Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez '13 on What Chavez Got Right

The Little that Hugo Chávez Got Right
Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, '13
Boston Review
March 14, 2013

There was a time when the world spoke of “Venezuelan Exceptionalism.” For nearly half a century—while Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay were military dictatorships, the Andean nations were trapped in a carousel of coups d’état, and violent civil insurgency seemed ubiquitous—Venezuela was South America’s only stable and functional democracy. Today that exceptionalism cuts the other way. As Latin America rises, Venezuela is a backwater, starkly divided on social and political grounds and wantonly violent: a world leader in kidnappings, murders, and prison riots. It is a country with a broken heart.

And now, with President Hugo Chávez dead from an unspecified cancer at just 58 years of age, things look bleaker than ever. There were times when I—long an unapologetic opponent of Chávez and his revolution—dreamed that an early death for El Comandante might save Venezuela. No such luck. In his short time in charge, Nicolás Maduro, the successor, has already proven himself to be as erratic as Chávez, a bit meaner, and far more insecure.

Yet I find myself traipsing into the backwo