Časopis pro politiku a mezinárodní vztahy

Global Politics

Časopis pro politiku a mezinárodní vztahy

Hugo Chávez and the Future of Latin America

Hugo Chávez's death gave rise to many questions and speculations about the future of international relations within Latin America as well as about the traditional socialist left which had been represented especially by the Cuban political regime and Venezuela under Chávez. The geopolitical concerns were supplemented by a rich media coverage that often announced a new period of Venezuelan and Latin American politics. The current symposium brings opinions of experts on these matters and tries to help to understand them.

1. Will the distribution of power in Latin America be significantly changed after Hugo Chavez or has the influence of his death been overestimated by media?

2. What will the future be like for ideological anti-US and anti-Western liberal order sentiments in Latin America and worldwide after the death of Hugo Chavez?

Philip Oxhorn (McGill University, Montreal)

  1. Rather than a change in the distribution of power, there will be a vacuum. This is because Chavez's power was more symbolic than anything, and there is no one with his charisma to play the role of representing the Left in the region. Given Venezuela's e­conomic situation, countries dependent on its largesse may suffer, especially Cuba, but that won't affect the real distribution of power. Similarly, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) which he founded and led will undoubtedly be weakened, but its influence was limited anyway. Looking at the elections of his successor, it is now very clear that his legacy is being challenged in Venezuela, suggesting a much more rapid decline in the continued influence of the kind of policies he championed in the region than anyone would have predicted.
  2. They've lost most outspoken representative. Such sentiments will not disappear, but they will wane for at least 2 reasons. First is the relative moderation of the US policies under Obama. Second, as the recent elections in Venezuela confirmed, much will depend now on the capacity of leaders to focus such sentiments around concrete and effective policies. Chavez's inability to do so meant problems accumulated in Venezuela, which explains the lackluster performance of his designated heir in those elections. Chavez was a master of rhetoric, but without his personal charisma, that will no longer suffice.

David Scott Palmer (Boston University)

  1. Hugo Chávez was a tireless if not flamboyant defender of “21st Century Socialism”, roughly defined as expanding the role of the state at home and establishing strategic anti-imperialist alliances world-wide as well as sub-regional organizations in Latin America. It is doubtful that his chosen successor, Nicolás Maduro, will have the same success in spite of his stated intention to follow in his mentor’s footsteps, as populism, even of the self-defined revolutionary type, is rarely transferable. He is faced with serious economic and social problems at home that will be very hard to overcome by continuing Chavista policies. Regionally, however, it is likely that such entities as ALBA and UNASUR, as well as Venezuela’s con­cessionary oil arrangements in the Caribbean and Central America, will continue, though for UNASUR at least probably under more moderate leadership.
  2. However dramatic the anti-imperialist rhetoric of Comandante Chávez, there are only a few Latin American countries and others in the world which actually follow that line in practice. The forces of globalization, as manifest in the communications revolution and the internationali­zation of market economies, commerce, and investment post-Cold War, make it unlikely that anti-U.S and anti-Western liberal order ideological formulations will prevail. In Latin America, only Bolivia, Ecuador, and Argentina pursue elements of such an approach to governance, and even there the liberal order dominates in practice. Even Venezuela under Chávez retained close commercial relationships with the U.S. which actually grew during his tenure in office. The real challenge to the West today is not ideological but religious, and is found primarily among such non-state actors as Muslim fundamentalist groups and movements.

Natasha Ezrow (University of Essex)

  1. Though Hugo Chávez was one of the most important leaders in Latin America, his death will not have significant implications on the distribution of power in Latin America. Venezuela has always been an important state in Latin America simply because it always has had a sizable amount of oil and has been a member of OPEC since 1960. Venezuela was and is one of the major players in Latin America, though never as powerful as Brazil, Argentina, Chile or Mexico. Therefore, his death should not change the distribution of power. To illustrate this, though Chávez forged close relationships with states that like Iran, Syria and Cuba, throughout his tenure, trade with the US remained higher than ever. He had more bark than bite and the media was captivated by him.
  2. Around 10–15 years ago a new Left emerged in Latin America (most notably in Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay) that supported a pragmatic style of leadership that did not ignore the needs of the poor while still creating an environment that would be favorable to business and trade. Thus, the dominant force in Latin America was and still is the power of the new Left, which has tended to avoid either criticizing or praising the US and the West. As the most vocal mouthpiece against the US and the Western liberal order, Chávez’s death leaves a void in the sense that few leaders in Latin America will vocally criticize the US and its policies as blatantly and honestly as Chávez did. The most critical of the US will continue to be Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador and the Castro regime in Cuba, but none of these leaders will garner as much attention from the media as Chávez.

