The Fading Light of Chavismo in Latin America

The Fading Light of Chavismo in Latin America
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By bringing Venezuela's economy to an unprecedented state of disarray despite record high global oil prices, progressively dismantling the country's checks and balances and by providing diplomatic support to the world's most criminal regimes, the Chavista-Bolivarian model has been losing the international prestige it enjoyed when it emerged in the Latin American political scene at the turn of the century.

A clear sign of the erosion of the attractiveness of the Bolivarian model came from Peru in 2011, at the time of the election win that brought former army officer Ollanta Humala to the presidency in July of that year.

Humala had till then portrayed himself as a sort of Peruvian Chávez. Nonetheless, he noticeably changed rhetoric during the campaign and subsequently, as president, has put in place an economic policy that, contrary to Chávez's extravaganzas, is akin to the market-friendly social model instituted in Brazil by the Lula-Roussef tandem and in Chile by former socialist President Michelle Bachelet.

Humala could have behaved like Chávez: brandish democratic values for electioneering purposes so as to gain the moderates' votes and, once in power, unveil dictatorial designs and carry out an economic policy centered on the harassment and eventual elimination of the entrepreneurial class. Humala instead had the lucidity and enough good sense to look around and survey the regional landscape. He compared the predicament of the Venezuelan economy (paralysis of agriculture and manufacturing, shortages of essential goods, increased dependence on food imports, skyrocketing inflation and decline in oil production) with the economic robustness of Brazil and Chile, and for that matter with Peru's strong economic performance during the mandate of his predecessor Alán García.

Infatuation with the Chavista model is on the wane even in Nicaragua, a country ruled by someone, Daniel Ortega, who hasn't hesitated to crack down on the opposition and change the constitution with the purpose of perpetuating his stay in power. Nonetheless, without oil manna -- and drawing lessons from the Venezuelan debacle -- even Ortega has somewhat readjusted his economic policy so as to attract foreign capital and come to terms with the local entrepreneurial class.

Ortega's change of tack was highlighted by The Economist in an article published in 2011 with the suggestive title "Ortega Goes Capitalist."

Latin American leaders have also been able to draw lessons from the vicissitudes that Argentina is enduring for having made economic policy choices (indeed, mistakes) similar to those that have played havoc in the Venezuelan economy, namely: price controls, foreign exchange restrictions, demonization and harassment of the entrepreneurial class.

Argentina thus shares with Venezuela the unenviable position of exhibiting the highest rates of inflation and of capital flight in the region. Nothing to be emulated, to say the least.

The Chávez-sponsored group of countries known by its Spanish acronym ALBA (Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador), for its part, has been losing ascendancy in the realm of diplomacy, too. The phenomenon became evident at the recent session of the Latin American Commission on Human Rights, during which the Chavista club -- led on that occasion by Ecuador -- failed to mobilize support for an initiative aimed at restricting the Commission's capacity to seek extra-governmental financing. The purpose of that move was to make the Commission fully dependent on state funding and thereby undermine the autonomy thereof.

The setback of ALBA was qualified as "a major success for the region's democracies" by José Miguel Vivanco, head of the Latin America office of the NGO Human Rights Watch, who further noted that the group remained "fully isolated" in that attempt.

Adding shame to injury, in the session of the Geneva-based UN Council on Human Rights, held in March this year, Venezuela had the loathsome privilege of being the only country that voted -- unsuccessfully -- against renewing the mandate of the commission that carries out an investigation into the atrocities perpetrated by the Syrian regime. Venezuela also dissociated itself from a resolution -- adopted by consensus -- that created a commission charged with probing human rights violations in North Korea. Venezuela was, moreover, one of two countries that voted against prolonging the mandate of the independent expert charged with enquiring into human rights abuses in Iran.

True, if Venezuela suffered isolation in the Human Rights Council, the reason was that because of the rotation mechanism under which that UN body operates, other conspicuous human rights bashers (Russia, China, Iran, Cuba) didn't have a seat at that session. All the same, Venezuela stood out for being, on that occasion, what the Geneva newspaper Le Temps characterized as a "hindrance" in the work of the UN Human Rights Council.

The waning ascendancy of the Bolivarian model, however, goes unnoticed to Chávez-designated successor and current president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, who has shown a tendency to pay little heed to facts and rational analysis.

Thus, after attributing the election of Pope Francis to Chávez's intercession vis-à-vis Jesus Christ in the other world, after recurrently denouncing conspiracies orchestrated by the opposition and the "Empire" (i.e. the U.S.) without submitting any evidence whatsoever, after promising to embalm Hugo Chávez's body while ignoring the technical impossibility of doing so, President Maduro indulged in wishful thinking and vaunted what he claimed to be Chávez's undented international prestige. "I am," Maduro said, "in a position to give testimony of the passion and love that [Chávez] used to generate wherever he went."

Given such a chasm between alleged certitudes and ostensible realities, the deterioration of the Venezuelan economy and political life may still have some way to go before the Chavista leadership recognizes the need to radically change course.

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