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Hugo Chávez Post-Mortem

By Taylor Marvin

I have a Hugo Chávez post-mortem up at UC San Diego’s Prospect Journal, where I wrote while in school. In the piece I argue that the most damaging aspect of Chávez’s legacy isn’t his frequently-decried leftist politics, which he never pursued in a systematic or ideologically consistant way. Instead, Chávez’s enduring legacy is his deliberate dismantling of Venezuela’s civil institutions:

“Of course, subsuming the institutions of the state into a single man is fundamentally unsustainable, because all men die. Now that Chávez is gone, his populistic legacy leaves neither a durable autocratic state or the public institutions necessary for a return to full democracy or economic growth beyond the petroleum sector. Chávez’s political allies and anointed heir appear set on continuing the brand of charismatic populism he perfected. No matter the direction Venezuelan politics goes, the post-Chávez era’s legacy of institutional decay will likely negatively shape Venezuela for years to come.”

Ultimately Hugo Chávez’s tenure can’t be understood through the liberal vs. conservative framework many American commentators insist on applying. American conservatives should admit that their threat-inflating insistance on denouncing Hugo Chávez and his Cuban ally as a hemispheric threat politically empowered Chávez, because his appropriation of disparate Latin American left-leaning governments into an imagined Bolivarian Revolution required a similarly-imagined American threat to define itself against. On the other hand, American liberals should recognize that there is nothing contradictory about admitting that while Chávez’s celebrated social programs aided the neglected poor, they were by design political tools that failed to engage the poor in a sustainable or empowering manner.

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