Feature

Venezuela: Can there be chavismo without Chávez?

President Hugo Chávez spoke for the first time about what the country should do if he were to become incapacitated.

Don’t despair, Venezuelans! said Jesús Silva in Analítica.com (Venezuela). Our leader is gravely ill, that’s true. In announcing another cancer surgery in Cuba, President Hugo Chávez spoke this week for the first time about what the country should do if he were to become incapacitated. In a moving, tearful address, he told his supporters to back Nicolás Maduro, the current vice president and foreign minister. “Thankfully, the revolution doesn’t depend on just one person,” Chávez said. “I feel myself embodied in all of you. You are all Chávez. Everyone is Chávez.” Of course, the opposition seized on the announcement with unbecoming glee, crowing that they would soon be able to take power and “plunder the wealth of the nation.” They will fail. The voters love Chávez dearly and are devoted to his vision. The “Bolivarian Revolution will not collapse like a house of cards as long as the fascist bourgeoisie and Yankee imperialism exist.”

Don’t be so sure, said José Toro Hardy in El Universal (Venezuela). It’s true that the people love Chávez with an “intimate and inexplicable” passion. “Despite every failure, every delay, every broken promise, frustrated Venezuelans always insisted that Chávez was not to blame.” They point at incompetent ministers, governors, generals, or functionaries, and cheer when Chávez publicly scolds these officials. They don’t even blame him for“squandering nearly $1.4 billion in revenue and dismantling the country’s productive industries.” But if Chávez isn’t responsible, then those in his retinue must be. So why would we Venezuelans give our support to Maduro or any other candidate who has Chávez’s blessing? 

Because Venezuela is not really a democracy, said La Nación (Costa Rica) in an editorial. There’s no real freedom of expression and no true protection of individual rights. Everything depends on the perks meted out from the top, and that’s not going to change soon. “In the absence of its leader, the Chávez regime could face short-term difficulties,” but the system of “cronyism cultivated by Chávez over his 14 years in power” would probably survive. We can even imagine the government ramming through a constitutional amendment to appoint Maduro president “without the formality of an election.”

Maduro has been groomed for this, said Maye Primera in Clarín (Argentina). Ever since Chávez first fell ill, nearly two years ago, he “hasn’t missed an opportunity to talk up his foreign minister’s modest beginnings” as a bus driver and union leader. Maduro, 50, “has grown up with Chávez’s revolution.” He was involved in the very first political party Chávez founded, and became a member of the National Assembly that drafted the constitution back in 1999. He has faithfully mouthed Chávez’s anti-American discourse and supported the regimes of fallen Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi and current Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. If Chávez dies, Venezuela’s chavistas may well decide to “let the former bus driver take the wheel of the revolution.” 

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