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Sunday, 10 March 2013

'Latin Spring' still on course after Hugo Chavez' death from caner

The post-Chavez era is unlikely to be very different, mainly because the West is still unprepared to change.

 A supporter lines up to pay her last respects to late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, outside the Military Academy in Caracas on March 8, 2013. Venezuela gave Hugo Chavez a lavish farewell on Friday at a state funeral that brought some of the world's most notorious strongmen to... 

THE expected death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez from cancer has produced predictable reactions all-round. The left mourned a fallen hero who had “made” a revolution, the right basked in quiet hopefulness for change, and the rest offered condolences to the extent their politics afforded.

Yet the leader who broke the mould of Venezuelan politics seemed to deserve less conventional responses to his 14 years of reshaping the country.

In an otherwise balanced airing, the BBC featured pundits variously calling Chavez “a communist” and “anti-American”, blithely repeating the familiar line about his links with Iranian and Russian counterparts being merely superficial.

CNN took a business angle in accusing Chavez of under-investing in Venezuela’s oil sector. And so on. Critics elsewhere alleged that he was just another Latin American strongman who promoted the cult of the individual and undermined democratic institutions.

Evidently, Chavez did not dampen public enthusiasm for his leadership. But his failure in upholding democratic institutions applies particularly only within the narrow context of formal democratic procedure.

His biggest contribution to Venezuela is to awaken the people to their democratic birthrights like adequate housing, healthcare and education.

This change has been so profound as to remake national politics, so that even opposition politicians now have to promise the same thing, only more. In a primal democratic institution and process, the masses would vote with their feet against any candidate who dared to offer the people less.

This transformation is further based on overturning decades of unquestioned allegiance to the Washington Consensus of “open markets”, “privatisation” and “deregulation”. A Latin America that has changed thus is not about to change back too soon.

True enough, Chavez had been a Latin American strongman. But that quality was more cultural than political, as he adopted the classically paternalistic, macho style of the Latin caudillo.

The difference, again, is that while previous Latin American caudillos tended to be pro-US right-wing dictators, Chavez was not that. So he is regarded differently or not at all.

There is no doubt that Chavez and his policies were popular and not just populist. One of the biggest problems for his opponents has been his transformation of the state to serve public, rather than privileged private, interests.

Critics have also tended to fundamentally misread history, believing that Chavez had reinvented Venezuela. The reality is that Chavez himself had been a product of the times in the region, rather than the other way round.

The same regional moment had also produced similarly progressive leaders in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. This so-called “turn to the left” in the region may instead be named the “Latin Spring”.

Since the turn of the century, the movement swept a region like the “Arab Spring” later did, but with key differences. The Latin Spring involved more countries, far more people, and was established democratically rather than through bloodshed and foreign military intervention.

But despite its strengths, it was not regarded positively by the Western establishment and mainstream media, because another key difference was that it went against Western-friendly despots rather than Western-averse ones.

And Chavez was placed at the head of the movement because Venezuela was seen to have started it all. From the lack of a positive reception came the negative perceptions.

But the fact is that neither Chavez nor any other individual, however gifted, could have masterminded or stage-managed a historic regional movement even if he wanted to.

The various Latin American countries are all sovereign nation states dominated by no single individual. There is also no single power “guiding” them other than the US that had done so before.

The new era is one of each country taking charge of its own affairs for itself, based on the people taking charge of the state. The time of death squads, Iran-Contras and transnational corporations lording it over the peasants is past.

It happened before, but in piecemeal fashion: the fall of Nicaragua’s Somoza, Bolivia’s Suarez and Chile’s Pinochet. It was never a broad movement like today’s.

The scale and reach of the present movement is much larger than any single country’s experience. It is also set to outlive individuals like Chavez.

Failing to recognise this will mean failing to deal adequately with these countries, at a time in history when they are also becoming more important. It would also allow Cold War ideology to claim more unwitting victims.

Chavez’s opponents and critics have long linked him with Cuba’s Fidel Castro, an apparent error that is true and justified but only unintentionally. Like Castro, he was essentially a Third World nationalist pushed into making less than ideal linkages around the globe by default.

But today’s newly awakened Latin America cannot be pushed into the fold of a non-existent Soviet Union, nor of a Russia or China too preoccupied with its own internal challenges and anxious only for foreign markets or sources of raw materials.

Instead, they are more likely to be pushed more closely to one another, finding common cause among themselves and in relation to Washington and its Consensus”. The new Latin America will remain different from before, long after Chavez ‘s presidency despite its significant national contribution to it.

Behind The Headlines by BUNN NAGARA

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