Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Is the Left All Right in Venezuela?

By Robert Valencia

When Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez spent a long absence from his country in Cuba earlier last year, opponents and sympathizers alike wondered about his future as his nation’s undisputed commander in chief. But mounting speculations about the exact nature and implications of his ailment proliferated. Later, it was revealed by the Spanish media that Chávez was suffering from an advanced case of colon cancer. After his health circumstances became known, Chávez pledged to the nation that he would continue ruling Venezuela “until 2031.” In fact, he boasted that the years between 2020 and 2030 would be his “golden decade.”

The question now is whether Chávez was just being waggish or whether he realizes that his fate is not necessarily in his hands. Many experts are asking whether Chávez’s health will permit him to keep the Bolivarian Revolution nimble, with some arguing that Chávez won’t be able to accomplish all of his goals. This is because he may have “only…two years to live,” and he may be physically unable to run for the presidency, possibly even for the 2012 electoral cycle.

Indeed, Chavez's current health condition has fostered many questions about the expectations of his left-leaning constituency in Venezuela, a cohort that already has presented some socioeconomic problems to his leadership. Some of these had helped spawn no shortage of previous diplomatic blunders and triumphs abroad. The country’s traditional concerns for the poor have centered on whether the delivery of promised benefits would continue rather than be aborted by precipitous oil earnings. Nevertheless, a rabidly anti-Chávez Wall Street Journal, insisted that his cure for Venezuela’s past and current maladies has always been for Chávez to “deepen the socialist revolution: socialism, socialism and more socialism. We have to deepen the struggle and defeat the vices of the past that still persist among us: violence, insecurity, corruption, selfishness, individualism.”

The Latin American left has at least one thing in common: ensuring that these countries—where the movement is in ascendency—should foster their own societies’ destinies so as to not to be dependent on an all-powerful Washington, as in the past. But some of the most notable differences now to be seen are countries such as moderate left-leaning Brazil, which is considered a model of prosperity and fiscal discipline by its neighbors . Yet, could the region’s future be the establishment of societies along the lines of Brazil rather than Bolivarian Venezuela? For some, this represents a far less wrenching experience than having Venezuela as the hotly pursued model. But Chávez is seemingly intent on introducing the Cuban model on Venezuelan soil, just as Havana appears to be scrapping much of its failed system. Case in point: the Bolivarian Revolution, which unquestionably has gravitated around the figure of Chávez, has no viable rival or logical successors challenging the president.

Chávez is no pushover, but a formidable foe, even if wide grasp and significant regional role includes familiarity with agribusiness, financial, construction, oil, and steel. In turn, Chávez’s role model and exemplar Fidel Castro appears to rely upon his brother Raúl, who is currently at the helm of the island; rapidly reforming Cuban society. For his part, and in light of his serious illness, Chávez, at least temporarily, has granted some authority that was given to Vice President Elías Jaua, even though the Venezuelan president has retaken some of the powers that had been shifted at the height of his cancer scare.

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