BUENOS AIRES - Whatever your view is regarding the Hugo Chávez’ era in Venezuela, it is impossible to ignore two central facts:
1) Chávez was a product of the deep failure of the Venezuelan political system;
2) The deceased president had a strong influence on Latin America, during a historic moment when many countries in the region – Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina – were just beginning to emerge from near-fatal economic crises, with high foreign debt caused by economic policies that affected their internal markets. Chávez’ leadership, then, appeared as a natural expression of this process.
Chávez wound up using oil power to consolidate his profile as national and regional leader, with bold and indepedent policies that had a deep appeal to the working class that tended to forgive his autocratic tendencies as so often happens in such bonapartist movements.
Chávez declared war against the media that did not align with his politics, a strategy that was later replicated in Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia -- and he didn’t stop until he took control over information in his country.
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Chavez between Argentina's Cristina Kirchner and Bolivia's Evo Morales - Photo: Presidencia de la Nación Argentina
He also provoked, in somewhat of a mirror effect, a direct rejection of the middle class and other sectors of Venezuelan society.
The Venezuelan leader turned into Cuba’s primary ally, supplying the Castrista government with subsidized oil, sealing the relationship with strong presence of Cuban missions – medical and military – in Venezuela.
Argentina and Brazil
Argentina's then President Néstor Kirchner quickly understood the benefits of opening a special channel in the Caracas-Buenos Aires relationship. A former Argentinian ambassador denounced the existence of a “parallel embassy” that administered (and perhaps still does) the economic links with Chávez.
Ex-president Kirchner presented himself as a “moderator” of Chavista politics, and thus, his spokespeople categorized Argentinian politics at the time as moderate. This mediation also affected the Venezuelan Jewish community, which had a negative relationship with Chávez, and of course with Washington.
With Kirchner gone, this “moderation” disappeared little by little until his widow Cristina Kirchner increasingly identified herself with Chávez. The agreement between Argentina and Iran was produced in tune with the excellent relationship that Chávez had with the Tehran regime.
On the contrary, Brazil, had an important influence on Chávez, playing their positions in such a way that Brasilia could reap the benefits without having to pay the extra costs of an open alliance.
Across Latin America, Chávez" absence will not be easy to hide. The political vacancy, beyond the emotional impact, will test the strength of the Chavista regime and the unity of leaders throughout the region.