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Column 031813 Brewer

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Nebulous Heritage of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

By Jerry Brewer

The death of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez Frias (58) was announced on state television on March 5, 2013 in Caracas by Vice President Nicolas Maduro. After a reported two year battle with what had been described as an aggressive pelvic cancer, the head of Venezuela's presidential guard stated that Chavez died “from a massive heart attack.”


Many throughout the world were quick to proclaim the irony of Chavez dying on the same date as Joseph Stalin, the de facto socialist leader of the former Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953. Stalin, a powerful Communist leader in the early years of the Soviet Union, was known as a ruthless dictator “who terrorized the population and sent many people to prisons and labor camps.”


Historians have claimed that Stalin was poisoned with warfarin, a tasteless and colorless blood thinner often used as a rat killer. After Chavez’s death, Vice President Maduro made claims that Chavez was poisoned "by dark forces that wanted him out of the way."  Maduro had also made said allegation five hours before Chavez’s death on March 5.


Taking from a page of his hero and mentor, former Cuban President Fidel Castro’s frequent repertoire of being targeted for assassination by the US, Chavez made similar claims on more than one occasion.  In 2011, he accused the US of poisoning other Latin American leaders with cancer. And in 2005 Chavez announced that if the US succeeded in assassinating him, “the name of the person responsible is George Bush.”


Chavez frequently took to the media airwaves to say that the US was planning to invade Venezuela. This might explain the seemingly reckless expenditures of “more than US$15 billion for military arms and equipment,” that included fighter aircraft, helicopters, and over 100,000 Russian Kalashnikov assault rifles. Mass outlays that hurt the Venezuelan economy immeasurably.


In death, the world media is starting to question the acquired wealth of Hugo Chavez and his family, especially since the nation was not been seeing the benefits of its once vast oil wealth and revenues. An estimate of at least US$1.8 billion has been attributed to Hugo Chavez during his presidency -- with current reports far exceeding those numbers.


The true results of Chavez's leftist rule until death (1999-2013) have been some of the most devastating in Venezuela's history, with the poor continuing to live below the poverty line, in squalor, unsafe homes, with little food and rolling blackouts of electricity, among other issues that plague the poor. The facts are clear.


A critical issue that Chavez refused to discuss, even during elections with political opponents let alone with the people of Venezuela, is the amount of money coming into the country versus the massive debt that became the highest in the nation's history during his rule. Billions of bolivars and US dollars have been squandered, as well as the disbursing of significant amounts of money to other leftist leaders in exchange for promises of political loyalty and support.


A major concern for a once proud Venezuelan homeland was Chavez having taken up the banner of Fidel Castro as his own, along with Cuba's failed revolution of atrocities, human rights abuses and shameful misery.


Chavez called his state takeover of Venezuela’s dominate oil and natural gas company, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), as one of his revolution's greatest successes.


As Chavez took office in 1999, debt rose more than 10-fold -- since 2006 to more than US$34 billion. Petrodollars fueled Chavez’s socialist spending with massive amounts of Venezuelan earned wealth unaccounted for.  Oil and petroleum products had once accounted for about 95% of Venezuela's exports and contributed more than a third of its GDP. PDVSA was once considered one of the most efficient run oil companies in the Americas. Inefficiency and incompetence under Chavez's rule is now frequently reported.


Gustavo Coronel, a former member of the Board of Directors of PDVSA (1976–79) and president of Agrupacion Pro Calidad de Vida, was also the Venezuelan representative to Transparency International (1996–2000).  Subsequently Coronel wrote of the corruption, abuse, and mismanagement of Chavez in a CATO Institute report of November 27, 2006.


Coronel reported, “The windfall of oil revenues has encouraged the rise in corruption. In the approximately eight years Chávez has been in power, his government has received between $175 billion and $225 billion from oil and new debt. Along with the increase in revenues has come a simultaneous reduction in transparency. For example, the state-owned oil company ceased publishing its consolidated annual financial statements in 2003, and Chávez has created new state-run financial institutions, whose operations are also opaque, that spend funds at the discretion of the executive.”


As the true legacy of Hugo Chavez unfolds, the desire to preserve his body -- as with Joseph Stalin -- in perpetuity has apparently already eroded. Communications minister Ernesto Villegas wrote recently, "We have ruled out the option of embalming the body of comandante Chavez after a Russian medical commission report."


For now the late Venezuelan president has been laid to rest at a military museum. Even Stalin, who died in 1953, was eventually buried in 1961.



Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia.  His website is located at

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