The underachiever

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The last picture? We'll never know
The last picture? We’ll never know

Tomorrow is the second anniversary of Hugo Chávez’s death. We all remember him as a legend, an electoral behemoth who could conjure up adoring masses and fawning headlines seemingly at will.

But you know what? It seems as though the emperor had no clothes.

Our friend Francisco Monaldi puts things into perspective in this article for Prodavinci. In it, Francisco reminds us that Chávez actually underperformed in terms of popularity and electoral support. Given the size of the commodity boom he benefitted from and the largesse with which he treated our public finances, his numbers should have been higher.

Popular support in Latin America is correlated with commodity booms, and given the massive size of Venezuela’s boom, Chávez should have been winning elections by far wider margins than he actually did.

The reason he was not able to do so? He was simply too radical for Venezuelans, too far off the political center. He was also a terrible manager.

There’s a lot of myth-busting in Francisco’s piece, but if you buy his premise, then you have to conclude that chavismo’s days are numbered. If it’s all about the commodity boom, and if Venezuelans are chavista in spite of their ideology and not because of it, then the party is over and so are they.

The only problem, as Francisco points out, is that Chávez died at the precise moment, not too soon for his populist legacy to be cemented, and not too late for the inevitable problems of his mismanagement to surface. As he puts it,

“We Venezuelans are the victims of a President who advanced a disastrous agenda for the country, made possible thanks to the political capital given him by the largest oil boom in our history. The combination of the boom with his ability to manipulate the electoral cycle has brought to the catastrophe we face today. Tragically, since Chávez died at the height of the boom, many Venezuelans still remember him with nostalgia, and they blame their current problems on the incompetence of his successor. Sadly, like Peronism in Argentina, chavismo (not madurismo) will live on as a valuable political brand in the future.”

That, perhaps, is the man’s only true legacy. But if that is all chavismo is, all brand and no product … then they really are more vulnerable than we allow ourselves to believe.

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1 COMMENT

      • Not for two to three more years, at least. While the current crisis with Russia, Iran, ISIS rage, there is no desire on the part of Saudi Arabia to cut production and raise oil prices. The next nation that will “break-out” with huge growth will be India. But, even they after their economy starts accelerating, it will take a few more years to start putting pressure on the world’s supplies of commodities.

        Personally, I don’t think the Venezuelan people can wait that long.

  1. He had talents: political pulse of er pueblo mesmo, silver tongue and funny guy.

    He had major flaws: zero morals, completely irresponsible, no preparation whatsoever for the job, surrounded himself with yes-men and incompetent thugs, #1 fan of Fidel, etc.

    Add El Carmonazo to the mix, and you end up with a maniac that hates everything from Venezuela’s former establishment and his totally clouded view from absolute power.

  2. No, I think the larger point Francisco makes is that whenever the economy stumbles, Chavezism will remain an alternative for those who remember the good old days of Chávez, a myth that will take generations to dispel. Mythological Chavezism.

  3. “There’s a lot of myth-busting in Francisco’s piece, but if you buy his premise, then you have to conclude that chavismo’s days are numbered. If it’s all about the commodity boom, and if Venezuelans are chavista in spite of their ideology and not because of it, then the party is over and so are they.”

    I think it is way too premature to conclude that. I believe these guys will do whatever it takes to stay in power, and sadly, I think there is still a lot of things these guys can do to succeed at that, even with the low approval ratings they have right now. And those things don’t necessarily include electoral fraud (although that will certainly be an option, but one they will try to minimize).

    Do you want a clue about some of the things they will do? Look at the foreign reserves increase in the last couple of weeks, and figure out why it happened, and what they plan to do with the money.

  4. “Popular support in Latin America is correlated with commodity booms, and given the massive size of Venezuela’s boom, Chávez should have been winning elections by far wider margins than he actually did.”

    What are you basing this on? Accion Democratica failed to even get reelected in 1978, right in the middle of the largest oil boom in Venezuelan history. Compared to past Venezuelan political leaders, Chavez was ENORMOUSLY successful at the ballot box, breaking all kinds of records.

    • “Popular support in Latin America is correlated with wearing red shirts, to have Fidel Castro support, and to be anti-US and pro-socialism.”

      People in Latin America have a justified fear of fascism, which has been inoculated after years of ‘fascist dictatorships’ ruining countries in the region, but at the same time they are very naive regarding the far-left.

      Hell, if Pinochet had these chavistas running his PR team, he would definitely have become one more LIBERTADOR DE LATINO AMERICA! Father of the poor. Hero of the people. But no… He didn’t want to go that route and is now seen as just repulsive.

