Chavez, Another Cold War Strongman / Miguel Iturria Savon

Although I do not often think of Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales, Castro or other Latin American caudillos, I confess that the tragicomic saga taking place in Venezuela after the death of President Chávez causes me embarrassment mixed with revulsion. Perhaps I have been conditioned by having grown up under Castro-ism, a rich nutritional source for new populist patriarchs who, after coming to power, impose measures in favor of the dispossessed, whom they use as shock troops against the rest of society, thus facilitating the exclusion of some to the detriment of others.

This binary concept of friends and enemies is as old as society itself and can be illustrated with examples put into practice during the decades of the Cold War. It is what led Hugo Chávez to adopt Fidel Castro as a patron and the Cuban dictatorship as a social model.

The red wave of Chavistas, the interminable line to the coffin, the media campaign and the attempt to sanctify the deceased – mummified like Lenin – by the governing elite causes feelings more of sorrow than embarrassment. Sorrow because of the factions created by the leader and by the stupidity of the masses, who applaud him in exchange for bread and promises, unable to think through the consequences of their actions or of the hostage status to which they will be relegated by a caudillo who promotes hatred and discord in order to carry out his plans for reform.

Chavism is but the latest chapter in the Cold War. It is another attempt at absolute domination by the machinery of the state. Chávez was a hybrid between the tradition of the Latin strongman and Soviet ministerialism. He, like his Cuban mentors, followed the same outline as the former Soviet Union. Though he was not able to fully apply them, he showed himself to be an excellent apprentice of the essential precepts of a model that ran aground decades ago, and which survives only in Cuba and North Korea.

One could talk at length – especially nowadays when Latin American analysts are trying to discern every facet of Chavism – about the intersection of a Venezuela facing the future and the helplessness of its allies in the wake of the passing of the Bolivarian Caesar, who so revered the Comandante from the dilapidated island in the Caribbean that he even inherited the old guru’s cancer. And what about the people who believed in the new redeemer? They will remain in limbo, much like those elderly people in Cuba, who make withdrawals from their much devalued checking accounts and at times, only at times, speak of the horrors they committed in the name of the revolution and the leader, who left them hanging from a diving board of misery.

9 March 2013