Hugo Chavez’s legacy: the good, the bad and the ugly

The deceased Venezuelan leader leaves behind a mixed legacy. If his enemies are to be believed, Hugo Chavez was a tyrannical caudillo who terrorised his people at home and propped up dictatorships abroad. For his devotees, Chavez represented a push back against American domination and neo-liberalism. The truth is more complicated.

The deceased Venezuelan leader leaves behind a mixed legacy.

If his enemies are to be believed, Hugo Chavez was a tyrannical caudillo who terrorised his people at home and propped up dictatorships abroad. For his devotees, Chavez represented a push back against American domination and neo-liberalism.

The truth is more complicated.

The good

Under Chavez’s rule, wealth was redistributed and the living standards of the country’s poorest were raised to an extent previously unknown. The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) found that from 2002 to 2010, poverty in Venezuela was reduced by 20.8 percent, dropping from 48.6 percent to 27.8 percent, while extreme poverty decreased from 22.2 percent to 10.7 percent.

Chavez also made impressive inroads in terms of closing the gap between Venezuela’s rich and poor. According to the ECLAC report, Venezuela has Latin America’s lowest Gini coefficient at 0.394. The closer the Gini coefficient is to zero, the closer a country is to total socio-economic equality.

The bad

Hugo Chavez has in the past drawn strong criticism from human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – organisations which can hardly be dismissed as agents of neo-liberalism.

In its 2011 annual report, Amnesty described Venezuela as a country where “those critical of the government were prosecuted on politically motivated charges in what appeared to be an attempt to silence them”.

Human Rights Watch said the “accumulation of power in Venezuela” under Chavez had allowed the government “to intimidate, censor, and prosecute critics and perceived opponents in a wide range of cases involving the judiciary, the media, and civil society”.

The ugly

Under Chavez Venezuela forged some pretty unsavory alliances – including the Castro dictatorship in Cuba and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Chavez was also an opponent of the Arab Spring, supporting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi until the end and siding with Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war.

Cuba is the country which has more than any other felt the direct influence of Hugo Chavez. By providing the regime of Fidel and later Raul Castro with subsidised oil at a rate of roughly 105,000 cut-rate barrels a day – about half of Cuba’s energy needs for petroleum – Chavez ensures that the Castro dictatorship retains its grip on power.

As the Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez has written: “It was precisely the rise to power of Hugo Chavez in 1999 that was the key element to the walking back of reforms”.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today. 

35 Responses to “Hugo Chavez’s legacy: the good, the bad and the ugly”

  1. Amanda Kendal

    Out of curiosity, has the US ended its war on Cuba yet, thus allowing the country anything like normal conditions in which to develop?

  2. JurysOut

    I think readers need to be very sceptical of what Human Rights Watch say about venezuela. Read this for more info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_Human_Rights_Watch#Venezuela

  3. jsullivan

    Ugh, not the ~Castro dictatorship~

  4. BenThompson

    “Under Chavez Venezuela forged some pretty unsavory alliances.” Where is the moral equivalence with this statement? Just think about some of the unsavory alliances that the US/UK has.

  5. bally19

    I disagree that the alliance with Cuba was unsavory. Venezuelan money helped to fund operation miracle, a project that has helped over 1.5 million people in Latin America. They also helped to funded the ELAM schools.

  6. Mike

    Yes and who edited the wiki article? you?

  7. Krom67

    “to intimidate, censor, and prosecute critics and perceived opponents in a wide range of cases involving the judiciary, the media, and civil society”.sound like the uk during the Thatcher years, only the wealth was re distributed to the rich.

  8. JurysOut

    I didn’t edit it! Look at other sources if you’re sceptical of the wikipedia article!

  9. VMMUSA

    GOOD?really? Wealth was redistributed. Last time I checked that was a socialist ideal, not a American Capitalist ideal. Taking $ form one by force and giving it to another is stealing. If you believe in redistribution of wealth do it compassionately by voluntarily giving your $ to the poor any other way is just stealing.

