MasterBlog en Español: #Chávez will continue to inspire – but not in Europe

jueves, 7 de marzo de 2013

#Chávez will continue to inspire – but not in Europe

One of the more evenhanded obituaries of #Chavez. Although not enough said of th disaster he did to the economy and the class hatred he fomented.

Chávez will continue to inspire – but not in Europe

If I had been Venezuelan, I would have voted for this charismatic figure. But a British equivalent wouldn't get my support

chavez coffin 
The flag-draped coffin of Hugo Chávez is carried through throngs of supporters in Caracas on Wednesday. Photograph: Ho/AFP/Getty Images
One of the most famous things ever said about Hugo Chávez, who died on Tuesday, was written by the Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez after accompanying him on a flight from Havana to Caracas in 1999, just before Chávez took office as Venezuela's president for the first time.
"I was overwhelmed by the feeling," Márquez wrote, "that I had just been travelling and chatting pleasantly with two opposing men. One to whom the caprices of fate had given an opportunity to save his country. The other, an illusionist who could pass into the history books as just another despot."
Two days after Chávez's death, Márquez's words still hold the key to any serious assessment of the late president. Chávez was, of course, only one person. But the two men whom Márquez discerned cohabited within him to the end. They helped to make him such a complex and divisive figure. And they ensure that any verdict on Chávez can never be an absolute one.
In that sense, Chávez was no different from most political leaders in most eras and places, including ours. And he changed over time, partly in the light of new circumstances, and partly because long years in power – and Chávez wanted a lot more of them than the 14 he got – invariably alter a man, often for the worse.
It's no good saying just one thing about Chávez. It is as wrong to see him solely as the populist leader who gave jobs and a measure of prosperity to one of the most impoverished yet oil-rich nations on the planet. Wrong, too, to judge him exclusively by his distinctively Bolivarian anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism, which have helped to trigger many similar national movements in Latin America over the past decade, a shift that may be his most important legacy.
By the same token, it is a mistake to concentrate on Chávez's strutting and narcissistic populism to the exclusion of all the other aspects of his presidency. And it is even wrong to judge him solely as an abuser of human rights, a hoarder of power, an intimidator of opponents and a rejecter of international covenants and critics.
The reality is that Chávez was all of these things and more, at the same time. Those who believe that one or another of these aspects of his rule completely trumped all the others, whether for good or for bad, will highlight the socialism, the anti-Americanism, the autocracy or the brutality according to their particular concerns. But all these one-sided judgments fall short.
The reality is that Chávez's career is not so easily weighed. How does one balance the championing of the poor or the regional inspiration against the persecution of journalism and the judiciary or the embrace of Iranian theocrats and Bashar al-Assad? It can't be reduced to one statement with honesty, any more than such a thing can be done with Oliver Cromwell. The only truthful thing is to say that they were all true at the same time, they all mattered in their different ways in different eras, and an achievement in one area does not morally eclipse an act of shame in another, or indeed vice versa.
All that said, any judgment about Chávez that belittles the fact that he consistently and effectively championed the dispossessed and oppressed of Venezuela throughout his period in office is particularly wide of the mark. Whether that championing of the poor took lasting and effective institutional form, bequeathing a secure and sustainable life to the average Venezuelan in settled ways that no alternative government would have achieved, is not yet knowable. But it is always a heck of a lot easier if you are sitting on an ocean of oil.
And it is also a lot easier if you win your elections, as Chávez generally did, with large majorities. He once claimed that the lesson he drew from Allende's Chile was the need to defend the socialist revolution with arms. In fact this was typical bravado. The real lesson was to win and hold a majority. Allende won one election with 36% support and died from bullet wounds as his palace was stormed by the armed forces. Chávez won four more or less honest presidential elections with, successively, 56%, 60%, 63% and 54% of the vote and died in his bed.
If I had been a Venezuelan, I would have voted for Chávez, certainly in 1998 when, as slayer of corruption, he won his first presidential election, and maybe, but with many growing misgivings, when he was re-elected in 2000. Paradoxically, I might have been more reconciled to voting for him in 2006, if only because of the misguided attempts to overthrow him in 2002. But by 2012, when Chávez won his fourth term, the cult and the wilful absolutism had become as corrosive to the public man as the disease that finally killed the private one.
But I am not a Venezuelan, so this hardly matters. Yet a few non-Venezuelans have been tempted to see Chávez as holding up a light to be followed elsewhere, and not just in Latin America. The further the distance from the slums of Caracas, however, with their particular stew of ethnic and social injustices, the less this seems credible, particularly when one takes into account Chávez's embrace of such scoundrels and dictators as Assad, Mugabe or Alexander Lukashenko, whose Belarus Chávez once described as "a model social state of the kind that we are trying to create" – and who issued a truly sickening tribute to the dead Venezuelan leader on Wednesday.

Chávez was a Latin American revolutionary populist of a very particular kind. His light, or a form of it, may shine on in Bolivia or Ecuador, though it may soon be flickering in Cuba. But it does not shine in Bradford or Brent, never mind in Buckinghamshire. The chavista model is as distant from Europe as Bolivar and Chávez both insisted that European models were from Latin America. To think otherwise is just revolutionary escapism of a kind of which most of us are well rid.
Chávez's strength, which he consciously drew from his hero Bolivar, was to be politically inventive and distinctive. No one can deny him that tribute. And inventiveness is certainly needed in British and European politics. But it will have to be of a wholly different and vernacular kind, owing little to the vast currency reserves and natural wealth that financed Chávez's reign, and everything to the relative global decline and increasingly beleaguered social model that is our continent's modern reality.

Chávez will continue to inspire – but not in Europe | Martin Kettle

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