    • Oh, and “fawning headlines”?? Is this supposed to be a joke? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a political leader so viciously attacked by the media in my life. He literally had almost 100% of the media against him for much of his career.

      • Omission is the better part of a lie. And you, Garth2 have omitted Chávez’s order to force-link all media to broadcasts on VTV of Chávez’s “Aló Presidente”, an ad hoc program with no set time, but one that would last for hours on end. You know, kinda like Fidel’s in his day. On and on and on with the chitchat about nothing, when Chávez wasn’t fanning the flames of anger and motivating his para-military goons on motorbike to terrorize segments of the population whenever he saw fit.

        By omitting this backdrop, your crocodile tears could fool many, which I’m sure is your intention.

        • Hahaha, syd isn’t the brightest bulb in the box.

          I was responding to the claim that Chavez had an ability to “conjure up… fawning headlines”. I responded by saying I don’t think that is true because the media was actually extremely hostile to Chavez.

          Syd then responds by saying “but Chavez used cadenas to broadcast his message”.

          Okaaaaaay. But we aren’t discussing that. We are discussing whether or not the media was hostile or fawning toward him. Whether or not Chavez used cadenas to get his message out is beside the point…. or at least to anyone with half a brain.

          • I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a political leader so viciously attacked by the media in my life. He literally had almost 100% of the media against him for much of his career.

            If I were independent media being dictated to, to the extent that Chávez did – for much of his political career, routinely cutting into that media’s programming through forced broadcast links and other methods, you can be sure that that independent media would be against Chávez.

            Keep spinning, okaaaay?

          • Uh, again, irrelevant. We’re talking about those “fawning headlines” referred to in the post, remember syd? I know it’s hard to stay focused, but I’m (not) sure you can if you really try.

      • How do you measure that %? By number of “outlets” not registered as state media? Apparently.

        Most Venezuelans hardly read newspapers and if they do, they read tabloids. Newspapers critical of the military caste and boliburgueses didn’t reach many. Radios critical of the regime hardly could be listened outside the Panamericana.
        After 2006 RCTV closure Venezuelans without cable had nothing else…Venevisión etc started to broadcast more baseball, soap operas and reduce any criticism until there was hardly anything.

        But yeah, keep counting them all.

      • well the regime have fixed that problem alredy, they own half the media and the other half is either submissive or scared, now the situation of the country is worse, who could have thought

    • Jesus F. Christ, you are well and truly uninformed, Garth2.

      Actually, Accion Democratica is the only political party in modern Venezuela to have one president (Betancourt & Leoni) hand over to another from his party (Lusinchi & CAP II). The rest of the time it’s been alternating between AD and COPEI.

      Plus, what do you have against AD? Most of Chavismo are resentful former ADECOS!

      And yes, comparing oil at $14/barrel to $100/barrel is truly apples to apples. (NOT)

      No one questions whether or not Chavez was successful at the ballot box, the piece states that in his (Monaldi’s) opinion the margins should have been wider.

      At this point, it is moot. Chavez is a wax doll who died in December 2 years ago, making anything decreed after his death on December 30, and “signed” by him completely challengeable whenever we get a fair judicial system in place.

      • Uh, okay, most of what you said is completely irrelevant to what I said, so I’ll skip to the only relevant thing you said.

        “comparing oil at $14/barrel to $100/barrel is truly apples to apples.”

        Actually in real terms and per capita terms they aren’t very different at all. In fact, I’ve seen some analysis that says the first boom is still larger than the second in real terms.

        • Well, you said: “What are you basing this on? Accion Democratica failed to even get reelected in 1978, right in the middle of the largest oil boom in Venezuelan history.”

          So try to keep up with what you say, it’s in your job description and everything. Like.

    • Accion Democratica failed to even get reelected in 1978, right in the middle of the largest oil boom in Venezuelan history.
      Except that the accepted model for the Fourth Republic was alternation in power between AD and COPEI. AD’s losing simply followed the pattern. Moreover, 1978 was a bit of a lull year, after the big oil price jump in 1973 and before the next big oil price jump in 1979.

      • That’s a nice try a making an excuse, but it falls flat on its face. Yes, there was a power agreement, but that doesn’t mean that each party didn’t prefer to win the elections over the other party and remain in power!!!

        The fact of the matter was that CAP was largely unpopular by 1978, and his party suffered as a result. Hard to explain that since he governed during a massive oil boom unlike anything ever seen in Venezuela before.

        • “The fact of the matter was that CAP was largely unpopular by 1978, and his party suffered as a result.”

