Hugo Chavez, RIP

Today, we struggle to hold back tears. Another major world leader has bit the dust. Venezuela’s big man died. Some bleak corner of Hell took him in last Wednesday, if not before.

Hugo Chavez was such a great entertainer, he was bigger than life; real life was too small for him. He had to stretch the truth out…to bend the real world into a larger, more fantastic shape…to puff it up with hot air, until it could hold him.

In real life, people go about their business, taking what fortune sends their way and doing their best with it. That stage was much too restricted for Chavez. He aimed to play a more important role under a much bigger proscenium arch. Naturally, he took up politics, the refuge of all fantasists, and tried to overthrow the lawful Venezuelan government; he landed in jail.

The authorities let him out after a couple of years. He went right back to his mischief. A few years later and he was elected president of the country. But even that wasn’t enough. He conspired to twist the nation’s constitution to make himself ‘president for life’, which, in an act of divine mercy towards the Venezuelan people, ended last week.

Chavez was a great showman. He kept TV audiences entertained for hours, concocting a larger-than-life fairy tale about how terrible the foreign capitalists were and how his Bolivarian revolution was setting things straight.

Alas, his lines were written by hacks; perhaps he wrote them himself. It took a real A-list actor to deliver his speeches with a straight face. The idea of a 21st century socialism, for example, that he claimed to have invented himself, was so transparently hollow and self-serving that a lesser thespian would have been laughed off stage.

Chavez followed in a long South American tradition of crowd-pleasing strongmen. Like Peron, Castro and Melgarejo, he was not only a leader the masses could adore, he was also one they deserved.

Mariano Melgarejo has been largely forgotten. But he was one of the great standup guys of Bolivian politics. Like Chavez, he attempted a coup d’etat in 1854 against the legitimate dictatorship of the time. He was captured. He was tried and found guilty. That should have been the end of him, but he came out with a convincing argument for clemency; that he was drunk at the time and not responsible for his actions.

Melgarejo was pardoned by President Belzu. A few years later, just to show his gratitude, Melgarejo murdered the president himself. Then came a real tour-de-force of political theatre, illustrating not only Melgarejo’s magisterial stage presence but also the masses’ deep attachment to their leaders.

A crowd had gathered in front of the presidential palace demanding the return of Belzu. ‘Viva Belzu,’ they chanted.

Melgarejo appeared on the balcony. He had the dead body brought out and displayed to the crowd.

‘Who lives now?’ he asked them.

‘Viva Melgarejo,’ they replied.

Having whacked his rival, Melgarejo soon became perhaps the most disastrous leader in the history of South America, a hotly contested title. He is said to have signed the Treaty of Ayacucho with Brazil, in which he traded millions of acres of Bolivian territory for a ‘magnificent white horse’.

In 1870, France and Germany went to war. Hearing reports of the German assault on Paris, Melgarejo rushed to defend the City of Light. He reputedly could not locate it on a map, but he was fascinated by what he had heard of it.

So, he told his army to march to Europe. His military commanders informed him that they had no means to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Melgarejo replied, ‘Don’t be stupid! We will take a short cut through the brush!’

That was the sort of Bolivarian tradition to which Chavez was heir.

But Melgarejo was hardly the only legator. Chavez learned from Juan Peron too. Argentina had been one of the richest countries in the world, in the early 20th century. You can see the residue of it here today – broad, tree-lined avenues…and beautiful beaux arts, belle époque and arts nouveaux private buildings and public monuments. (The Argentines were great admirers of the French too!)

Now, Argentina is way down the list of the world’s richest countries. Today, it is number 54 on the CIA Factbook list, with Trinidad and Tobago, Equatorial Guinea and Greece far ahead of it. That, along with periodic financial crises, massive strikes, disappearances, and pointless wars, is the legacy given Argentina by Peron and his Peronist successors.

You’d think the gauchos and the portenos would have had enough of it by now. But they still elect Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the Peronist candidate…just as they voted for Chavez in Venezuela despite an economic record worthy of Mariano Melgarejo.

