Hugo Chavez, the late Venezuelan leader, liked to think of himself as a modern-day Simon Bolivar. Proclaiming his social and economic reforms the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’, Chavez reveled in his populist image as a fighter against Western imperialism and elitism, a stance almost as heroic as Bolivar’s 19th century republicanism in opposition to the Spanish Crown.
That Chavez could make a creditable comparison between himself and the independence genius of South America was a result of his personal charisma, state-sponsored propaganda and populist policies, such as insanely low fuel prices. Only towards the end of his rule did the obvious economic damage of his ‘revolution’ become apparent to the majority. With one of the highest murder rates in the world, declining food security and political stagnation, Venezuela is becoming a failed state. Only Chavez’s ability to command the good faith of the people prevented a government overthrow.
His successor Nicolas Maduro, however, does not share his popular appeal. Indeed, the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV), rather than being seen as the protector of the common man, is now identified as his chief problem. Violent protests have pockmarked the streets of Caracas and other cities, leading to complaints from regional governors about police brutality and government incompetence.
Whilst Chavez was no Bolivar, people miss his ability to command a degree of order, his belligerence against American interference in the affairs of Latin America and his sweeping gestures of support for the people.
Maduro has the potential to reverse the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ of his mentor and precipitate intervention from a foreign power that would undermine the independence and sovereign integrity that Simon Bolivar won for Venezuela with such ruthless determination. It is his choice whether to precipitate further bloodshed.