The death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez leaves Latin America and Venezuela without their most prominent, controversial leader.
He was the most important political figure of a populist turn to the left that a large part of the region experienced in the past decade. The balance of what was the Chávez-driven Bolivarian Revolutionled by a former soldier famous for his failed coup d’état against then-Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1992will be up to the history books.
For now, it is black and white.
There is a larger distribution of wealth characterized by strong government investment in social programs, aid and direct pensions to at least 4 million people and a decrease in the rate of extreme poverty, which went down in Venezuela almost 50% between 1999 and 2012.
On the other hand, there is rampant inflation, one of the highest rates of crime and murder in the Western Hemisphere and an economy sustained almost exclusively through subsidies and programs for the lower classes, without setting up structures for economic growth and job availability (“planting oil,” as Venezuelan intellectual, writer and politician Arturo Uslar Pietri used to say).
All this, as well as an autocratic, polarizing political style that concentrated virtually all powers in the figure and authority of the president.
History will judge the Chávez Revolution. But for now, in the real world, what is left is a Venezuela with the uncertainty of whether the government in charge will follow what the constitution mandates: call for elections within 30 days.
In any case, it is hard to predict whether Chavismo without Chávez can survive in Venezuela and the impact the Venezuelan president’s demise will have on Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia and other close allies from the hemisphere.