Diosdado Cabello, president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, wants to postpone Hugo Chávez’s swearing-in for a new term as president. Apparently, his purpose is to give him time to recover. Some people around Chávez opine that Cabello wants to give him time to die. To him, it is easier to maneuver without Chávez than with the caudillo alive and breathing.
That’s the scenario Havana fears. Fidel Castro, who knows more than anybody else about Hugo Chávez’s health, in a short paragraph within the structure of a conventional obituary released Dec. 15, bade farewell to his still-living disciple and sent a message to the Chávez’s followers.
The old comandante ended his letter to Chávez’s designated political heir, Vice President Nicolás Maduro, thus: “I am certain that you and he — and even as painful as his absence might be — would be capable of continuing his task.”
This is the key portion of the communiqué. The rest is a polite and inconsequential filler.
Shortly after that note was published, it was announced that the Venezuelan president had experienced a respiratory insufficienty that the doctors had managed to alleviate. Earlier, during the operation, they had controlled a dangerous hemorrhage that took him to the brink of death.
In any case, the prognosis is that, unless a miracle occurs, Chávez will suffer frequent and growing problems derived from his body’s general weakness, like any other cancer patient in the terminal stage. Paradoxically, chemotherapy, which sometimes helps cure the disease, sometimes seems to accelerate it.
Is Fidel Castro right, and can Chávez’s followers continue the task of the leader of the Bolivarian revolution? And what is that task?
In the past 14 years, this military man has built the most corrupt state in Latin America. Transparency International ranks Venezuela 166th among 176 countries it has scrutinized.
Caracas, with 130 murders for every 100,000 residents, is the world’s second most dangerous city. (Chicago, by contrast, barely accounts for 19 violent deaths.)
Venezuela’s annual rate of inflation — 29 percent — is the highest in Latin America and one of the world’s worst.
From being a country that welcomed immigrants, Venezuela has become an insensitive machine for the expulsion of educated and entrepreneurial people. The number of Venezuelans who have moved abroad is estimated at 500,000; 200,000 of them to the United States. They leave with their knowledge and — when they can — with their money toward other, more promising destinations. That is an incalculable bloodletting.
Despite the fact that Venezuela is the worst governed country in Latin America, a country that has seen 107,000 companies close during the Chávez years (from a total of 600,000), 55 percent of Venezuelans voted on Oct. 7 for that pauperizing way to organize coexistence.
Why? Because the government uses a substantial part of its revenues for what it calls “social expenditure.” Some 30 “missions” take care of teaching, subsidizing consumption, curing the sick and distributing resources in a terribly inefficient manner that is sufficient enough to buy minds and generate a huge network of political clients and grateful stomachs.
Will Maduro continue that model of harebrained and corrupt management, incendiary language, class struggle, shrill anti-Americanism, rising statism, destruction of the productive entrepreneurial fabric, abundant and unaffordable social spending, dependency and irresponsibility?
Is that revolutionary hubbub what Fidel Castro wishes to preserve, or is it the $10 billion a year that Cuba receives from the government of Venezuela for assorted reasons? (That figure, which includes 115,000 barrels of oil per day, has been estimated by the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban Studies.)
Frankly, it will be difficult for Chávez’s heir, whoever he may be, to stay on the course set by the Bolivarian caudillo. The national debt has gone from 35 percent of GDP in 1998 to 71 percent in 2012. A drop in the prices of oil would create a major catastrophe.
Obviously, we’re seeing signs that Chávez’s disappearance will set off a serious crisis among his followers. There is no consensus on who the heir should be or what is Chávez’s monstruous legacy. The only thing Tyrians and Trojans know is that the country faces a very bad journey.