That’s what makes the masses so attractive to leaders like Chavez – they are incredibly stupid. Consumer prices rise faster in Caracas than even in Buenos Aires. Money changes hands on the black market at many times the official rate. The power goes out, too.

Despite being one of the world’s top oil producers, supplies are so tight, people are urged to take ‘socialist showers’ to conserve energy. And the murder rate is among the highest in the world, so high that even people from Baltimore are afraid to go there.

He made their lives more miserable, but the masses still loved him. Hugo Chavez paid for their affection. He took $100m in annual oil revenues and spread it around. Realising that it would go farther in poor neighbourhoods than in rich ones, he built his popular support on cash and claptrap.

And now he is gone. The performances have come to an end. The show’s over.

‘Now he belongs to the ages,’ said Secretary of War Stanton when Abe Lincoln died. Now Chavez belongs to the ages too, like Peron and Melgarejo.

Good riddance.


Bill Bonner
for Markets and Money

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Bill Bonner

Bill Bonner

Since founding Agora Inc. in 1979, Bill Bonner has found success and garnered camaraderie in numerous communities and industries. A man of many talents, his entrepreneurial savvy, unique writings, philanthropic undertakings, and preservationist activities have all been recognized and awarded by some of America's most respected authorities.

Along with Addison Wiggin, his friend and colleague, Bill has written two New York Times best-selling books, Financial Reckoning Day and Empire of Debt. Both works have been critically acclaimed internationally. With political journalist Lila Rajiva, he wrote his third New York Times best-selling book, Mobs, Messiahs and Markets, which offers concrete advice on how to avoid the public spectacle of modern finance. Since 1999, Bill has been a daily contributor and the driving force behind Markets and MoneyDice Have No Memory: Big Bets & Bad Economics from Paris to the Pampas, the newest book from Bill Bonner, is the definitive compendium of Bill's daily reckonings from more than a decade: 1999-2010. 

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5 Comments on "Hugo Chavez, RIP"

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slewie the pi-rat
well, the lefties, socialists, and commies seemed to like him. Hahaha! lately, i have been researching/trying to figure just why. no great inner need, just some personal dissonance around the MSM-type downgrade–like here, if i may be so bold–and the views of those who knew him differently, more positively, which are getting a bit more play in his wake. what i am finding is that native and indigenous peoples found him quite empowering, especially around their rights to the resources of their traditional lands. so, not really a guy for the rentiers, brokers, and tranche-meisters. and dumb like a… Read more »

Ah, if we could only have restored those “legitimate dictatorships” to which your refer.

You know those latterly nonimated by the leaders of the pax Americana + pax Pacifica (PACCOM) + Pax Africa (AFRICOM) + Pax Central Asia (CENTCOM) rent seekers.

Old Bolivar’s spirit also had to be shot down by means of association today.

Matthew Mitchell
Bill, I like so much of what you guys write, but cannot understand your Ayn Rand-like liberalism. I don’t know much about Hugo’s reign, but your statement about: “broad, tree-lined avenues…and beautiful beaux arts, belle époque and arts nouveaux private buildings and public monuments. (The Argentines were great admirers of the French too!)” echoes the one below. I will not make a judgement as to whether the assessment also applies: Quote: “Chavez invested Venezuela’s oil wealth into social programs including state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs. But those gains were meager compared… Read more »

what safety net? he consumed the seed corn.other people’s money runs out after a while.i dont doubt his great noble intentions.but intentions are like a..holes or opinions.they dont count for much

If you listen to the USA Government all those that do not play ball with the USA are Dictators, if you play ball and listen then you are spared from Assassination, Government take over and death threats!! What a scum of a Government the USA turned out to be the Liberators of the 2nd world war have become what they defeated NAZIS in suits. With Chavez Dead, Who Will Give Americans Free Heating Oil? I understand that many Americans do not know that the recently deceased Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez was instrumental in extending generous aid to struggling… Read more »
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