Two of my favorite columnists, Andres Oppenheimer and Gwynne Dyer have written about the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. They aren’t in direct opposition to each other, but there are certainly some contrasts.
From Oppenheimer’s article:
My opinion: Latin America’s political cycles tend to change every dozen years, and Chávez’s death — alongside stagnant commodity prices — is likely to accelerate the waning days of Chávez’s “Bolivarian revolution” in Latin America.
Much like we had military dictatorships in the 1970s, social-democracies in the 1980s, pro-free market governments in the 1990s’, and “Chavismo” in the 2000s, we may be entering a new decade of something different — hopefully democratic pragmatism.
But Chávez’s undeserved image as the region’s biggest champion of the poor — in fact, countries like Peru and Chile reduced poverty more than Venezuela in recent years, and without weakening their democracies — will have a lasting negative impact on Venezuela. As often happens in commodity-rich countries, populist leaders thrive during booms in world commodity booms. Then, when commodity prices go down and they leave office — whether they are thrown out or, as in Chávez’s case, die in office — their successors have to take unpopular economic measures, and the former populist leaders’ followers can say, “You were better off when we were in power.”
Venezuela will be no exception to Latin America’s commodity curse. Chávez’s populism will remain popular for decades. It will take a lot of time — and education — to convince many Venezuelans that Chavismo was “bread for today, hunger for tomorrow,’’ and that the most successful countries are those that have strong institutions, rather than strong men.
From Dyers’ article:
“The graveyards are full of indispensable men,” said Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minster of France during the First World War, and promptly died to prove his point. He was duly replaced, and France was just fine without him. Same goes for Hugo Chavez and Venezuela.
( … )
Over the past dozen years Chavez’s governments have poured almost $300 billion into improving literacy, extending high school education, creating a modern, universally accessible health-care system, build housing for the homeless, and subsidising household purchases from groceries to appliances. What made that possible was not “socialism”, but Venezuela’s huge oil revenues.