It’s virtually impossible to argue that Venezuela’s former despot Hugo Chavez was bad at his job. Not as president, but as a tyrant.
He maintained absolute power in the clutches of his fleshy fingers by smothering the crises of unemployment, dire infrastructure, inflation, everyday peril, insufficient healthcare, and general civilian abuse rife in the country he should have respected.
With a blinkered sense of entitlement he somehow managed to suffocate even the tiniest amount of opposition with his fat hand of corruption and what has been termed “petrol populism” – a cult of personality built on the dependency of civilians on the state, and which legitimised society’s shortcomings. Because look! Selling oil at $99 a barrel, life is clearly great for everyone. What a saviour Señor Chavez was.
But since his death last year it seems that the world is beginning to see the remnants of his legacy begin to ooze out like a split tomato. Petrol populism worked under Chavez and Chavez alone; under his successor Nicolàs Maduro, this once obscured social suffering is now boiling to the surface where it is being observed and dispersed by the global media.
Right now, Maduro (whose name ironically translates as ‘mature’) is fruitlessly attempting to suppress a national uprising, which has taken form in violent protests in major cities, by trying to magic away the media to avoid social calamity, and at the same time, melodramatically pronouncing himself as the victim of a coup. If neither of these frantic endeavours demonstrates instability, public, political or otherwise, I don’t know what does.
Venezuela has, since around the mid-1970s, been a country of hidden traumas which thrived under the nationalisation of their oil goldmine and the gaping inequalities which it enshrined. But today, doctors and patients are demanding a better quality of healthcare, journalists are calling out for paper to print on, commentators are claiming the right to access information, and the ordinary guys are sick to the back teeth with food shortages, joblessness, and the extreme likelihood of being shot at point blank range (24,763 homicides were recorded just last year). These formerly unspoken problems are now being broadcast internationally. Without Chavez to sit on it all, the ugly side of life in Venezuela is beginning to show itself to the world.
It just goes to show how rapidly public discord can swell to uncontrollable proportions when power changes hands. Perhaps all a society needs to feel is that there will be a window of opportunity for long-awaited upheaval. Of course, Chavez chose the man he believed would best sustain his demonic reign of terror, but maybe that just wasn’t enough.