Chavez' absence will not be easy to hide
Chavez' absence will not be easy to hide
Ricardo Kirschbaum

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.

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Society

How The Top Collector Of Chinese Art Evades Censors In New Hong Kong Museum

Swiss businessman Uli Sigg is the most important collector of Chinese contemporary art. In 2012, he gave away most of his collection to the M+ in Hong Kong. Now the museum has opened as the Communist Party is cracking down hard on freedom of expression. So how do you run a museum in the face of widespread censorship from Beijing?

''Rouge 1992'' by Li Shan at the M+ museum

Maximilian Kalkhof

The first test has been passed, Uli Sigg thinks. So far, everything has gone well. His new exhibition has opened, visitors like to come, and — this is the most important thing for the Swiss businessman — everything is on display. He has not had to take an exhibit off the list of works.

The M+ in Hong Kong is a new museum that wants to compete with the established ones. It wants to surpass the MoMa in New York and Centre Pompidou in Paris. Sigg, a rather down-to-earth man, says: “There is no better museum in the whole world.” That is very much self-praise, since Sigg’s own collection is central to the museum.

The only problem is: great art is often political; it questions the rulers. Since the Chinese Communist Party has been cracking down on critics and freedom in Hong Kong, the metropolis is a bad place for politics and art. So how did the collection get there?

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