We all know the late Hugo Chávez destroyed the Fourth Republic, Venezuela’s institutions, its oil industry, and pretty much everything in his path. As we ponder his actual legacy, here are three things worth mentioning … that he also destroyed.
1. He destroyed the idea of Venezuela as a nation. What is a country, really? What is the fatherland? A group of people are born in the same piece of land, and they share common values. Somehow this “bonds” them together.
But can we really say, after all that has happened in the last month, that we are a nation? The tales of people – opposition people, mind you – being attacked in senseless barricades are starting to outnumber stories of National Guard excesses. The level of vitriol from one side to the other are, quite simply, scary to behold. I’m sorry to get all Nurse Ratched on you, but you all need some serious medication – government AND opposition.
One simply cannot envision an outcome where one side wins and does not take immediate, devastating, lethal revenge on the other side. The idea of dialogue, of acknowledging the other side and engaging it, is tantamount to treason. That’s how civil wars are started, and that is where we are headed.
And all of this is a consequence of Chávez – his style of government, his vitriolic rhetoric, his direct attack on the “other” as an enemy. The guarimbas, the repression, and the terrible things that are yet to come are his babies.
2. He destroyed the Interamerican consensus. Before we had the OAS, and it was a joke, but it sort of worked. Forums like the Interamerican Court of Human Rights were weak, but at least there was a shared agreement that we needed the forum, that we just had to make it better. The principle behind them was that our civil societies on their own were weak, and we needed to keep tabs on each other if we were to prevent our worst aspects from taking over.
Chávez’s main goal had always been to destroy these institutions. He didn’t need a forum where he would be scrutinized by the US and Canada, and small-ish countries that could be bribed. He then proceeded to create alternate forums – ALBA, Unasur, CELAC, you name it. Anything and everything to undermine what had taken decades to make.
Of course, an alternative institution was always going to be toothless, harmless for a thug like him who doesn’t really want anyone meddling in his business.
With today’s declaration that the OAS cannot meddle in Venezuelan affairs, with his outrageous move to cut off diplomatic relations with Panama for merely asking that the OAS discuss the Venezuelan conundrum, Maduro has effectively put the last nail on the coffin of the OAS. If he can get away with this, then what is the point of paying Mr. Insulza a salary?
3. He destroyed the promise of free trade in the hemisphere. Remember the early 90s? There was a hope that all countries would lower their trade barriers, that the free flow of goods and services and, yes, people would be a reality. All that is gone.
Instead, we have an ineffective Mercosur, a myriad of bilateral trade agreements between small countries, and between small countries and really big ones, and something called the Alliance of the Pacific made up of countries that are hugely dissimilar and incredibly distant from each other. For all their hubris, the Alliance of the Pacific seems glued together with Scotch Tape, one leftist populist election away from disintegrating altogether.
Most of this is a consequence of Chávez’s rhetoric, and his influence in regional politics. Who can forget the infamous Mar del Plata Summitt when the idea of a free-trade area for the Americas was essentially killed?
Chavez didn’t believe in free trade, or in freedom of any kind. When he talked about “Latin American Integration,” what he meant was choosing Latin American firms for his handpicked projects in exchange for political favors. It meant subsidizing Cuba in exchange for military support. It meant buying off the countries in the Caribbean. It had nothing to do with trade, and everything to do with power – his own.
I guess the measure of a man is taken by how he changes things. In that regard, Chávez was indeed El Gigante – just like a giant tsunami is also, well, gigantic.