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The game of thorns. Chavez dead at 58. /updated with a must-read by Greg Grandin and an explanation of the cancer comment

Posted by Charles II on March 5, 2013

Tamara Pearson, Venezuela Analysis:

Merida, March 5th 2013 ( –After two years of battling cancer, President Hugo Chavez has died today at 4.25 pm.

Tamara Pearson, VA:

Merida, March 5th 2013 ( – Vice-president Nicolas Maduro today denounced destabilisation plans by the international and Venezuelan right wing, announcing the expulsion of two US officials for threatening military security. [Without any evidence whatsoever] He also implied that Chavez’s cancer was “caused by enemies of Venezuela”.

Maduro pronounced the expulsion of Air Attaché David Delmonaco, and assistant Air Attaché Devlin Costal of the US embassy in Caracas for being implicated in “conspiracy plans”.

“They have 24 hours to pack their bags and leave,” Maduro said.

He explained that Monaco had, for the last few weeks, been contacting members of the Venezuelan military in order to bring about a destabilisation plan in Venezuela.

So one of the thorns in Washington’s paw is gone. One just hopes that the next president is even as competent and honest as Chavez (and Chavez had plenty of faults).

Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, The Guardian:

The facts speak for themselves: the percentage of households in poverty fell from 55% in 1995 to 26.4% in 2009. When Chávez was sworn into office unemployment was 15%, in June 2009 it was 7.8%. Compare that to current unemployment figures in Europe. In that period Chávez won 56% of the vote in 1998, 60% in 2000, survived a coup d’état in 2002, got over 7m votes in 2006 and secured 54.4% of the vote last October.

Greg Grandin, Venezuela Analysis:

Latin American populists, from Argentina’s Juan Perón to, most recently, Chávez, have long served as characters in a story the US tells about itself, reaffirming the maturity of its electorate and the moderation of its political culture. There are at most eleven political prisoners in Venezuela, and that’s taking the opposition’s broad definition of the term, which includes individuals who worked to overthrow the government in 2002, and yet it is not just the right in this country who regularly compared Chávez to the worst mass murderers and dictators in history.

In 1958, political elites negotiated a pact that maintained the trappings of democratic rule for four decades, as two ideological indistinguishable parties traded the presidency back and forth (sound familiar?). Where the State Department and its allied policy intellectuals isolated and condemned Havana, they celebrated Caracas as the end point of development.

We know now that its institutions were rotting from the inside out. Every sin that Chávez was accused of committing—governing without accountability, marginalizing the opposition, appointing partisan supporters to the judiciary, dominating labor unions, professional organizations and civil society, corruption and using oil revenue to dispense patronage—flourished in a system the US held up as exemplary.

There’s been great work done on the ground by scholars such as Alejandro Velasco, Sujatha Fernandes, Naomi Schiller and George Ciccariello-Maher on these social movements that, taken together, lead to the conclusion that Venezuela might be the most democratic country in the Western Hemisphere. One study found that organized Chavistas held to “liberal conceptions of democracy and held pluralistic norms,” believed in peaceful methods of conflict resolution and worked to ensure that their organizations functioned with high levels of “horizontal or non-hierarchical” democracy.

Chávez was a strongman. He packed the courts, hounded the corporate media, legislated by decree and pretty much did away with any effective system of institutional checks or balances [in reconciling this to the previous paragraph, it should be noted that the US president has just asserted the right to kill US citizens on US soil without any due process. There is a democracy deficit across the hemisphere].

Rather than forming a single-party dictatorship with an interventionist state bureaucracy controlling people’s lives, Chavismo has been pretty wide open and chaotic.

The high point of Chávez’s international agenda was his relationship with Brazil’s [president] Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva….

For a good eight years they worked something like a Laurel and Hardy routine, with Chávez acting the buffoon and Lula the straight man.

The whole article is worth reading, since it provides the positive perspective on Chavez that is sadly lacking in the US press, whose negative view cannot explain why Chavez was elected and re-elected, and is mourned throughout Latin America.

FWIW, my major criticisms of Chavez are that he failed to develop a second rank of leadership to make sure that the improvements to education and health that he introduced become permanent, that he failed to develop a refining industry to give Venezuela real alternatives to selling to the US, that he failed to diversify Venezuela’s economy, and that he failed to make a sufficient dent in corruption. Had he accomplished just the latter, he would have broadened his base of support to make opposition to his reforms impossible. But of course I know that Venezuela was such a total mess when he was elected that accomplishing anything was a minor miracle.
Update: It was puzzling why vice-president Nicolas Maduro should have accused Venezuela’s “historical enemies” (i.e., the CIA) of causing Chavez’ cancer. But it turns out that Chavez himself mentioned the possibility in 2011, and for an interesting reason: three of Latin America’s eleven left-wing leaders were stricken with cancer: Chavez, Lula, and Lugo (this is not counting Fidel Castro, who suffered some kind of intestinal illness). Three were removed in coups (Aristide, Zelaya, and Chavez, with Chavez surviving), and the Kirschners both had serious health problems, with Nestor dying of cardiovascular disease and Cristina being misdiagnosed with thyroid cancer. So there has been what looks like a cancer cluster among Latin American leftists and, more generally, a lot of very bad luck. So it’s not entirely tin foil to suspect foul play.
Update: Jo6Pac draws our attention to Greg Palast’s eulogy. He calls Nicolas Maduro good and decent. Venezuela needs that.


11 Responses to “The game of thorns. Chavez dead at 58. /updated with a must-read by Greg Grandin and an explanation of the cancer comment”

  1. MEC said

    I just hope there’s a peaceful transition of power. Certain People will, I’m sure, be tempted to use all their resources to make sure the next government is friendlier to corporatism than Chavez was.

  2. Stormcrow said

    This sort of thing would go down a lot better without the tinfoil hat stuff. The paranoid style isn’t any prettier in Venezuelan politics than it is in our own.

  3. The Latin American cooperative league Chavez set up will long outlive him, I suspect.

    • Stormcrow said

      I think that’s likely.

      I’d think so, even if I thought our (former) hegemonic empire was a good idea.

      Hell is coming to breakfast right now, right across our southern border! With no end in sight, nor any we’re capable of imposing. We’re going to be up to our ass in alligators a lot closer to home than Venezuela, or any of their allies, for a good many years, and that’s my optimistic estimate.

      You don’t want to hear what my pessimistic estimate is.

  4. Dickeylee said

    Big oil is plotting as we speak…

    • jo6pac said

      I’m sure they are and have been since they lost a few dollars that was enturn given to the poor. They just hate for the little people anywhere to have anything.

  5. jo6pac said

    Takes awhile to open but good readen, I truely hope Amerikan neo-conns lose the battle for this nation. I agree that he didn’t do the things you mention Charles II but he did do a lot in the short time he was the leader we can only hope that the next person carries on to the future and not back to the old ways of the elite.

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