It's been two weeks since former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died, and acting president Nicolas Maduro implied U.S. involvement in an alleged plan to assassinate Henrique Capriles, his rival in the upcoming elections. However, Capriles assured that if anyone's really responsible for plotting against his life, it's Maduro.
The word maduro means "mature" in Spanish. But it can also mean "ripe" or "ready." And sure, Maduro's name serves as ideal fodder for wordplay, but the irony transcends the presidency. Because, let's face it, even assuming Venezuela picks a more moderate and — say — "mature" choice in the upcoming elections, is the nation truly ripe for that change?
Since my earliest recollection of this revolutionary mess, I've always believed the answer was no.
When I first heard of Chavez, he was already gaining momentum in the 1998 elections. His support came from the lower class and, perhaps most importantly, the pissed-off-enough middle class.
I was raised by the latter. My great aunt didn't particularly like Chavez, and she rightfully predicted the long-lasting, negative change he'd bring to the country. Yet when the time came, she voted Chavez.
When I asked why, she would ask me if I remembered 1989, when president Carlos Andres Perez's systematic corruption led to violent riots known as "El Caracazo," or "the big one in Caracas." During those protests, Perez's orders brought on hundreds of civilian deaths and broke numerous constitutional amendments. Three years later, Chavez took arms in a failed coup attempt against Perez.
Perez was ultimately impeached. Chavez was jailed, rose to fame, became pardoned, took power, mixed it up a bit (euphemism) and died. Now the country faces an identity crisis in its leadership, amid many other crises caused by the overzealous policies of a dead dictator.
The moral here is a painful truth for Venezuelans: Chavez was bad, but Chavez didn't create Chavez. A faulty system created Chavez. A disenfranchised people created Chavez. The human urge to throw a brick through the window of those who steal from us created Chavez. All he did was exploit that urge.
And boy, has it been exploited. I have relatives in Venezuela who lived in the cerros, low-quality housing in the hills, and they received free housing from the government. They swear their lives to Chavez. They're even eligible to money handed down through a remittance program. In fact, I'm eligible to some of that money. All I need is my Venezuelan passport.
Yes, even I, all the way from the U.S., can throw an allegorical brick through the window of the bourgeoisie establishment. I too can be a revolutionary.
Of course, none of this comes in vain. That lower class demographic from 1998 still loves Chavez and anything approved by him. As for the pissed-off-enough middle class? They're more confused and scared than anything, and even if they were pissed off enough, there doesn't seem to be enough of them to make the necessary difference.
But let's assume Capriles can win. Then what? We still have a monumental amount of angry chavistas who will view this new leadership as a throwback to that same faulty system that predated Chavez's era, just for disagreeing with Chavez. To them, the revolution must go on, even if it's been running stale for 14 years, lest they go back to what they were prior to Chavez's rise to power: a class with no speaker, no warrior.
As for the opposition, the hope is that Capriles simply gets in power and changes not only his people's morale, but also the world's trust. Venezuela needs to provide security to world investors, which creates Venezuelan jobs. There's also the oil, which would be privatized to enhance a more open free market (however, see: faulty system, Perez). These things could maybe subsequently bring back the value of the bolivar. Maybe.
Still, it's safe to assume that, in times of political strife, the road to hell is always paved with good intentions, just as it was back in 1998. Maduro will probably win, but Maduro or not, Venezuela's continued history of corruption persists as a dark cloud over its progress. All I hope is that the people, not just the future president, are aware of it.