  10. Matthew Blott

    Are you incapable of typing quotation marks or does the “Castro dictatorship” sandwiched between tildes mean something? If the former then can you explain why you do not think it worthy of the adjective dictatorship?

  11. Raging Leftie

    He was neither a hero or a villain. Good analysis.

  12. Newsbot9

    Ah yes, an American Libertarian shows up.

  13. Mick

    ‘Under Chavez Venezuela forged some pretty unsavory alliances – including the Castro dictatorship in Cuba and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Chavez was also an opponent of the Arab Spring, supporting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi until the end and siding with Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war.’

    Opposition to Arab Spring was good. yet their placement of the fact Chavez destroyed the economy to give cash to people who were scarecely raised out of poverty due to the knock-on effect is in the ‘good’ pile.

  14. Mick

    Comparing Mrs. Thatcher to a man who massacred shanty town protesters.

    Very swish. But typically leftist.

  15. Mick

    ELAM schools – nests of Communist propaganda, and we know how many Castro killed. (57,000.)

    medical students turning blindeyes to human rights abuses in Cuba have no right to work in American hospitals.

    http://www.reaganista.com/2013/01/30/castros-med-school-used-as-indoctrination-tool/

  16. Mick

    The Left always hate the ‘wrong’ people finding stuff out.

    The web’s only supposed to be for them.

  17. Mick

    Cuba’s communism picked a fight with the civilised world, not the other way around. Stuff was stolen, people murdered.

    And if Cuba’s so great, people won’t want to leave: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2013/01/14/cuba-passports-travel-abroad/1832811/

  18. Mick

    And ‘unsavoury alliances’ the UK had with countries in the communist world?

    Our own Labour wankers had such a matey deal with Romania in the 70s, that Britain swapped valuable military planes for potatoes, scrap iron and other domestic stuff. And we threw in a State visit for Ceaucescu, with Queen and honourary doctorate for his beastly wife.

    That’s one of many many many many examples of Labour fellating far leftists. Yes indeed, a source of shame.

  19. Mick

    Leftists say Miracle allowed poor people medical care they couldn’t otherwise afford. That’s got nothing to do with communism or hardcore socialism, which kills more than it helps.

    In those terms, it’s the just sort of basic provisions any modern state serves. Even Nazi Germany had public-funded medical programmes. And they killed as well as helped too.

  20. Futile Democracy

    Tax-as-theft is the most ridiculous notion to come from the Libertarian right, amidst a plethora of ridiculous notions.
    Your first problem, is trying to suggest that wealth is individual. It isn’t. Somewhere along the line, you or your parents or grandparents, used public roads to transport goods, or a publicly funded railway, your property is protected by publicly funded policing and fire protection, your employees have been educated using tax money, which helps produce an educated, curious, thinking, productive work force, they have help when they’re sick, they also have fire and police protection, in order for them to conduct their life; and working for your business, in peace. A business exists and thrives on a framework, and that framework is paid for via taxation and it benefits everyone. It is the fee you pay for being a part of a society that offers you protection, education, and funds infrastructure for you to be able to amass wealth.
    Secondly, land that a business builds its HQ on, or its factory on, or its office block on….. is not yours by natural right. Nor are the resources that a business fences off to produce goods privately. You want those resources and that land? Rent it. Via tax.
    Tax is not theft. It has a benefit, and it has a reason for being. Wealth is not individual.

  21. jsullivan

    Well given the country only became an autocracy in response to repeated attempts by the US to reassert the control over the country, and that the country is a oasis of high living standards in one of the most impoverished and invaded regions regions of the world, that Cuba doesn’t have a full democracy isn’t something that bothers me terribly. Also, you write like a posh wanker.

