Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Mar 05/13 | Hugo Chávez is dead, "Here be dragons"

Apres moi le deluge

PMBComment | Hugo Chávez (1954-2013) will be eulogized - and even lionized, today, but his misdeeds will take years to mend. He was a rude divider and a reckless weaver of myth and chaos. Some will miss him dearly, many will not shed a tear. What group you fall into depends on your understanding of or stance on Venezuelan political history, on whether you were on the receiving end of his control-free largess or the butt of his relentless vitriol and vindictiveness, on your views of the necessity or the perniciousness of self-appointed societal or global avengers. It all depends. I have no doubt where I stand. 

In February of 1998, months before the election that he won as a result of the most unbelievable accumulation of errors on the part of Venezuela's exhausted political and business elites, I had a unique opportunity to meet Lt. Col. Chávez. He crashed a lunch I was having in my house with a close family friend who had crossed all sorts of lines to become one of the closest aides to the failed coupster. Uninvited, and to some extent unwelcome, he ended up staying 7 hours. At the time, I was a member of the Board of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and Chávez was intent on understanding everything about oil despite the fact that it was clear he had made up his mind on these all-too-critical matters without concern for geology, economics or fact. After a tense start, the conversation evolved well, he was attentive and took copious notes, his follow up questions showed that he had assimilated information even if it went against his obvious bias. 

Fours hours into our conversation, we touched on the subject of the December elections. Polls showed that two years after being graciously released from jail - without limits on his political rights - he had only 3% support (this in fact had been President Caldera's gamble when releasing him). He said that he expected to use this as a trail to be ready for a serious run in 2002, I ventured to say: "Hugo, you will probably win in December". He was shocked and said it was impossible. Let me tell you what I have seen in you during these hours, I said. "You are unexpectedly charming, very quick on your feet, you are endowed with what an uncle of mine used to call 'an encyclopedic ignorance' and you are totally irresponsible...and this Hugo, is an unbeatable combination at a time when many Venezuelans are seeking a break from what AD and Copei have become. Some will underestimate you, others will overestimate you and no one will be able to tell when you are lying - not even you!". He was aghast but pleased. 

I continued, "The problem here is that if you win, which I am willing to bet will be the case, you will not be the solution to Venezuela's problem but the embodiment of them...your election will prove that forty years of democratic experiment has yielded very little as nothing reflects better the state of a country than its choice of leaders. So, if they pick automatically win your own argument as to the state of our democracy". Interestingly he was not offended and actually teased his friend (who went on to high offices) "You see Colonel, Pedro Mario thinks we have more chances than you". "Indeed", I retorted "but keep in mind that we will then be left to rebuild our country over your dead body". 

I never met Hugo Chavez again. I made up my mind on the spot. I warned many, some heeded the warnings, others did not. Over the last 14 years I have written and spoken profusely about the events as they occurred and the future they purported. There is no joy in having been right, I would much rather have been wrong, even very wrong. But that is not the case. We now enter uncharted territory, the sort Google Earth would do well to label "Here be dragons". That my dear friends is not a legacy, that is a tragedy. PMB

For 140 characters: @pburelli 

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