03/06/13 - USA TODAY - Hugo Chavez, a man best ignored: Our view
U.S. successfully waited out antagonizing leftist Venezuelan leader.
Few Americans will lament the passing of Hugo Chavez, the charismatic
leftist leader who relentlessly antagonized the United States during 14
years ruling Venezuela. But the more significant fact might be that few
will even care.
Chavez, who died of cancer Tuesday at 58, spent his career trying to be a
latter-day Fidel Castro, to whom he was both protégé and patron. He
nationalized Venezuela's oil industry, lambasted Yankee meddling (real and
invented) in South America, allied with Cuba to spread the Castro creed and
subsidize the failing Cuban economy. But with one brief exception -- tacit
support for a failed coup that briefly deposed Chavez in 2002 -- the United
States avoided taking the bait.
It launched no trade embargo like the one against Cuba. It spewed no
vitriol to match Chavez's steady stream of invective. For the most part, it
avoided meddling in Venezuela's internal affairs, leaving its people to
live with their democratically elected choice.
And in so doing, it deprived Chavez of the weapon he most needed to attain
his ambition: spreading his "Bolivarian revolution" throughout Latin
America. Without an active U.S. foil, he could not as easily exploit the
region's long-standing anti-American grievances.
That's not to say that he didn't try, or that he didn't attain some
Brazil, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Argentina have leftist leaders
allied to one degree or another with Chavez and Castro. They all share
Chavez's ambitions, but lacking his charisma and Venezuela's oil wealth,
they're even less likely to succeed. If the post-Cold War emergence of
stable, economically successful democracies in the region continues,
they'll eventually be replaced.
Even in Venezuela, Chavez's legacy is in doubt. His chosen successor, Vice
President Nicolas Maduro, faces a stiff challenge from a Chavez opponent in
elections expected next month. Maduro might win with sentiment and Cuban
support, but compared with Chavez, he is a relatively bland figure unlikely
to be another "president for life."
In fact, it could well turn out that Chavez's legacy will be a familiar and
pedestrian one: that of the popular leader who came to power democratically
then behaved more like a dictator, claiming virtually all power for himself
and leaving behind little but instability. South America has seen it
Before World War II, Argentina was as wealthy as the United States. By the
time it disposed of Juan Peron, a populist of the Chavez sort, just more
corrupt, it was a basket case.
The lesson for the United States is that absent a direct threat like the
Cuban missile crisis of 1962, our southern neighbors should be left to find
their own way, even if it is dead wrong. Chavismo, like its many
ideological predecessors, will eventually fail.
Had the United States historically taken such a hands-off approach,
anti-Americanism would be far less of a problem in the hemisphere today.
Had it taken that approach with Cuba for the past 50 years, the U.S. would
have spared itself and Cubans a lot of needless grief. Instead, it imposed
an embargo that has achieved nothing other than to give Castro an excuse
for his failures.
The lesson to be learned about the Chavez era is that populist leftists
are permanently woven into South America political fabric, and the best way
to handle them is to wait them out and let them fail on their own.
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