Photo: Reuters retrieved

The association between Hugo Chávez’s and Nicolás Maduro’s governments has a particular political relevance nowadays. The matter has historical aspects and other facets that deal with the current struggle for a change of government.

To what point are the avatars we’re suffering under Maduro a consequence of what Chávez sowed?

The historical aspects have to do with factual events. Specifically, to what point are the avatars we’re suffering under Maduro a consequence of what Chávez sowed? The political aspects have to do with the relevance of the task that Venezuelans have in their hands now: discover a way to get rid of the current regime.

Out of a desire for coherence, we’d love for these two things to go hand in hand. That denouncing Chávez’s mistakes and the damage he caused was an element in the fight against the current government. But we have to consider the possibility that, for the time being, we must detach one thing from the other.

Historically speaking, I’m one of those who think that our situation is a consequence of what Chávez did during the fifteen years he was in office. During those long years, it was him who buried the time bombs that are currently blowing up in Maduro’s hands. They didn’t explode in his own hands for many reasons. Destructive processes take their time and, regardless of how serious our issues were before him, the Venezuela Chávez inherited had much to offer, for much had been built. Therefore, much had to be destroyed. Our country spent around seven decades modelling itself as a modern, democratic nation, the latter particularly in the last four. Sinking that ship couldn’t be done overnight. It can take fifteen years or more, especially if the modern, democratic country holds its ground as it did. In fact, Venezuela hasn’t yet been annihilated, and it won’t be.

The Venezuela Chávez inherited had much to offer, for much had been built. Therefore, much had to be destroyed.

We know another reason quite well: we savored the greatest oil boom in our history for several years. By the time Chávez died, the boom was starting to wear off, but the decline was just beginning. Chávez exploited this brief moment of prosperity, so the destruction was covered beneath the curtain of oil wealth. (This is especially clear in the case of PDVSA itself. Who could’ve imagined, without the proper knowledge, that the resplendent “PDVSA para todos” was being silently ravaged until it became the carapace it is today?)

So, the Barinas-born leader didn’t live the consequences of his own years in government. Some speculate about what he’d done in view of the circumstances his successor had to face. You can let your imagination roam free, but that’s not our purpose now.

In my view, what’s undeniable is that Chávez systematically and ceaselessly destroyed the country’s economic, institutional, international, political, cultural and psychological foundations, to the point that the already advanced destructive process combined with the decline in oil prices and output sent the country into our current freefall.

By then, Chávez was already gone and Nicolás Maduro stood in his place, the most incompetent president in our history. The destructive process, critically intensified by the oil situation, falls now on Maduro’s shoulders.

It’s hard to imagine someone less prepared to face a crisis such as the one this guy had to deal with. His administration has done nothing but deepen and speed up the crisis that his predecessor had ushered us in. We don’t need to go over this: we all live what’s been happening in Venezuela since 2013. What I really wanted to establish above is that the person who caused the crisis we’re experiencing was, indeed, Hugo Chávez and what he did during his fifteen years in office. I’m not denying that Maduro has added several elements of his own making, because that’d be unfair. In fact, he’s made decisive contributions that allow us to suffer the worst possible effects of what Chávez was already doing.

I’m not denying that Maduro has added several elements of his own making, because that’d be unfair.

Let’s study the other aspect now: the political struggle. We don’t have to take out Chávez’s government now, but Maduro’s. The country isn’t in a position to get history classes or explanations on how the foreign exchange controls imposed by the former government was the origin of the black market dollar’s current price. A good size of the huge majority of Venezuelans who want regime change were chavistas once. Many of them still love and pray for Chávez. Many of them still think that he was blameless for what’s happening. On top of this belief, there’s an undeniable fact: “We lived better with Chávez.” “In his government —some of them say— there were no CLAP boxes or carnet de la patria, and there would’ve never been,” they’d add.

The point now is whether, with respect to the effective political fight, we should detach Chávez from Maduro. Should we put aside the historical truth that the ultimate culprit of the madurista debacle was Chávez?

I believe this is the most pertinent option. We can regularly hear analysts and commentators who don’t miss a chance to mention Chávez’s responsibility in our current tragedy. Regarding historical truth, nothing is more accurate. That’s pretty clear for most of the population, so we’re not telling them anything new. And those who still don’t have it clear —but know we have to get rid of this government—would rather not hear that Chávez came before Maduro. They’re even less inclined to hear that “madurismo is the superior stage of chavismo,” to put it in the jargon pleasant to chavistas doctrinaires around.

So, we must talk about Maduro and his disaster. We shouldn’t bother anyone who wants to believe that Chávez has nothing to do with what his successor has done, if that helps them to join our fight for a change of government. Time will settle the scores and clear the debts, as it always does. For now: everyone and everything against Maduro.

In order for us to suffer the terrible effects of that destructive work as utterly as we’re suffering them, Chávez had to be succeeded by a man like Maduro.

On the other hand, perhaps we don’t need to drastically detach the full historical truth from the needs of the political fight. There can’t be a doubt about Chávez’s destructive work. But I think it’s also true that, in order for us to suffer the terrible effects of that destructive work as utterly as we’re suffering them, Chávez had to be succeeded by a man like Maduro. Surely it was possible, even back in 2013, to avoid the terrible future where the man from Sabaneta was taking us.

But with Maduro, that option was closed from the beginning. One of Chávez’s cruellest actions was to appoint him as his successor or worse yet, to lack anyone “better” to leave behind. So if we push Chávez aside and give all responsibility to the current ruler, we’re underscoring a substantial fact of historical truth: only a man like Maduro could ensure that the general ruin of the foundations Chávez built could be felt in such a painful and complete way.

That, among other things, is why we don’t need any other focus but to see the end of his government.

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Lawyer and political scientist. Founder of the School of Political Studies of the UCV, where he taught History of Political Ideas and the Venezuelan Political System. Individual of number of Venezuela's National Academy of History. Visiting Professor at St. Antony's College, Oxford University. Since 2000, he has been conducting the radio program La Linterna at RCR. He was Director of El Diario de Caracas and Deputy to the National Congress. He has published several books on Venezuelan political history, oil history, analysis of the Venezuelan political system.