The underachiever

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.