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Chávez's Harvest of Sorrow and the Collapse of Venezuela's Populist Dream

Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies| 2018-03-08 12:54:00 | 229 vue


For many years the South American model, based on extreme-left politics, prevailed as an epitome of political prowess. Notwithstanding the prominent career of president Hugo Chávez, elected in 1998, the world is now remarkably witnessing the debacle of the populist initiative with his hand-pickedsuccessor,Nicolás Maduro. The whole experience has proven to be a failure at both hypothetical and practical levels;awealthy,sophisticated country suddenly imploded under the weight of its own terrible choices and the worst may still be to come.Much likeEastern Europe in 1989, Venezuela has been led down the primrose path into a revolution that heralded the departure of itsideological leader and the fading of all dreams of prosperity, justice and equality.

In Tunisia, leaders of the "Popular Front'' still regard the Latin American example a praiseworthy experience that approves thelogic behindtheir vision. Unrealism is a familiar feature of populism; moreover, the adoption of such model further confirms the obstinacy of far-left ideologues in ignoring experiential reality.Hugo Chávez's dream is dead, yet his fanatics refuse to fade away.In2005, the experiencewasdeemedhighly promising.Hugo Chávez,leaderofthe''Bolivarian Revolution'' began to openly proclaim the ideology of 21st CenturySocialism in an attempt to instate ''justice and equality''. Today, we witness the devastating results, a tragedy in a country that holds the world's largest supply of crude oil.With its crashing oil prices, Venezuela's economy spiralled towards collapse, and a humanitarian crisis has plunged hordes into needless sickness and starvation. The countryalso appears on the brink of political upheaval.

Manyramifications ensued in the aftermath of the catastrophe: Inflation had reached 800% in 2016 and a soaring 2616% in 2017, the capital Caracas has been ranked the second most dangerous city in the world after the upsurge in homicides, not to mentionthesevere shortages in basic medical and food supplies.yet in its past, Venezuela never had to cope with war, social unrest ortangible terror threats, leading us to ponder the root cause of this resounding failure.


The "pink tide''—a radical left wave, led by Hugo Chávez as he came to political prominence—pervaded south America at the dawn of the 21st century. Lula da Silva, who was elected as president of Brazil in 2003, followed suit, as well as Nestor Kirchner who assumed the presidency of Argentina during the same year. In 2006, Evo Morles was elected president of Bolivia; and in 2014, Michelle Bachelete was the firstfemale to beelected asthepresident of Chile. Evo Morales, Hugo Chávez and Lula da Silva were described as "the three musketeers" of the left by Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, another Argentinian pink tide president.


In a similar vein, Argentina was ranked fifth globally in terms of income per capita, ahead of France and Germany, prior to WWII. However, during mid-twentieth century it fell under another adaptation of populism called Peronism, named after the renowned Argentinian president Juan Perón. Argentina’s economy deteriorated since then, leading to its ineluctable Suspension of debt payments in 2001.Despite many claims to the contrary, declaring a default on its arrears cost Argentina the loss of approximately 20% of its Gross National Product; and much as its affluence in natural resources, it is still suffering the consequences of isolation in the credit market.Argentina had a great potential for growth, yet itfell into the grip of populism and its rhetoric about the distribution of wealth, anti-imperialism and putting an end to capitalism and corruption.Chávezpropagated he same mottos when he reached power in 1989. His promises appealed to the public all the more when he showed earnestness in implementing hisproject, and he was duly able to nationalize the oil sector, provide free education and healthcare, andreducepoverty through large-scale recruitment within the public sector.By supportingsuch policies,Chávezgained the nation’s trust and was re-elected 4 times consecutively. To the contrary, Nicolas Maduroreached power when the main factors pertinentto the success of the Bolivarian experience came to an end. The myth of Chávez was contingenton the contemporary boom in oil prices, which exceeded 140 dollars per barrel at one point, granting him endless financial profits, ergo his rampant ascendancy. In other words, these successes were a reflection of an exceptional situation that Venezuela benefited from in the short term. However, long-term results,marked bya failure in dealing with oil pricevolatility, proved to be unfavourable for Venezuela and its people.

In less than 10 years, Venezuela’s expenditures were approximately 150 billion,none of which were beneficial investments, noteven inthe oil sector!Venezuela’s economic woes are the fruit of two decades of''chavismo'': Venezuela’s own brand of aggressive left-wing populism. As a consequence of thefinancial decline,Venezuelais currently unable to producemore than two million oilbarrels a day.Furthermore, the oil-rich country is compelled to import refined petroleum materials since it is incapableof refining its own crude oil.Chávez’s ideology incurred the dismantling of industrialism which led to the extinction of small and medium sized enterprises. Chávez and his supporters succeeded in eliminating foreign investment, expecting that they will free their country from the chains ofglobalization. When in reality, they put Venezuela under the subjugation of oilpricefluctuations.

The crisisneededno more than a decrease in regulated product prices to unveil itself and announce the failure of the ''21st century socialist experience''. The collapse of currency, expansion of the black market, and the escalation in violence, organized crime and poverty are allunpredictable elementsthat could potentially eruptanother revolution.

Former President Hugo Chavezand his successor, built an economy based on the assumption that they would be able to create enough revenues from oil to fund a nationwidesocial welfare scheme. But once that income diminishedas oil prices collapsed, the model fell apart and the country was hit by a detrimentaldrought;there wasn’t just economic hardship, but mass starvation on the streets. It is hard to imagine thatin 1950, when the global economy was struggling to recover from World War II,Venezuela was the world’s fourth-wealthiest country.Aftermorethan17yearsrulingarichoil-exportingcountry,buyingconsciousness,andinstitutionalising a one-party system, the remaining ''Chavistas’'' sole priority is political survival at any cost. They are sticking to the slogan Chavez borrowed and paraphrased from Fidel Castro: “Homeland, Socialism, or Death.”



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Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies

The Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies is a research institution covering a large regional territory, including the Maghreb, Africa and Mediterranean countries, with a focus on Tunisian affairs. The Center has two main headquarters in London and Tunisia.