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By Global Public Square staff
The protests in Ukraine - and Russia's response to them - have monopolized headlines…but there is one other uprising that could have a big, global fallout. We are talking about Venezuela, where for weeks now, demonstrations against the government have been met with violent and sometimes deadly force. Keep an eye on that country because what happens there could have consequences across the continent - and all the way to Cuba.
We were surprised to read that one of the guiding lights of these protests is actually not on the ground in Caracas, but more than a thousand miles away…in Miami, Florida. Reinaldo dos Santos is a self-proclaimed "prophet" from Brazil…and he claims that Venezuela's president will soon be out of a job. For whatever reason, his prophesies have resonated with his 1.3 million Twitter followers as he emboldened them to fight the good fight. (A fun fact - Venezuela has the 5th highest Twitter penetration in the world, according to ComScore.)
It's a bizarre, kooky sideshow to what is actually a very serious situation - not only for Venezuelans, but for the global economy. Remember, Venezuela has the world's largest oil reserves, and it is the 4th largest exporter of oil to the United States.
By Carl Meacham, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Carl Meacham is director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (@CSIS) in Washington, DC. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
This week, amidst political turmoil that has gripped the country and left more than a dozen dead and hundreds more injured and detained, Venezuela commemorated the passing of President Hugo Chávez.
Chávez was best known for his “Bolivarian Revolution,” through which he pursued aggressive, state-centered approaches to alleviate the social, political, and economic challenges facing Venezuela. And by some metrics he was successful – between 2004 and 2012, the country’s poverty rate halved, and literacy and access to healthcare increased substantially.
But Chávez also left behind a country deeply divided along political and socioeconomic lines, one suffering from skyrocketing crime and violence and bogged down by economic instability. Is his successor, Nicolás Maduro, now reaping the seeds of discontent sown by Chavismo?
For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Some startling images caught our eye this week. A shopping free-for-all at a major electronics chain, the equivalent of America's Best Buy. People making off with flat-screen TVs…refrigerators…and more…all at bargain basement prices. No, it’s not the holidays yet. This is what happened when the government of Venezuela decided to play Robin Hood: the army took over the privately owned chain and slashed prices.
The incident got us thinking. We often talk about best practices for economies. Perhaps there should also be a list of things to avoid – a checklist titled ‘How to ruin your economy.’ Well, it so happens this isn't just a theoretical list, because Venezuela is actually ticking each of those boxes in practice.
By Christopher Sabatini, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Christopher Sabatini is the editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly and senior director of policy at Americas Society/Council of the Americas. The views expressed are his own.
It wasn’t supposed to go this way. When the Venezuelan government announced in March that it would hold elections on April 14 to replace the deceased former President Hugo Chávez everything seemed to favor Chávez’s handpicked replacement, Vice President Nicolás Maduro. Only six months earlier, Chávez – battling cancer at the time, though it was unknown to the voters – handily beat the same opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by 11 percent.
But despite the massive outpouring of public grief for Chávez, and the government’s near monopoly control over the media and public resources, Maduro managed to lose more than 1,000,000 votes between October’s contest and last Sunday’s. As a result, it was an unexpected squeaker of an election – 50.7 percent for Maduro and 49.1 percent for Capriles, with a mere 270,000 votes separating the two.
What had happened was that 14 years of economic and administrative mismanagement had finally caught up with Chávez’s political heir. Lacking the charisma of his predecessor, Maduro struggled during the campaign to evoke the image of the popular leader, even claiming that Chávez had appeared to him in the form of a little bird. But it wasn’t enough. With inflation close to 30 percent, food and electricity shortages throughout the country, and two recent devaluations that have lowered the value of the Venezuelan currency the bolivar by more than 30 percent, voters demonstrated that in the post-Chávez era they are going to be more issue-oriented.
By Mark P. Jones, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Mark P. Jones is the Joseph D. Jamail Chair in Latin American Studies and the Chair of the Department of Political Science at Rice University in Houston. The views expressed are his own.
Hugo Chávez was a great unifier. Not of all Venezuelans, as even the most casual observer of Venezuela realizes, but rather of the two polar political camps into which Venezuela divided during Chávez’s 14 year reign.
Within the Bolivarian movement he created, Chávez was the unquestioned leader, bringing together the disparate factions that together made up the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Cliques, distinct ideological groups, varied regional-based interests, and a new wealthy business class (the Boliburguesía, whose members experienced a rise from rags to riches due to their ties to the government) were all united by their support – both principled and self-interested – for Chávez.
On the opposition side, the one common thread that tied together a heterogeneous opposition alliance (the Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD) was the goal of removing Hugo Chávez from power. This vibrant and often passionate opposition to Chávez provided the glue that held together such diverse actors as socialists, conservatives, state-based parties, recently established parties, and parties linked to the country’s discredited pre-Chávez political system.
By Patrick Duddy, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Patrick Duddy, a visiting senior lecturer at Duke University, was the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela from 2007-10. The views expressed are his own.
Venezuela’s constitution mandates an election be held within 30 days to pick a successor to Hugo Chavez, but the implications of Chavez’s death for Venezuela and the region will not be clear for some time.
Chavez was a polarizing figure, revered by his supporters and reviled by his critics. It is undeniable that he changed Venezuela, whatever one's views of his leadership. Many of the poor there and elsewhere considered him their champion and will mourn his passing.
But many in the country saw Chavez very differently. His critics felt his effort to change Venezuela’s political culture significantly weakened the country’s democratic institutions. What happens next in Venezuela will, therefore, be followed closely throughout the region and the world, as people wait to see if Chavez's political agenda will survive the man himself.
