What does the future hold for the people of Venezuela following the death of Hugo Chavez? As the analysis begins we offer a few pieces from our archives on the challenges facing Venezuela and Latin America in general. Here, for example, is an excerpt from our editorial in 2009, "The Future with Mr. Chavez":
In a supremely ironic exercise of their franchise, Venezuelan voters moved one step closer to dictatorship on Feb. 15 by removing term limits for President Hugo Chávez. The result permits Chávez to run for re-election indefinitely and possibly remain in power, as he has suggested, until 2049, when he will be 95 years old. The election was only marginally free, accompanied as it was by the usual trappings of authoritarian rule: violent crackdowns on student protests; a strictly enforced, nearly complete media monopoly for the government; even a seven-hour presidential speech in the oratorical tradition of Fidel Castro. “Chávez’s intention is clear: He aspires to be president for life,” said Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, D.C. “But his capacity to pull this off is far from assured.”....
The Obama administration’s response has been muddled. The State Department at first declared that Venezuela’s election “was held consistent with democratic principles”; then, following an onslaught of criticism, the department backtracked, saying, “The state of health of democracy in Venezuela is not very good” and that there is currently “no change in policy” from that of the Bush administration. It would be a major mistake indeed if there is to be “no change” in U.S. policy. For at least 50 years, U.S. policy toward Latin America in general, and toward Venezuela in particular, has been clumsy, paternalistic and myopic. What is required now is a new policy that is balanced and realistic.
And here is an excerpt from a book review looking at the attempted coup in 2002:
Brian A. Nelson’s refreshingly impartial and objective account focuses on the coup of April 11, 2002, in which the Chávez government was deposed. He uses this seminal event as an instructive vehicle to capture the rancor and mistrust among Venezuelans. Through extensive and probing interviews with those lined up on opposite sides of the conflict, Nelson effectively conveys the strong sentiments Chávez tends to arouse. He offers insight into the motivations of both Chávez supporters and detractors as well as an understanding of why reconciliation has been so elusive.
Nelson provides the reader with adequate context and background, but the vivid depictions of the famous, infamous and anonymous characters involved in the events surrounding the coup are the heart of his book. Rather than a neat-and-tidy story of good versus evil, what emerges is a highly confused series of actions and reactions, in which chavistas, or Chávez supporters, and the opposition feed off each other. Nelson highlights the coup-related violence in great detail, but also explains how the military, worried that they might be instructed to use violence against fellow Venezuelans to defend Chavez, did not stand in the way of the coup. Given the depth of the acrimony, it is fortunate that the toll from those tragic days was not even greater.
Other articles follow:
"Looking South," The Editors
"The Other America," Tim Padgett
"A New Politics for Latin America?" Michael Shifter