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Chavez’s legacy

Tennyson Joseph

Chavez’s legacy

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Amidst all that has been written following the untimely death of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, the most enduring lesson from the globally televised images of his funeral and attendant mourning was the extent to which the possibilities of socialism had been restored and enlarged in the intervening years between the collapse of European communism and the political emergence and eventual death of Chavez.
Whilst it can be argued that the globalization of public sympathy and celebration of his life and work was a consequence of advances in technology rather than proletarian consciousness, there is little doubt that the natural support for a socialist cause, evidenced in the inability by a hostile Western media to “write out” the Chavez story, has been one of the remarkable features of the world that he has left behind. No Soviet or Eastern European communist leader, after Lenin, could have been celebrated in this manner.
It is clear therefore that the world has changed much between 1989, when the Soviet Union fell, and 2013, when Chavez fell. From a false euphoric triumph of the “death of Marxism” in the 1990s, global capitalism and its attendant ideology of neoliberalism have lurched from crisis to crisis and by 2008 found itself resorting to the very state-interventionist methods that it had always opposed.  Today, all objective indicators suggest that this crisis is expected to deepen.
It is in this context of a crisis of global capitalism and in his demonstration of practical alternatives for Latin America and the Caribbean that the legacy of Hugo Chavez can be most clearly seen.  In a very real sense, all claims to the “death of socialism” have always been premised on the absence of practical alternatives to the capitalist reality.
The supreme legacy of Hugo Chavez was his deliberate use of the wealth and power of Venezuela to carve practical trade and institutional structures which could serve as alternatives to hegemonic neoliberal capitalism.
The ALBA Bank, PetroCaribe, the Bolivarian unification of Latin America and the Caribbean as an alternative to NAFTA, the pursuit of new international relations alternatives, are all examples of this effort.  Relatedly, Chavez was able to provide breathing space to a number of regional states whose internal policies have not been limited to toeing the lines that they imagine have been laid out for them by global hegemons.
Thus Cuba was able to hold its revolution together, while countries like St Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica have been able to pursue previously unattainable internal development, housing and tourism projects. In Latin America, Chavez has been the catalyst for the emergence of a new anti-neoliberal group (Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua), whose social policies point to a new future.
Undoubtedly, Chavez therefore leaves behind a far more progressive, united and humane region than the one he inherited. Forward ever!
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs. Email [email protected]