically in its perpetual battle against Venezuela. As the New York Times surprisingly put it, ‘Control of the government implies control of the oil industry and the ability to dictate whether it benefits society at large or small privileged sectors as it did in the past’.

More than ever, the course of the class struggle in Venezuela will be influenced by what is happening in Latin America more broadly. Tellingly, even during Chávez’ convalescence in Cuba, the Bolivarian process moved forward in the region. In January, at a summit of the Venezuelan-inspired Economic Community of Latin American and Caribbean countries (CELAC), presidents hailed Chávez’ Bolivarian vision of a genuinely regional organisation without the US (and Canada). In what was considered a slap in the face and historical defeat for the US, Cuba ascended to the organisation’s chairmanship.

On the political front, the massive electoral victory of Rafael Correa in Ecuador on 17 February and new nationalisations in Bolivia are all part of the same interlocked Bolivarian process, which makes it unlikely that a democratically elected revolutionary government will ever again be subject to isolation or even to being outsted by a coup.

Also in January, the member states of the Bolivarian Association of Latin American and Caribbean states (ALBA) met in Caracas to reaffirm Venezuela’s leadership and underscore their appreciation for the huge increase in social and public investment made possible by Venezuela’s generous financing terms for oil. Weeks earlier Venezuela also entered the Mercosur (Southern Cone Economic Zone), further interlocking the most powerful economies of the region. Alliances with China and Russia are particularly strong and strategic given that Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world.

Now that Chávez is gone, all signs to point to a ‘new’ government with a duly-elected head of state in the person of current Vice-President Nicolas Maduro. Almost every observer and even the opposition believes that Maduro will win massively given the government’s popularity and the continuing disarray in the anti-Chávez camp. The opposition’s head, Jorge Capriles, after losing to Chávez in the last presidential round, won the important state of Miranda in the December state/governor election. Capriles would have to resign in order to run against Maduro. A lose-lose proposition.

We can be sure of two things ‘after’ Chávez: that revolutionary consciousness is here to stay in both Venezuela and the region, and that icons do not die.

Alejandro is Director of the Center for International Studies, Managua, Nicaragua.

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