Venezuela’s mercurial, prickish, defiant, and brutal leader Hugo Chávez shuffled off the mortal coil this afternoon at age 58, following a long struggle with cancer. The 9/11 truther, strongman, and moon landing denier led Venezuela since 1999, suppressing free speech and remaining surprisingly successful at minimizing his country’s extreme poverty.
He was not popular with Jewish communities at home or abroad. Writing in Tablet last year, Matthew Fishbane covered Chávez’s reign, during which roughly half of the Jewish population of Venezuela fled the country.
In 2004, Chávez made his first official visit to Tehran and struck up a personal friendship and diplomatic alliance with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, whom he welcomed to Venezuela this month. This came after decades of political tutelage from another Holocaust denier, the Argentine ultra-nationalist Norberto Ceresole, who died in 2003 but who managed to instill a conspiratorial, amalgamated view of Jews in his pupil. Chávez has seemed to find in anti-Zionism, and later anti-Semitism, a valuable political tool, one that enhances, or makes more precise, his love of straw-man rhetoric and open hostility toward the United States, first against the bellicosity of George W. Bush and then against President Barack Obama, who remains an avatar of “imperialismo yanqui,” which has abetted “las oligarquias” in Latin America.
Taking over for Chávez will be Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro, who doesn’t sound like a very nice guy either.
In his December profile of Maduro for FP, Peter Wilson quotes a professor of Latin American history arguing that it’s “impossible to expect Maduro to be another Chávez.” Instead, the professor explained, “he represents continuity with the policies and programs that the president has promoted.” …Maduro is planning to cloak himself in the more conspiratorial dimensions of Chavismo as well. What’ll be interesting to watch is whether he succeeds — or comes across as an inferior imitation of the Bolivarian Revolution’s original steward.