Andrés Malamud (University of Lisbon)

  1. Not only Chávez, whether alive or dead, but the power of leadership is generally overrated in Latin America. In normal times, the distribution of power among nations hinges on material capabilities – such as population size, GDP and military strength – and soft resources – such as cultural attraction, technological forwardness and political innovation. Chávez’s Venezuela enjoyed just one material resource – oil at all-time high prices – and one soft resource – charismatic leadership. Now that the US, Venezuela’s main commercial partner, hints at energy self-sufficiency, the passing away of the Bolivarian leader leaves the country deprived of any chips at international power tables. In a country impoverished by means of the “resource curse”, domestic power struggles might additionally diminish Venezuela’s in­fluence abroad.
  2. Anti-American sentiment is more dependent on American actions than on its opponents’. Closing Guantanamo and lifting the embargo on Cuba would do more good to the US global image than the demise of Hugo Chávez, Ahmadinejad or any other of its most vocal detractors. However, as long as the powerful exist, there will be underdogs that resent them. Anti-Western sentiments will only recede with the decline of the West and the emergence of new powers that, either for good reasons or without them, needy leaders choose to hate in order to galvanize their domestic front.

Rickard Lalander (Stockholm University)

  1. I believe that the symbolical legacy of Hugo Chávez will remain for a long time in Latin America. Right now – in April-May 2013 – the domestic political scenario of an aggressive political opposition demanding that the April 14th elections should be nullified and that new presidential elections should be held, complicates the short and long-term impacts in Latin America. However, Chávez was a myth already in life, and continues to be a symbol of anti-imperialist resistance throughout the continent and beyond. Whether media has overestimated his death depends on where you place the analytical focus. On the one hand, Chávez has indeed embodied the process of transformation, which from one angle might be interpreted as a weakness of the political movement, i.e. being so dependent on one person. However, at the same time millions of activists at grassroots level continue the work in community councils and other organizations. The slogan of Chavismo since January 2013 has been “Yo soy Chávez” (I am Chávez), i.e. following the logics that Chávez is the people and thus remains present. So, from that viewpoint, Chávez has not disappeared, but rather multiplied and become millions.
  2. I've touched this in the previous answer. I can only add that Chávez was not the only anti-US/anti-neoliberal spokesman of Latin America, although symbolically probably the most important one. Other leftist presidents such as Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador follow Chávez´s ideo­logical and discursive path, often quoting the words and ideas of Comandante Chávez.

Martin Hrabálek (Mendel University, Brno)

  1. Rather than power I would use the word influence. Chávez was a very influential leader with impact on the whole region of Latin America. He was able to support friendly regimes such as Cuba, Nicaragua and others. Maduro's regime will be able to build up on Chávez's heritage and on vast incomes of Venezuelan oil. Yet I doubt the current regime will be able to influence politics in western hemisphere as the previous did, due to the lack of charisma of the leader and also due to a much lower support of the Venezuelan people for current government.
  2. There are other influential leaders in the region, such as Evo Morales in Bolivia or Rafael Correa in Ecuador. Those are able to raise the flag of the abovementioned sentiments, yet both of them lack the base of oil-rich Venezuela. In some of the countries in the region, anti-U.S. feelings are still high. The fact is that Latin America is currently undergoing significant changes as regards economic development and is gaining more stable position in the global environment. Having said that, we might state that the U.S. influence on the affairs of the Western hemisphere is lower than it used to be. We might expect further reconfiguration of relations between the U.S. and Latin America in the future.

Šárka Moravcová (Institute of International Relations, Prague)

  1. The answer to both questions is – no. There will be no fundamental redistribution of power since his follower, President Nicolas Maduro, will try to keep continuity. One of his main ace cards in the election campaign was preservation of Chavez’s internal socialist politics of lavish welfare, and foreign policy of anti-neoliberal regionalism. Thus, in the following years, no radical turn can be expected in domestic, regional or wider international politics. Venezuela as a geopolitically strong player may influence a general regional ideological and economic orientation, however, there is a visible preservation of a cooperation with the traditional local allies – leftist states such as Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua or Ecuador. At the same time, Hugo Chaves was a strong leader and huge personality, no matter how controversial in the Western world. In this sense, the media have not exaggerated the decline of the strong charismatic leadership as a general ongoing phenomenon in Latin America, starting with the departure of Fidel Castro and continuing with the death of Chavez.
  2. In the context of the previous comment, it is obvious that Venezuela under Maduro will continue the anti-US and anti-Western campaign. The very first steps of the new president have been very hostile towards the US and reflect further deterioration of mutual relations. As Maduro publically accused the US of the death of Chavez and expelled two high-ranking diplomats from the country, there is no visible attempt to change the radical anti-Western policy. However, Maduro won’t be able to attract such international publicity, neither regional sympathies, as his rhetoric is not as strong and influential as his predecessor’s. The course of Venezuela's foreign policy will depend on Maduro's ability to uphold his mandate because the opposition led by Henrique Capriles promotes a different foreign policy path (including improvement with the west and turn away from non-democratic allies such as Iran). At present, it is clear that Venezuela will preserve its anti-US position.
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Aleš Karmazin
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20. 5. 2013