Hugo Chavez: Good Riddance?

Division may be his biggest legacy

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 6, 2013 1:15 AM CST

(Newser) – The death of Hugo Chavez has left opinions on the Venezuelan leader's rule as divided as ever. His achievements in lifting millions out of poverty are sure to see him remembered as one of Latin America's great socialists, but many point to his disrespect for democratic institutions and his economic mismanagement and predict his legacy will be a bitter one.

  • "Venezuela under Chavez was a glorious contradiction—an autocracy with a popular, elected megalomaniac at its center," writes Francisco Toro at the Atlantic. Millions of Venezuelans will sincerely mourn Chavez, he writes, but as the cult of personality around him grew, he ruthlessly exploited his popularity, "strip-mining the people's affection for the gratification of a monstrously overgrown ego and dismantling the institutions of democratic life in the process."

  • "Chavez played a pivotal role in bringing the plight of Latin America's impoverished people to the top of the political agenda" and he inspired successful anti-poverty programs elsewhere, writes Frida Ghitis at CNN. Other Latin American leaders, however, have also imitated his "populist undemocratic style, intimidating opponents, restricting the media and subverting the judiciary," and he leaves behind "a continent where alternatives to his model look more appealing than ever. "
  • The former paratrooper was a "poisonous influence on the region," decides Michael Moynihan at the Daily Beast, pointing to Chavez's intimidation of opponents, his support for dictators, and Venezuela's sky-high murder rate. Chavez's reign was "extralegal, vindictive, and interested in the short-term gesture rather than the more difficult, long-term solution," he writes.
  • Chavez was loved by millions because "he won free (if not always fair) elections, spent lavishly on health clinics, literacy courses and social program, slashed poverty, devolved power to communal councils, stood up to George Bush over Iraq, encouraged regional pride and assertiveness across Latin America and did it all with charisma and flair," writes Rory Carroll at the Guardian. But the country he left behind is a corrupt shambles on the verge of collapse despite a decade of record oil revenues, he writes, arguing that the "most damning critique of Chavez's rule concerned not democratic credentials but managerial competence."

Hugo Chavez greets members of the National Revolutionary Militia during the Militia Day celebrations in Caracas, Tuesday, April 13, 2010.
Hugo Chavez greets members of the National Revolutionary Militia during the Militia Day celebrations in Caracas, Tuesday, April 13, 2010.   (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
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Like an old-style dictator, he treated the state as his personal plaything but, unlike one, his power rested not on violence but on genuine popular affection. - Francisco Toro, The Atlantic

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