There is a great deal of speculation these days about the immediate political future after Chavez’ expected death.
Some analysts, like Amherst University professor Javier Corrales argue that regardless of what happens, the next government will have to deal with a serious problem left behind by Chavez . This problem centers on the previous irrational approach to government spending in which money was used as an instrument of political influence domestically and abroad. Government officials never worried or valuated whether these expenditures made sense or whether they were creating a huge deficit and debt. Therefore, Corrales believes that the main challenge for Venezuelan leaders will be economic adjustment and that no successor will have the same level of largesse or fiscal irrationality as Chavez had.
However, there are other commentators who focus more on the ideological differences and potential conflicts that may ensue after Chavez’s departure.
They view Chavismo as being deeply divided between the military and the civilian factions. This division was kept together under Chavez but it is likely to explode after the commander’s death.
Nicolas Maduro, the current foreign Minister and the man Chavez appointed as his successor, leads the civilian faction. Maduro has strong ties to the Cuban government and plays a key role in forging alliances with rogue states such as Iran, Syria, and Belarus. He was also instrumental in strengthening alliances with the Bolivarian countries and in raising the status of Venezuela in the region, including its inclusion in the South American common market (MERCOSUR).
The current President of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, leads the military faction. He is more nationalist oriented, has only visited Cuba once, and is not close to the Cuban government. However, Cabello played a role in Chavez’s domestic agenda, particularly in cracking down on the media. He was also instrumental in helping Chavez corrupt the machinery of government in order to strengthen his power. Cabello was part of the group of officers that orchestrated the coup d’état in 1992 that helped Chavez rise to the public scene as an anti-establishment figure.
According to Vladimir Gessen, a former congressman, the military reject the Cuban model and also resent their presence in the Venezuelan military.
Thus, according to his view, the conflict between the two factions could be very serious as the military has played a role in the social missions and eleven of twenty Chavista governors are former military officers. Therefore, Gessen assumes that Cabello will do everything he can to prevent the civilian faction led by Maduro from taking the reins of the Bolivarian Republic.
In my opinion, these analyses are relevant and important to note.
However, I would like to reflect upon the situation from a different angle before relating to the arguments presented above.
Going forward, the first major question to consider is whether the Bolivarian Revolution will change its course. In other words, is there any incentive to change a revolution that has shown considerable success both domestically and abroad? While taking into account Corrales’ serious arguments about the Venezuelan fiscal deficit, it is important to understand that Chavez was not only re-elected in the October 7th elections but also was victorious in the December 16th elections, winning the overwhelming majority of governorships (20 out of 23.) Though these results reflect continued popular support for Chavez, elections in Venezuela are not transparent. Chavez and his cronies have an overwhelming advantage because the Electoral Commission is controlled by the regime as well as large segments of the media.
At the domestic and regional level, Chavez has earned an image as the father of the oppressed, thus his followers believe he is the only leader in the region that has the ability to unite different and diverse sectors of the population. Following the thought of scholars Hannah Fenichel Pitkin and Ernesto Laclau, we can say that, how the constituent is kept satisfied matters less than the symbol the government or the leader represent. Whether or not the Bolivarian Revolution succeeded in fulfilling its promises or whether it has created a fiscal cliff has less weight than the loyalties and identification of its followers. One of the great accomplishments of Chavismo has been its ability to homogenize and bring together a diverse group of people, who now have a sense of representation, unknown to them prior to the revolution.
The collective perception that Chavez and his revolution represent the oppressed and disadvantaged, is crucial, regardless of whether people truly are better off now than they were fourteen years ago. The revolution has also succeeded in blaming the opposition for the problems it has created. The Chavez regime has adopted a patronizing attitude towards the opposition, accusing it polarization, when in truth, the larger polarizing force is the regime itself.
The Bolivarian Revolution has excited the masses, not only in Venezuela, but also across Latin America. It has expanded the revolution to Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. It is a symbol among the grassroots of the ruling Workers and Peronist Parties in Brazil and Argentina respectively, and the Movement of Popular Participation (MPP), one of the largest sectors in Uruguay’s ruling party, the Broad Front. The Bolivarian Revolution is popular among the indigenous grassroots, including CONAIE, the largest indigenous movement in Ecuador. The revolution has also fascinated important sectors of the intellectual left.
Chavez and his revolution are so powerful that various governments in South America, including that of Brazil, a rising world power, viewed the victory of Chavez in the October elections as a necessary condition for the continuity of regional integration. A proud atheist such as the Uruguayan president, Jose Mujica, took time out of his schedule to pray in a Church for Chavez’s health.
The success of the Bolivarian Revolution provides no incentive to the new leadership in Venezuela to change its course, whether there is economic bankruptcy or internal divisions. Contrary to the Fascist or the Communist Revolutions, the Bolivarian Revolution has neither been challenged nor contained.
Once we have reached this conclusion, we can discuss how, for example, the Maduro-Cabello confrontation might play out. The assertion that the military is anti-Cuban requires a more comprehensive analysis than this piece can cover. However, even if the military were anti-Cuban and succeeded in expelling Cuban advisors and officers from the Venezuelan Armed Forces, this act alone would probably not constitute a major turning point or the end of the Bolivarian Revolution as we know it. One might also ask, is the military now anti-Cuban enough after all the purges that have taken place in the last 14 years and after all the bribery and luxurious life that has been provided to many of the military officers? What role are the 125,000-troop militias likely to play after Chavez’s death? Will the alliance with Iran or the drug cartels end? Will the revolution lose ideological strength? Will it become less hostile to America?
The Bolivarian Revolution does not depend on the Cuban government economically but, rather, the other way around. Nor, does the revolution depend on Cuba for ideological support. In fact, it has already achieved an influence that the Castros never had. The Castro Regime, at its peak, responded to the Soviet Union, whereas, the Bolivarian Revolution maintains its own leadership. The Cubans mostly play a role in assisting the Bolivarian regime in consolidating a repressive and controlling regime.
From a geo-political point of view, governments of the region, including the United States, must look beyond hasty conclusions because, as has been repeatedly pointed out, the Bolivarian Revolution is the most far-reaching and most challenging phenomenon in the Western Hemisphere.
Luis Fleischman is co-editor of the Americas Report and the author of the upcoming book “Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era: The Security Threat to the United States”
THE AMERICAS REPORT
NANCY MENGES and
LUIS FLEISCHMAN, Editors
The Americas Report is the featured product of the Center for Security Policy‘s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. It features in-depth, original articles on subjects not regularly covered by the American press.
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