After the 2002 coup attempt, Chávez fell ever-more under the spell of Cuban leader Fidel Castro (“The Cubans took us over” states a former ally glumly), who supplied revolutionary manpower in exchange for cheap Venezuelan oil. Cuban doctors poured into Venezuela to provide their services in the slums of Caracas, but soon enough they returned to Cuba, moved on to work in Bolivia or defected to Colombia or the United States, leaving their clinics abandoned. Government officials, meanwhile, sought care from elite private hospitals. Roads, bridges and factories all crumbled due to mismanagement and lack of maintenance.
And as Chávez’s revolution went along, Venezuelans killed one another in ever greater numbers. In 1998, there were 4,500 murders. In 2008, there were more than 17,000, less than 1 percent of which were solved. The prison population tripled to 50,000 in a prison system built for 12,000.
“The revolution inherited grave social problems and made them worse,” Carroll writes. “The maximum leader who liked to micromanage everything lost control of society’s most fundamental requirement, security.”
To compare Chávez to allies such as Castro, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran or Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus is absurd, and Carroll does not fall into this trap. Rather, Carroll reveals a creaking authoritarian edifice that may or may not outlive its maker. A leader who once filled the television screens of his country non-stop has now fallen silent. And Venezuela is left to wonder what will come and fill the void.
Michael Deibert is the author of “Democratic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair.”