El Comandante Hugo Chavez is gone, but he left behind an empowered working class, a strong popular rule of government and cultural change that will be hard to turn around.
He also left behind plenty of unfinished business, including the development of a sustainable institutional and democratic system that guaranteed cohesive long-term management of the national oil reserves and the consolidation of regional and multilateral institutions and corporations that guaranteed the sustainability of the Latin American socialist movements.
He left behind a broken-up society where rich and poor see each other as enemies and not as Venezuelans, with minimal ground for cooperation, and fragile democratic institutions that will not guarantee a smooth transition of power to whoever is elected to take over government 30 days from now.
According to a couple friends in Caracas, there is an air of instability in the streets. There is so much uncertainty and distrust among poor and rich, that Vice President Nicolas Maduro quickly militarized the country, placing military and national police forces on the highest alert. As one paper indicated, the country, and particularly Caracas, has transformed into a bunker, while the eyes of the world focus on the eminent instability that will engulf this rich oil-producing nation.
Will the former Caracas subway driver and foreign affairs minister be able to sustain Chavez’s 21st century socialist doctrine, or will this be the end of the road for Venezuela’s and Latin America’s socialist hopes? The internal political battles within the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, or United Socialist Party of Venezuela, that will soon emerge, the strengthening and possible increasing U.S. support for the opposition movements and the lack of a spiritual and emotional interconnectivity between Maduro and the working class, indicate that what lies ahead is the biggest test for Chavez’s Bolivarian dream.
His death also leaves Latin America without leftist leadership, and although the revolutionary seed germinated in Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Honduras, it is difficult to predict whether the ideological changes in Venezuela and in other parts of Latin America will be sustainable in the long run.
If Maduro or another member of the PSUV is elected, will they continue to sacrifice Venezuela’s monetary and fiscal stability in search of greater regional unification, or will they move away from current policies that subsidize oil to countries such as Cuba? If the opposition overcomes popular rule, will they reverse Chavez’s Constitution that redefined how natural resources were negotiated in the international system and once again open the doors to transnational corporations and the return of aggressive neoliberalism?
I wonder if the benevolence of Venezuela-owned Citgo will continue in the United States? Will the Obama administration assume a different position now that the PSUV finds itself against the ropes? Did Chavez’s foreign policy of containment against the United States keep us out of the region, and does the death of the Latin American martyr represent an opportunity for the United States to return to the region?
There are more questions than answers because this was an unexpected outcome. Chavez had emerged as the successor of Fidel Castro in the region, and the left as well as the working class lived at ease knowing that the struggle had a future; now this is not so clear. The United States and the international system were also prepared to tackle the issue of the left in Latin America once Castro left this world. However I do not believe there was a plan to approach Chavez’s death.
What is clear is that the empowered masses in Venezuela are not ready to let go. The election 30 days from now will determine whether the poor are willing to accept the outcomes of the democratic process. It is the present popular rule of government that will determine Venezuela’s destiny either through democratic means or violence and social chaos. One could even dare to say that the future economic, political and social stability of Latin America depends on what happens in the electoral process.
Chavez never imagined how consequential he was for the region’s stability, just like Venezuelan leader Simon Bolivar after his death in 1830.
Stefano Tijerina is an adjunct instructor at the University of Maine and Husson University. He teaches Latin American history, Canadian history, U.S. history, policy and political economy.