Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez '13 on the Political Afterlife of Hugo Chavez

The Political Afterlife of Hugo Chávez
Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez '13
Foreign Policy
January 23, 2013

In Latin American politics, dying can be a shrewd career move. Just look at Simón Bolívar. During his lifetime his actual political accomplishments were decidedly mixed; his efforts to build a united South American republic ultimately gave way to disunion, dictatorship, and personal despair. But his demise made him far more popular than he had ever been in life. Today Colombians, Ecuadoreans, and Panamanians are all happy to consider him one of their own. And, in his native Venezuela, he is considered practically divine.

When it comes to worshiping at the altar of Bolívar, no one has ever been able to outdo President Hugo Chávez, the man who has singlehandedly dominated Venezuelan politics for the past 14 years, and exercised considerable influence over the rest of the region. But his recent disappearance to Cuba for medical treatment, and the lingering mystery surrounding his persistent cancer, has many South Americans wondering about his legacy. Can Chávez's party -- and his aspirations for international revolution -- survive without him? What would chavismo without Chávez look like?

Recent Latin American history offers some clues. Bookending the spectrum of symbolic possibilities are two celebrated Argentinians with very different regional legacies: Juan Domingo Perón and Ernesto "Ché" Guevara.