I was twelve when Hugo Chavez Frias became president of Venezuela. Fourteen years later he has left power, betrayed by his own body. He has left with the reputation for having been a legitimate, democratically elected president. As someone who grew up experiencing the gradual destruction of a country and its institutions, I can tell you one thing—it was all a show.
The Frontline Club in London recently released a video from its conference on Venezuela, during which Guardian correspondent Rory Carroll insightfully called Hugo Chavez a “master illusionist.” Carroll was himself a witness to the president’s tactics, once inadvertently becoming a puppet in the show after asking a question during an episode of Aló Presidente, a weekly national broadcast. Yet Carroll’s denial to refer to Chavez as a despot reveals that he did not grasp the extent of the illusion.
True, there were no death squads and no disappearances—not, at least, in the way that Fidel and other dictators carried them out in the past. But there are still morgues filled to the brim with dead bodies and an uncountable number of prisoners yet to be charged for a crime or to appear before the courts (although to allude to the courts seems comical when they have become obsolete in the current structure of power).
Most people criticize Chavez for not attempting to restrain the exponential rise of violence in the country, naively—or cleverly, perhaps for fear of retribution—failing to identify it as a conscious strategy. A population that lives in fear is much easier to control.
As to whether Chavez expected the extent to which the violence has reached, it is impossible to know; yet his lack of action during his term in power speaks loudly. Perhaps most frustratingly, very few are willing to publicly admit that when talking of Chavez they are referring to a dictator that governed a country under a totalitarian regime—not a democracy. Just as Al-Qaeda redefined modern warfare so did Chavez modern dictatorship. What you see is never what you get.
So, does it matter that Chavez died? Not really. For months he was out of action, and his successors will continue to follow the clear instructions left behind, only somewhat hindered by the chaotic state of the economy and their ambitions for power. Chavismo has been institutionalized, and the country will find it hard to return to a true democracy. Chavez strategically decimated Venezuelan institutions to perpetuate an opportunistic ideology in power, veiled by a message of altruism and class warfare.
The Supreme Court conceded Chavez’s successors additional time for the implementation of the preconceived plan when it allowed for his inauguration to be postponed. The vice president and the president of the National Assembly were already flexing their campaign muscles and preparing the political atmosphere for the impending election long before his death was officially announced. The process of elections will only be part of the farce.
The news of the president’s death will no doubt bring about an event similar in magnitude to that of the vigil and funeral of Evita Peron. Many will portray him as a hero and a martyr for the Bolivarian Revolution and the press will be brimming with pictures of mourning chavistas—all part of the master illusionist’s plan.
What is most surprising about the way many international news agencies covered Chavez’s rule is that they were always keen to obtain official sources for their articles. These official sources were usually acquired through the snippets of important information on Aló Presidente or through other government publications or declarations. In the name of fair and ethical reporting, the official government side was always included.
How did journalists not feel the tug of the strings from the puppet master? Their information was coming from a manufactured reality. With the Soviet Union or Maoist China as examples of the veracity of any information from such regimes in the past, are they truly approaching the government as a fair source for anything? Wake up! It is all a pantomime, masterfully planned and carefully continued after its creator has passed away.
As is usually the case in Latin America, the future of the country hinges on the whims of the military. The only important question now is, has Cuban infiltration reached the psyche of the top tiers of the Venezuelan military? Or will nationalism prevail over ideology? For the country’s sake, not to mention the Latin American continent’s own, lets hope the latter prevails.