Chavez is an embarrassment to the Bolivarian Revolution.
I do not share the view that you are expressing here, but I nonetheless want to recognize that you raise an interesting question about the relationship between Hugo Chavez and the larger social movement and political process that he has been leading.
The two deserve to be distinguished. On that, you and I would find agreement.
In my view, too many people on both sides of the debate forget that ‘Hugo Chavez’ is bigger than just one man, that Chavez himself is just the temporary leader and spokesman for a popular movement that will likely survive his life as a political figure.
Something great is being sullied by his actions.
I do not feel it is useful–for the continued advancement of the Bolivarian Revolution–to conceive the movement in this way, as “something great [that] is being sullied by [Chavez’s] actions”.
The Bolivarian Revolution owes a debt of gratitude to Chavez for his practical and effective actions that enabled him to take ahold of existing conditions to realize the potential for radical change, and to oversee the demolition of a corrupt political order and the emergence of a new one.
Let us not forget that it is in the nature of revolutions to lose their ‘purity’, for their practical and effective realization requires political actors who are willing to “get their hands dirty”, to engage vigorously in struggles where the outcome is yet to be determined.
It is in desperate need of new leadership.
I’m actually inclined to agree with this statement–if only because I’ve always emphasized the need to bring in ‘fresh blood’ to maintain the movement’s vitality (against stale reactionary forces) and ensure that the process that is unfolding continues to evolve and develop.
Just want to be clear on one thing, Henrique Capriles does not offer new leadership for the Bolivarian Revolution–but the very end, the death of it! Regardless of his true political intentions, he will lack authority to enforce popular measures opposed by Venezuela’s elite.
One should actually credit Chavez’s entire success on the fact that his political power has rested almost entirely from popular support garnered from the country’s poorest citizens.
Dude, your dismissive attempt to pin a label on what’s going on in Venezuela is premature. As Chavez consistently points out, the Bolivarian Revolution is a radical process of change (against both the neoliberal economic policies imposed by previous governments, and the corrupt 40-year ‘representative democracy’ with which those governments were associated) that is, and has been, continuously evolving and unfolding in real time. Even if were true that Chavez’s government currently resembles a state capitalist model with characteristics of nationalistic populism, Chavez’s promise that "21st century socialism" is far from being fully realized in Venezuela would be enough to suggest that "21st century socialism" is not to be equated with this model! Against all odds, Venezuela is struggling to build an alternative to neoliberal capitalism while acknowledging that, at present, none exists. Of course, as with any (impossible) project like this, failures are to be expected, shortcomings are a given, but there’s at least inspiration in seeing what (apparent) limitations can be transcended and what new horizons can be reached.
That may be the case from a South American point of view. But, from a Venezuelan point of view, I would argue that support for Hugo Chavez (from his rise to fame in 1992, his first election in 1998… up to today) is approximately tantamount to support for the Bolivarian Revolution, a social–and ideological–movement that is much bigger than just one man, and a political process of radical change in large measure directed against the neoliberal economic policies forcibly imposed on the people by the successive governments of a corrupt 40-year old ‘democratic’ system. It is precisely because Venezuelans were looking for someone capable of fundamentally reforming–or refounding–the political and economic order of the country, that Chavez gained popularity in the first place! This is pretty much confirmed by numerous political science reports and studies based on polls, surveys, other data–but please don’t make me look them up, as I’ve got a lot on my plate today.
With all due respect, your last statement could not be more wrong. In Venezuela, the poor care very much about ‘economic schools of thought’*, and there is strong evidence of this. Consider the notorious ‘El Caracazo’ of February 1989: a massive uprising of the poor against the neoliberal policies announced by then President Carlos Andres Perez (who was elected after running a markedly anti-neoliberal campaign, but reversed his position just DAYS after taking office). Mass protests and rioting erupted throughout the country for days before CAP initiated a wave of state repression, with estimates of the number of civilians killed ranging between 500 to over 3000. Again, this anti-neoliberal ideological sentiment preceded Chavez by many years, and places into context/created the conditions for the popularity of socialism in Venezuela today.
I am already aware of the problems in present day Venezuela. And I even agree with you that the problem of inflation and food scarcity, while not entirely the fault of the Chavez government (but also of hoarding and speculation on the part of some capitalists), has been exacerbated by the foolish decision to institute price controls on basic food items (regardless of the good intentions of this government–in contrast to those under the Punto Fijo regime). Also, you’re correct that this is one way in which Venezuela has, in fact, imitated Cuban model. You mention the other similarities too, but the similarities are just that: In Cuba the revolution nationalized the banks and other keys sectors of the economy almost from the start, and then in 1966-68, all remaining private businesses, down to the street vendors. By contrast, in Venezuela, after twelve years in power, President Chavez, while ordering the nationalization of a few firms and threatening others, hasn’t really touched the largest banks and monopolies in the country. You and I both know that key points of the economy remain in the hands of the same old bankers, landlords and capitalists as before.
But I’ve allowed you to distract me from my main point, which is that the Bolivarian revolution is unfolding according to its own, unique path. It is not yet known where it will lead; this will be decided by the political struggles of today.
This isn’t a case of two groups of citizens “fighting over land”; it’s one group challenging the policies of government by resorting to “political violence”. Since President Chavez passed a land reform law in 2001 (with the intention of promoting agricultural production and lessening the inequality in land holdings), hundreds of peasant leaders have been killed for attempting to implement the government’s planned reform. In many cases the peasants had actually received titles to the land by the National Land Institute, but the large landowners refuse to recognize them. In fact, much of the land these large landowners claim as their own is actually state-owned, and the government can redistribute it as it sees fit. This is ‘political’ violence because the wealthy landowners are seeking to block the implementation of government programs, not by challenging them through available democratic channels (because they have no legal claim to ownership over so much land), but by resorting to violence, bloodshed, and murder, etc. Moreover, land reform is a central goal of the Bolivarian revolution, as it seeks to alter the fundamental power structure of the landed versus the landless; it’s a political struggle par excellence. There is an entire series of articles about “peasant leader assassinations”, for more information.