          Not really. CAP was still very popular in 1978. And he kept being popular up until 1988, which is why he got elected again in that year. AD lost in 1978 mainly because its candidate, Luis Piñerua Ordaz, was pretty lame, Copei made a couple of smart moves (including a few alliances) and Luis Herrera, with his Llanero way of speaking, gained the sympathy of many people.

          • Uh, yes really. Nice try rewriting history, but you’ve got it flat backwards:

            “Towards the end of his first term in office, Pérez’s reputation was tarnished by accusations of excessive, and disorderly, government spending. His administration was often referred to as Saudi Venezuela for its grandiose and extravagant ambitions. In addition, there were allegations of corruption and trafficking of influence, often involving members of Pérez’s intimate circle, such as his mistress Cecilia Matos, or financiers and businessmen who donated to his election campaign, known as the “Twelve Apostles”. A well-publicized rift with his former mentor Betancourt and disgruntled members of AD all pointed to the fading of Perez’s political standing. By the 1978 elections, there was a sense among many citizens that the influx of petrodollars after 1973 had not been properly managed. The country was importing 80% of all foodstuffs consumed. Agricultural production was stagnant. The national debt had skyrocketed. And whilst per capita income had increased and prosperity was evident in Caracas and other major cities, the country was also more expensive and a significant minority of Venezuelans were still mired in poverty. This malaise led to the defeat of AD at the polls by the opposition Social Christian Party. The newly elected president, Luis Herrera Campíns, famously stated in his inaugural speech that he was “inheriting a mortgaged country.”

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlos_Andr%C3%A9s_P%C3%A9rez

            His reelection in 1988 had more to do with people’s yearning for a return to the more prosperous times of the 1970s oil boom. But, again, nice try rewriting things to fit your ideology.

    • There was a solid commodity boom, yes, but oil absolutely exploded after 1978.

      Average Oil Prices (in 2014 Dollars)
      71-74 $28
      75-78 $54
      79-82 $90

      Regardless, I also think it’s questionable to assert that Chavez under performed electorally relative to the commodity boom he was fortunate enough to be in office for. There are just so many factors involved.

      I think a better argument would be that Chavez under performed significantly (after 2004) when you consider the massive commodity boom AND his illegal and unrestrained use of state resources to assist in his electoral campaigns AND his systematic elimination of critical TV channels.

      • Yes, he certainly “underperformed” by going virtually undefeated in literally dozens of elections over a period of more than a decade.

        And yes, he “underperformed” by not only winning, but by crushing his opponents by margins completely unheard of before in Venezuelan history.

        But, hey, let’s try to paint things in ways that fit our agenda, right?

    • CAP was not for reelection. If he was polls showed he would have won. In fact that is why he was eventually upstopable in 1988. The evidence of correlation between booms and popularity and reelection is pretty good. Look for a recent paper by Campello. It even works for governors in US states that are bog oil producers.

  5. When a guy carries on a monologue for 5-6 hours at a time on national television, silver tongue starts to have the ring of tin and the aura of narcissistic craziness. You’d think hindsight would clarify things for most people, but it hasn’t. What strange things oil and politics produce.

  6. O.T. (maybe): Suppose, just suppose mind you, that the U.S. announced that they would be sending an American Expo to visit various cities in Venezuela to promote American Ideals and Culture and “feature exhibits demonstrating the achievements made by in social, political, economic, cultural, scientific and technological fields” during the last 240 years of the American Revolution. How would the Venezuelan government react and respond? I am pretty sure I, and everyone else here can guess exactly how.

    Well, that is exactly what the Venezuelan government planning to do in the U.S.: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Real-Venezuela-Expo-to-Visit-US-Cities-20150304-0008.html

    Of course the reaction of the U.S. government will be nothing more than a shrug and a “Well, what are you gonna do?” expression. It’d be fun to see them try to mount this Expo in Miami. The police might have to send riot police to protect them from Venezuelan expats.

  7. Chavez was always making bombastic speeches designed to appeal to the poor and uniformed. Most of his grandiose schemes never amounted to anything, were never carried to fruition, and were conveniently ignored as soon as he dreamed up some new scheme to waste billions in oil money, the same money he foolishly assumed would never run out from his enemy the gringos with deep pockets. The sad thing is what could have been done with the money with wise investment and economic growth instead of hair-brained schemes. The Chavistas came to power by exploiting race and class hatred (as Marxists always try to do), and they will go out of power being hated by many in turn. 60-70 people murdered every day and no coffins to bury them. 3 hours in line at the supermarket to get to fight with other people to claim a loaf of bread. Students being murdered by Cuban snipers for daring to protest in socialist utopia. Mass exodus of the talented and freedom-loving populace that should make up Venezuela’s future. This is Chavez’s true legacy

  8. the fact that Chavez underperformed is easy to explain, he never cared about the country, his focus was solely in divide and conquer, he only cared for having 50% + 1 person forever, no project (como vaya viniendo vamos viendo), a cabinet full of thugs, and unsustainable policies. Chavismo only is another example that you can potencially eternally fail and still win if you have complicity of all institutions that hold any power, you don’t even need charisma anymore.

