Pedro Gerson '13 on Hugo Chavez

Democracy Against Itself
Pedro Gerson
Latin America(n) Matters
January 5, 2013

The fact that Hugo Chavez has been so front-line and center lately, and the particularly strong emotions his condition has elicited has made me think about him and some of the reasons why many anticipate his death so joyously (even if quietly). I think the answer has more profound roots than the horrifying conditions faced by many Venezuelans. These are not to be minimized. Inflation that hovers over 25%, the 201st worst public debt in the world, three devaluations since 2002, and most troubling of all the fifth worse homicide rate in the world, according to the U.N. Office of Drug and Crime. These are reasons enough to want him out of power, however they do not explain the visceral reactions to his ailment.

Mr. Chavez is the product of a non-dictatorial, yet massively clientelist and corrupt two-party system. After a failed coup d’état in 1992, Mr. Chavez regrouped and launched a political movement. Promising change he got to power through democratic means in 1998, as the old order was already crumbling. This is all unremarkable in the spectrum of Latin American politics. What I think makes Chavez “special” is that he represents a modern type of autocrat. He is the autocrat that has used democratic means to dismantle democracy itself; that used democracy against itself. He has remained in power through the popular vote, has patiently campaigned for candidates (and pushed for reforms) that enabled him to align all branches of government to himself, has used the legislative branch creatively to eliminate dissident voices, and most shockingly has changed the constitution to allow for perennial reelection. He has achieved all of this relatively peacefully and through legitimate means. Legitimate means however, are not necessarily just.