What does Hugo Chavez's election victory mean for Venezuela's place in the world?by Guy Taylor / December 16, 2006 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2006 issue of Prospect Magazine
Hugo Chávez’s sweeping election win may be read as a simple mandate for the demagogic Venezuelan leader to push on with his plans to transform his country with what he calls “21st-century socialism,” designed to empower the impoverished masses with state-controlled oil profits, as described in my article last week. But for the region and the world, his victory could mean much more.
With Fidel Castro nearing death, Chávez’s victory solidifies his position of leadership among a growing number of leftist Latin American leaders eager to buck—or at least talk about bucking—a neoliberal economic model thrust upon the region by the US after the cold war. Chávez has “reaffirmed his standing as the leading opponent of US hegemony in the hemisphere,” says Daniel Hellinger, a US-based Latin America expert. Rafael Correa and Daniel Ortega have recently been elected presidents of Ecuador and Nicaragua respectively. Chávez can be expected to enjoy a similarly cosy ideological alliance with these two to that which he maintains with Evo Morales, elected president of Bolivia last year, who has called US capitalism “the worst enemy of humanity.” Chávez also enjoys friendly relations with Brazil’s recently re-elected liberal president Lula da Silva.
But he has butted heads with centrists who have come to power in Peru and Chile over the past year, and the president of Venezuela’s neighbour Columbia, Álvaro Uribe, is a leading ally of the US. Nevertheless, Hellinger argues that, “Chávez has some prospects for advancing his own vision of hemispheric unity,” especially since the Bush administration finds itself “severely weakened” by developments elsewhere in the world. Such unity will be difficult, though, according to Hellinger, “without political change in Mexico,” where US-allied conservative Felipe Calderon was recently sworn in as president despite ongoing protests from leftis…