      • please tell us more about how perfect the comandante was, I mean, you are no longer able to deny the crisis, you just blame it on the traitorous fascist corrupt relentless coup-mongerer right wing international illuminaty mason sionist conspiracy. Please PLEASE, we are anxious to read it.

  9. Have you not got anything better to do than to try and dig something up to discredit Chavez, Nagel?

    I guess if Chavez underperformed then the opposition must have been a total shamles in the context of his underperforming.

    Even now the opposition will be lucky to win the same number of seats in the AN as they did in 2010 – and the commodity boom has ended.

    So if chavismo wins by 10 points or more in face of lower oil rpices and a failed currency, how does your intellectual friend explain that? Because chavismo will win easily in December.

    Read my latest article and learn something. Reality check for wishful thinkers http://axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/Article_69550.shtml

    • you could not even get more than a 2% margin even in the middle of Chavez’s freakin massive sentimental funeral, you’re not even trying to be serious

      • A bunch of stuff happened after that.

        Guarimbas. Opposition divide between Capriles & Leopoldo. FMI. Maria Violencia messing everything up for the opposition. And Copei. And Capriles. And Tintori talking about Chavez’s Legacy. And CC/Thor-front hardline_meritocracy->??? jump (even Chuo received instructions to chastise ‘populism’ last year–poor fella has to cope with bipolars running the show.)

        The opposition doesn’t know if it’s a caterpillar or a butterfly or a norwegian trustfundie’s personal project.

        • I guess it is a possibility, but with hyperinflation here to stay and complete goverment incompetence to fix anything, it would seem hard for the opposition to get less than 50% of popular vote, even with all public institutions illegally working for a goverment win. I don;t think that jailing more polititians will help and it does not seem that the resources exist to do a new dakazo. The goverment will focus on the much easier goal of getting more seats wich they can achive without the main cities

    • “Reality check for wishful thinkers”

      Do you sleep well at night churning out ridiculous propaganda while Venezuelans live in a nightmare of fear, privation, and humiliation?

      • Propaganda and bullets are much cheaper than actual investments for people’s development and improvement of life quality, that way there’s a lot more dollars to plunder and pocket.

  10. Its said that blueard was really popular with the ladies , just as Hitler was popular with the german masses and Mao was adored by millions of Chinese , Stalin’s death was wept by almost all of russia , which gets me to wondering that there is a sycopphant element in every country which can be seduced into idiotization by charming demagogues , snake charmers and snake oil salesmen. Though the use of deceit and sordid manipulation.

    The true measure of a leader is not how popular he once was , because sometimes popularity, in certain circumstances can be had on the cheap . instead the true measure of a leader is the enduring legacy he leaves behing in terms of the increased welfare and freedom of the people he once ruled , There is no doubt that Chavez judged under this criteria was a failed leader , not only a show off loud mouth ninconcoop but a corrupter and destroyer of lives !! Sometimes I think with glee I can imagine his screams from the bowels of hell !!

    • “…instead the true measure of a leader is the enduring legacy he leaves behind in terms of the increased welfare and freedom of the people he once ruled…”

      Yes, facts and reality are the best measuring rod for those so-called “leaders”.

  11. “The reason he was not able to do so? He was simply too radical for Venezuelans, too far off the political center. He was also a terrible manager.”

    Less words, better content: “HE WAS FULL OF HATRED.”

    In fact, he was one of the most hateful persons ever to live in this country, who gladly pulled the reins of millions of angry people misguided by their own bile to seize power and destroy everything here.

    As much vilification CAP would get from the neurotic reds, the thing that most infuriates them is that the gocho never had any rancor nor ever gave any hatred-filled speech to instigate aggression against his political opponents, neither did most of the other presidents of the infamous 4th.

    The wax doll, on the other hand, in each broadcast of his allmighty communications and censor hydra, shoved down the venezuelan’s throats tons of vitriol, rage and hatred, each day, at each hour, in all the mediam everytime he opened his gaping face.

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