Hugo Chavez is dead -- but he is no hero. Even as his supporters pour into the streets to mourn their fallen idol, the damage he caused to Venezuela is incalculable.
From an over-dependence on oil revenues, to a forced nationalization of the private economy, and a personal foreign policy of ego gratification, Chavez leaves a Venezuela in chaos, with weak institutions and an uncertain future.
History will not be kind to him. His petro-socialism was never a self-sustaining economic or social development model. Venezuela under Chavez's reign has deteriorated to the point where it must import milk. Chavez's Venezuela can no longer feed itself.
Hugo Chavez lied to the people, convincing many that his magical powers would save them from misery. There was no magic solution to resolve Venezuela's myriad social problems.
Even as he jetted across the globe with allies like Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Chavez tolerated waves of urban violence -- turning Caracas into one of the most violent cities in the world.
Among his other international adventures, Chavez supported the FARC terrorists fighting the democratically elected government of Colombia (a country also founded by Bolivar!). His attempt to play the regional leader met with widespread ridicule -- even generating the now famous royal command to "shut up" from King Juan Carlos, a normally very calm man driven to desperation by Chavez's offish behavior at a summit. Being dressed down in public by the King of Spain is an unmatched achievement in the annals of modern Ibero-American relations.
Public corruption, including the enrichment of the Chavez family, has also damaged Venezuela. Like the wounds created by the Peron regime in Argentina, the social fabric has been torn. Divide and conquer of different social sectors has been Chavez's formula for continuing as paramount leader of Venezuela.
While another key component of this formula has been the militarization of the regime, and in turn, the politicization of the armed forces. Bribed with outlandish weapons purchases and generous patronage, Chavez remade the Venezuelan military into a tool of his rule.
Chavez will go the way of many highly theatrical dictators. Once upon a time there was a statue of Francisco Franco in almost every city and town in Spain, his profile appeared on Spanish coins, and he paraded himself from the King's Balcony at Madrid's Royal Palace, resplendent banners dating from the Spanish Empire draped in front of him.
Now? Franco is seen for what he truly was -- a dictator with a megalomaniacal self-regard and a willingness to commit violence in order to stay in power. Today, no more statues, no more coins, nada. That is the fate of Hugo Chavez's place in history as well.
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