May 26, 2013
Back to basics for leaderless Chavism
The Comandante’s flame will blaze for a while yet
At 4.25pm yesterday the Bolivarian flame of Venezuela’s Comandante, Lieutenant-Colonel Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, went out. For or against, we’re all going to miss him: Chávez defined an era, founded a political style, redrew the regional map and provoked torrents of ink. Impossible to profess indifference towards Comandante Chávez — you either loved him or hated him. The supreme architect of polarization, he divided the waters within Venezuela and throughout the region. Never at a loss for a smart comeback, rebellious and feisty, he fought until the end, delaying a death foretold.
Perhaps to earn his place in History by dying on the same day as Joseph Stalin 60 years ago.
He now leaves both Venezuela and the region with the conundrum of “Chavism without Chávez.” It remains to be seen which future course will be followed by the three subcontinental organisms founded by him — initially in the quest for the “Greater Fatherland” of Simón Bolívar (ALBA and Unasur) and then of re-inventing the Organization of American States without the United States or Canada (Celac). Everything depends on there being somebody of similar dimensions to pick up his baton in the Latin American backyard and if there is, whether it is possible to cope with the legacy he left.
For Venezuela itself, he bequeaths “the most difficult hours” stressed by Nicolás Maduro in his nationwide broadcast at noon yesterday. He was talking, of course, about the health of Chávez as the end approached but the phrase also contained an allusion to Venezuela’s political future and within that, the obstacles to his own transition to the presidency.
Because now presidential elections will have to be called. The sooner they are, the brighter the Comandante’s flame will blaze. Absolutely essential for Maduro, who in recent months has shown absolute continuity in everything except the Chávez charisma and political histrionics.
Meanwhile in Venezuela a climate of uncertainty has overtaken the cancer and the death of its leader. Food is lacking on supermarket shelves, inflation rages untamed, the wage increases promised for this week has yet to be awarded (as does a fuel price adjustment) — the full shopping-list of the post-devaluation aftermath. You could cut the social and labour tensions with a knife in Venezuela’s Guyana to the southeast, reportedly aggravated by rumours of coup rumblings within the Armed Forces. Hours before Maduro’s speech yesterday morning, Caracas was flooded by rumours that the troops in Fuerte Tiuna had confined themselves to barracks.
“They want to destabilize,” said the vice-president (and acting president) in his noon message from Miraflores, surrounded by military top brass, the entire Cabinet and the pro-Chávez state governors. It was a rehearsal for the painful announcement which was to follow hours later but also a definition of “Chavism without Chávez” immediately after his death — phrases like “the people united,” “this civilian-military leadership which is soon to follow” (strange because Maduro is not military), “closing ranks with Chávez,” “with the revolution ready (to face) ... the foreign intervention in the fatherland of Bolívar” and “corrupt rightwing elements (who) want to destabilize and sow chaos and violence, creating the conditions for foreign military intervention as in Libya.” And that was not all — he announced the expulsion of the air attaché from the United States Embassy, accusing him of conversing (along coupmongering lines, of course) with men in uniform from the Bolivarian Armed Forces.
Maduro was thus sketching the immediate horizons of post-Chavism — confrontation with the United States (Foreign Minister Elías Jaua was later to announce the expulsion of another US diplomat) while linking the “empire” to the “corrupt Venezuelan right.”
Basic textbook Chavism — and also post-Chavism without its great man. Driving a coach and horses through the rapprochement with Washington initiated by Maduro with the State Department’s Western Hemisphere Undersecretary Roberta Jacobson last November. But which serves to keep the Comandante’s eternal flame lit in a Venezuela which has been missing his voice since December 8. And after 14 years of Chávez in Miraflores, how they are going to miss him!