More Links in News & Events

Chavez Legacy an Incomplete Revolution

Published by USA Today.

Hugo Chávez was a larger than life figure who dominated Venezuelan politics and shaped hemispheric relations as few leaders have done. He personified change in Venezuela and was the single unifying force in the country since 1999 – unifying his diverse supporters to follow his lead, and uniting his opponents to try to defeat him.

I met Chávez fifteen years ago when he was campaigning for president and I was observing the electoral process. I came to spend many hours with him over the next eight years observing subsequent elections and helping facilitate a dialogue between his government and his political opposition in 2002-2003. I found a man with little international experience, but with an unparalleled ability to communicate to many different audiences and generate a strong devotion among millions. At the same time, his method of change through confrontation created division and polarization. He steadily amassed power and control over Venezuelan institutions, defeating many challenges with a military strategist's shrewdness.

Chávez' legacy is an incomplete revolution. Deep changes have occurred: Previously marginalized people have organized politically as never before. One set of elites was displaced and another took its place. The military has assumed an expanded role in the political and economic administration of the country. Petroleum revenues have been distributed more inclusively than ever before, and poverty and inequality decreased dramatically.

But the goal of creating a new model he called "21st century socialism" and a restructured global balance of power are incomplete. Venezuela's previous political and economic model has been dismantled, but an effective replacement not fully formed. And its Achilles heel of petroleum dependence has simply worsened. The country is more dependent on petroleum than ever before, deepening its historic tendency to import food and consumer goods, producing and exporting fewer and fewer products. The communal structures allowing citizen participation in direct decision-making have empowered some, but are inconsistent and incomplete.

Internationally, the Bolivarian Revolution also attempted to modify the global distribution of power, creating a more unified and autonomous global South to balance the dominance of the Northern powers. While Chávez became the vocal and visible leader rallying those in the hemisphere who wanted more independence from Northern, and U.S. hegemony in particular, the fundamental changes in Latin America's relations with the rest of the world over the last decade occurred parallel to Chávez' rise as others pursued more quietly a greater diversification of commercial, investment and political relations.

Thus, the loss of Chávez signifies the loss of a visible leader to articulate the frustrations of many. It may mean specific losses for a handful of countries who are beneficiaries of Venezuelan largesse, the most vulnerable of which are Cuba and Nicaragua. But it does not impend a reversal of the significant strides Latin America has made in diversifying its relationships, integrating regionally, and asserting its own voice internationally.

For Venezuelans, the challenge for the government formed after new elections will be to manage the expectations raised through years of oil-financed social programs and grand promises that are unlikely to be sustainable at the same rate. But the fundamental national interest requires an attempt to overcome the divisions and differences to draw on the capacities and skills of all sectors to move the country forward through this leadership transition.

Jennifer McCoy is Carter Center director of Americas Program and Georgia State University political science professor. She is author of International Mediation in Venezuela.

Donate Now

Sign Up For Email

Please sign up below for important news about the work of The Carter Center and special event invitations.

Please leave this field empty
Now, we invite you to Get Involved
Back To Top