In the nature and the suffering of what may be his impending death, Hugo Chávez will probably achieve the immortality in human memory that he has always sought, the certainty of a veneration reserved for saints, martyrs and redeemers.
The images now appearing in the streets of Venezuela leave no doubt about it. They don’t compare Chávez to Simon Bolivar — the inspiration of the nation’s “comandante” — but to Jesus Christ. And there are explicit slogans displayed that go further and deeper into Venezuelan reality: “The people are Chávez ” and “We are all Chávez ” — like some modern miracle of transubstantiation.
It is possible that the ruling government of Cuba (where the Venezuelan is hospitalized) may try to preserve the authority of a moribund Chávez , like the famous Spanish Cid Campeador, whose body — strapped to his horse — led troops in a victorious battle. But it is much more likely that, after a protracted and agonizing struggle with cancer, Chávez ’s death will be announced.
And a broad portion of the Venezuelan people will be plunged into deep mourning. Something similar happened in the case of Eva Peron, heroine of the Argentine poor, the “shirtless ones,” when she died suddenly of cancer at 33. She was instantly sanctified and continues to be so.
There are various scenarios for the future of Venezuela, and none of them is certain. It is most likely that the mourning for Chávez will last for months and will be followed by a new national election, which will be won by a “Chavista” candidate, a supporter of Chávez .
The decisive emotions will be grief coupled with the gratitude that many Venezuelans, especially the poor, feel for Chávez and his social policies. And the electoral, financial judicial and partly legislative organs of the state will continue to be controlled by the Chavista movement. The favored candidate would be Nicolas Maduro, already anointed by Chávez .
In the period of mourning, Venezuela will live with the fiction of “Chavismo without Chávez .” His portrait in his days of glory, his empty presidential chair, his televised image will be constantly retransmitted and, for a time, will continue to accompany the new president.
But for all religions, sacred and secular, and for the very nature of humanity, mourning always comes to an end. And all Venezuelans — Chavistas and non-Chavistas — will awaken to a severe economic predicament that can’t be ignored. It happened in the Soviet Union in 1989. It will definitely happen in Cuba. It will happen in Venezuela.
The evidence is in the public domain, and it is alarming. The Venezuelan economy shows a deficit of $70 billion, 22 percent of gross domestic product. The official monetary exchange rate is 4.3 bolivars to the dollar, but on the black market a dollar is worth 18 bolivars.
For years, the inflation rate has been the highest in the region. Domestic shortages have become almost a tradition in Venezuela, due to the dismantling of industry, agriculture, animal husbandry (practically all productive activities except petroleum extraction), the exodus of many middle-class professionals and the lack of private investment, internal or external.