Chávez Myth Will Outlive His Achievements


March 7, 2013


In an article for CNN's Global Public Square published on March 6, Christopher Sabatini, Editor-in-Chief of Americas Quarterly and Senior Director of Policy at Americas Society/Council of the Americas, argues that there will be little long-lasting institutional imprint left by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, despite his outsize personality and charisma.

Chávez Myth Will Outlive HIs Achievements

by Christopher Sabatini

It’s difficult to remember a time when Hugo Chávez didn’t dominate the headlines, just as it is difficult to believe that, with his death, there will come a time when he no longer does. Elected as Venezuelan president in 1998 and sworn in in 1999, Chávez became the voice of a new group of leaders across South America that came to power with the collapse of traditional, elite-dominated party systems. He was the bête noir of the United States, a hero to the anti-globalization left and to the poor in his own country, a savior to the Castro regime in Cuba, and the clown prince of the regional summit circuit. For all this, though, Chávez’s legacy in Venezuela and in the region will be one of institutional debasement and polarization.

The one-time lieutenant colonel rose to prominence in 1992, when he and a group of mid-level officers attempted a coup against the country’s then-President Carlos Andrés Pérez. In a brief statement to the media, Chávez promised that while he may have failed, that he would return to correct the social injustices that led to his putsch. After serving time in prison he did, winning the 1998 presidential elections, overturning a two-party system that had governed Venezuela since 1958 through an increasingly closed, corrupt system held together by the country’s oil riches and patronage.

But the revolutionary coup plotter proved a better destroyer of first the system that preceded him, and then the state that he created, than an institution builder. After convening a constituent assembly in 1999, Venezuela approved a new Bolivarian constitution – named after Chávez’s hero, South American independence hero Simón Bolívar. Even before new elections and appointments to fill state positions like the Supreme Court, Chávez and his supporters in the constituent assembly started to subvert their own constitution.  Over the course of the next 14 years, the Chávez government undermined judicial independence, used Central Bank reserves for patronage, created partisan militias, established parallel local government structures – including the police forces in Caracas – consolidated control over the media, politicized the electoral commission, and nationalized private companies by caprice.

Read the rest of the article here.

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