IN 1999, newly-elected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez promised his people that he will lead the Bolivarian revolution— a term inspired by the 19th century Latin American cult revolutionary Simon Bolivar.
Thirteen years later, after triumphing at the presidential polls for the third consecutive time, Chavez is vociferously chanting the same populist slogan that his entire political career rests on. In one of the tightest electoral races, Chavez defeated his rival Henrique Capriles with 54 per cent of the presidential vote that witnessed a countrywide turnout of roughly 81 per cent. For another six years, the 58-year-old leader will be at the helm of affairs in Venezuela.
Chavez might be touting his victory as “perfect”, but the truth is that the first time in the new millennium, a substantial percentage of Venezuelans actually voted against him. It seems the appeal of his populist appeal is finally ebbing. Since the last decade, Chavez has been a very important figure in Latin American politics; his popularity during the 21st century have matched Fidel Castro’s. In fact, he heralded the revival of socialism in Latin America; later on, leftist leaders like Eva Morales and Rafael Correa were elected as presidents in Bolivia and Ecuador respectively. But it appears that many Venezuelans are tired of his fiery rhetoric and anti-Western disposition. It is true that Chavez changed Venezuela drastically— and for the better, in many ways. Due to the high prices of oil, he has been able to sustain a mammoth social welfare programme, comprising healthcare, public housing and educational schemes. But corruption, criminality and bureaucratic inefficiencies have also become rampant during his tenure.
Moreover, Chavez has concentrated power in his hands over the years, and has shown a strong unwillingness to ever give it up. His own United Socialist Party appears to have no political heirs who can succeed the influential president in the near future. Even poor health did not flounder his grip on power. Last year, Chavez announced that he has cancer and even though the exact details of his disease remain unknown, the President alleges that he has now fully recovered and is ready for his presidential duties.
And yet again, the controversial leader has achieved his goal for continuing his role as the paramount leader.
In his victory speech, the self-professed anti-imperialist has promised to be a better president. And he better do that — otherwise, the legacy of his Bolivarian revolution will fail to impress future generations.