I imagine everybody in the world has heard by now that Hugo Chavez has died from cancer at age 58. The extent of the analysis has been gratifying — we saw very little discussion when Lula left office, for example. Although not every facet of the Chavez phenomenon was salutary, I think a consensus is emerging that Chavez was indeed a great man, who challenged the ingrate W. on everything North Atlantic consensus was ready to let slide. Chavez’ career and the simultaneous one of the chavistas required not a little courage, for the example of Allende and the Argentine desaparecidos would put a chill on any socialist movement not motivated by an immanent understanding of the people’s needs (and a dynamism inspired by Cuba’s long and largely successful experiment with popular democracy).
Instead of opting for “smart” austerity or curling up in a little ball, the Venezuelan left rekindled Latin American populism and made an example for the whole world; though violence in Venezuela is endemic, the crushing poverty of the old Venezuela and the devil-may-care insouciance of its elites are gone forever — and there would certainly never have been an Evo Morales, and possibly no Rafael Correa, without Chavez. The era of “banana republics” has definitively drawn to a close.
With a character as colorful and forceful as him in charge of a country, everyone is bound to find fault. I personally do not view the Iranian Islamic Republic as a “Bolivarian” riposte to the New World Order, and Chavez did not spend very much time institutionalizing his revolution — we shall see how hard the pushback is. But a charismatic leader of the people finally did “demand the impossible”, and we have seen just how “impossible” it really is. RIP, Presidente Chavez; when will we have a North American leader to show the way like you?