Editor's note: Christopher Sabatini is editor-in-chief of the policy journal Americas Quarterly. The views expressed are his own.
It’s difficult to remember a time when Hugo Chávez didn’t dominate the headlines, just as it is difficult to believe that, with his death, there will come a time when he no longer does. Elected as Venezuelan president in 1998 and sworn in in 1999, Chávez became the voice of a new group of leaders across South America that came to power with the collapse of traditional, elite-dominated party systems. He was the bête noir of the United States, a hero to the anti-globalization left and to the poor in his own country, a savior to the Castro regime in Cuba, and the clown prince of the regional summit circuit. For all this, though, Chávez’s legacy in Venezuela and in the region will be one of institutional debasement and polarization.
The one-time lieutenant colonel rose to prominence in 1992, when he and a group of mid-level officers attempted a coup against the country’s then-President Carlos Andrés Pérez. In a brief statement to the media, Chávez promised that while he may have failed, that he would return to correct the social injustices that led to his putsch. After serving time in prison he did, winning the 1998 presidential elections, overturning a two-party system that had governed Venezuela since 1958 through an increasingly closed, corrupt system held together by the country’s oil riches and patronage.
This is an updated version of a What in the World article, in light of the March 5 announcement that Hugo Chavez has died. The original article was published here in January.
For 14 years, Hugo Chavez was a troubling global presence. He was an avowed critic of American capitalism…and yet he generated billions selling oil to the United States. He was a populist, whom some revered but others despised. One thing's for sure, Venezuela’s president was a fighter: last year it seemed he might even have defeated cancer.
But the cancer returned, and when he couldn’t attend his own swearing-in ceremony, it sparked a natural set of questions in Venezuela and around the world: what's next?
Whoever inherits the presidency, Chavez has cast a long shadow.
Look at his record. On the one hand, the poorest are actually better off. According to the Center for Economic Policy and Research, poverty has declined by 50 percent since 2004. Extreme poverty has declined by 70 percent. Over the same period, college enrollment doubled, and millions of Venezuelans gained access to health care. Many are getting free housing – Chavez announced on public television last year he would build two million homes for the poor.
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For 14 years, Hugo Chavez has been a troubling global presence. He has been an avowed critic of American capitalism…and yet he has generated billions selling oil to the United States. He’s a populist, whom some revere but others despise. One thing's for sure, Venezuela’s president is a fighter: last year it seemed he had even defeated cancer.
But the cancer is back, and Chavez has been said to be seriously ill. So when he couldn’t attend his own swearing-in ceremony on Thursday, it sparked a natural set of questions in Venezuela and around the world: what's next?
Whoever inherits the presidency, Chavez will cast a long shadow.
By Eric Farnsworth, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Eric Farnsworth is vice president of the Council of the Americas and the Americas Society. The views expressed are his own.
Remember the climactic scene in The Sound of Music when the von Trapp family fails to appear on stage to receive the top prize even as the band repeatedly introduces their entrance? It’s a little like the spectacle awaiting Venezuelans now that Hugo Chavez has missed his own presidential inauguration under the terms of the recent constitution that he himself instituted.
If he is unable to carry out his duties, Venezuela’s constitution requires another election within 30 days. Recovering from cancer – or not – in Havana, a number of alternatives have been floated by Chavez allies that would allow him to remain as president until such time or scenario as he could be physically sworn-in. Better not cue the band just yet.
Who are the most positive people in the world? Well, at least according to the responses in a recent Gallup poll, eight of the top 10 countries whose citizens feel happiest are in Latin America – Panama, Paraguay, El Salvador, Venezuela, Trinidad&Tobago, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Costa Rica. Such results could in part be down to a cultural predisposition to looking on the bright side. But if Latin Americans have taken a moment to reflect on their financial situation, they will also see tangible reasons to be positive about the future.
While the rest of the world has become more unequal in recent years, Latin America is the only region in the world to reverse that trend. According to a World Bank report, 50 million people joined the region’s middle class between the years of 2003 and 2009. Poverty rates have plummeted; more women are working; safety nets have become stronger.
For a brief moment last week, a few started to believe the impossible: that after 14 years, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez would lose an election to a unified opposition led by a young, energetic former governor, Henrique Capriles Radonski. But when the results were announced on Sunday night, Chávez had won, again.
This time, though, the victory was more about Chávez as a personal figure than his self-named Bolivarian Revolution over a fractured, discredited (and smeared) opposition. For the first time, the Venezuelan opposition made the election a referendum on Chávez’s record, rather than – as it had too often in the past – on his personality. With a record as governor of Miranda state and as a fresh face, the 40-year-old Capriles separated himself from the shadow of the corruption and mismanagement that preceded Chávez, instead focusing on the dismal record of the Bolivarian Revolution.
And there is a lot to focus on: in the last 14 years, Caracas – with a murder rate of about 67 per 100,000 residents – has become one of the most violent cities in the world; profligate public spending has led to an inflation rate that topped 27 percent last year (again one of the highest in the world), and reliance on oil and the capricious expropriation of business has led to one of the lowest rates of economic growth in the region, registering a flaccid 4.2 percent last year compared to 6 percent for Chile and 6.9 for Peru.
The Global Public Square is where you can make sense of the world every day with insights and explanations from CNN's Fareed Zakaria, leading journalists at CNN, and other international thinkers. Join GPS editor Jason Miks and get informed about global issues, exposed to unique stories, and engaged with diverse and original perspectives.
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