  22. Matthew Blott

    Well I went to a comprehensive and grew up on a council estate. I am now a pretty successful middle class professional but I don’t think that gives me toff status – unless you are some chippy class obsessed fuckwit who thinks anyone in the top tax bracket is posh. And if I write like a wanker you are just some trolling cunt who gets a stiffie abusing people online while hiding behind the convenient cloak of anonymity.

  23. Ken Lucas

    ROFLMAO!!! Man, what a comeback Matthew. I swear you Brits have a wonderful way with words!!

  24. Matthew Blott

    Thanks man 🙂

  25. Mick

    The Left set out to provoke a reaction, get it and then blame the victim.

    It’s a substitute for winning arguments by logic.

  26. Hegemony OrBust

    Thing is, James, when you look at “the good”, a little hole forms. This hole is called “underlying trends”…to wit:- poverty actually *went up* for the period 1998 to 2004, to 60%.

    But hey, poverty did eventually go down, didn’t it? A full 29% from it’s 1998 figure. Most impressive.

    It also did in Peru (53% in 2002 to 28% in 2011). Brazil (slightly lesser, 37% to 21%). Latin America as a whole: 44% to 28%.

    You’ll note that, really, Chavez’s legacy is – despite Venezuela being awash
    in billions, perhaps trillions, of petro-dollars,- he managed to get poverty levels down to 1.4% below the regional average. Now, call me a bit of a perfectionist stick-in-the-mud, but I think that regional context, combined with the fact the Venezuelan economy appears to be a basket case (unemployment 8.2%, inflation in the high 20s, interest rates in the mid teens, Government debt and personal debt increasing, 3 devaluations in 10 years, the agricultural sector, to coin a phrase *withering on the vine* to such an extent that Venezuela imports 80% of it’s food and no economy outside of the oil, average GDP growth over the past 10 year oil boom – when oil prices hit 100 dollars a barrel – slightly more than the UK’s average growth in the same period), combined with the political repression, the massive crime rate (which is, actually, worse than Mexico’s) and the fact that he’s rumoured to have salted away a £2 billion dollar fortune for him and his family…

    Well, it makes Ahmadinajad look like one of his *lesser* crimes, actually.

    I wish the Left would stop with the Bonapartism, I really do. The man was incompetent, and – even allowing that his support for the poor was genuine, rather than motivated by the wish to get a power-bloc (I think it was genuine by the way) – horribly authoritarian and with some nasty political allies.

  27. korm67

    I apologise she didn’t murder shanty town protestors; she
    murdered industry manufacturing and community!

  28. Ceannaire

    Do you even know what Human Rights Watch was set up for? It was set up explicitly to “monitor” the human rights situation in the USSR. It was quite explicitly an imperialist organisation. Now that the USSR is gone, it’s branched out to attack others who don’t kowtow before the US empire.

  29. ann b

    this sundays observer Hector abad a columbian writer
    gave a very jaundiced opinion of the whole of the left in latin america , yet Seumas Milne in the guadrian feb 19 , was far more objective and worth a read.I think the Latin countries have a lot to show us . don’ be so quick to judge
    ann bennett

  30. annb

    absolutely and so to for Cuba

  31. DJMayz

    You people are all so dumb. If you had any idea what socialism truly is, you wouldn’t be so opposed to it. In America socialist programs are widely supported by the people, but shot down and de-funded by corporate lobbies (such as ALEC). Our own government is that which takes away constitutional rights but most of you people are too stupid to open your eyes and realize who’s really fucking you over.

  32. cumbum69

    maggie thatcher was a sexy lady tho, amiright fellas?

  33. Keith M

    I don’t think we can talk about unsavoury alliances – look who Britain gets in bed with! Chavez improved the lifestyles of the poor. As for Cuba it supplied doctors for the people where they had nothing before. He also U yoked them from US imperialism.

  34. Keith M

    You seem to forget that Cuba was a satellite of the states – 90 o/o of the profits were exported to the U.S. nothing was done for the people. The dictator Batista was a poodle of the states.

Leave a Reply