Venezuela needs a visionaryHugo Chavez, whose death was pronounced March 5 was a Venezuelan strongman and a powerful force not only in his country but within the Latin American bloc. During his 14 years in power, he served as mentor and financier to leftist countries thanks to rich oil reserves. Venezuela is the world’s fifth-largest exporter of oil. Many socialist countries in the region - Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador - relied on Venezuelan oil and financial aid.
Oil was the keystone of the economy of Venezuela and the politics of Chavez. It paid for free education, food and medical care for the poor. Chavez preached and defined state socialism as “socialism of the 21st century” and “participatory democracy.” But at the end of the day, he capitalized on his country’s vast oil wealth to win and maintain power and attain his political goals, both at home and abroad.
But Venezuela has learned that a national development plan and distribution-oriented policy without long-term vision and consideration for the future happiness of the people can do more harm than good. Despite oil, the country has failed to make significant economic and industrial strides under Chavez, aside from increased oil production. Unemployment hovers at 12 percent and inflation is 20 percent. Chavez received his lowest level of support (54 percent) when he won his fourth term as president last year. The public was becoming disillusioned by his distorted and unorthodox economic development policies, and their leader ailing physically and politically.
The next president should seriously think about a new path for Venezuela. It has a good example right in the neighborhood. Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who had been a labor activist, became one of the most popular politicians at home and abroad through his moderate socialist policy of fighting poverty by promoting industry and business, and creating jobs. Under his rule, Brazil became one of the world’s leading emerging economies. If Venezuela had used its oil wealth to push ahead with infrastructure and industrial modernization, it too could have joined Brazil as a rising economy on a global scale. The country doesn’t need another revolutionary, but a visionary like Lula, who ended his second term with popularity rating of 87 percent in 2010.