A few days ago I posted on Facebook that I was wondering when a musical called “Hugo” would come out similar to “Evita” . I did this in a pseudo sarcastic/joking way, but in actuality it could happen. The Perons and Chavez legacies are almost parallel.
Chavez came from the military as did Juan Peron. Both were part of military coups that overthrew their existing governments. Evita, however, became the voice for Peron during his administration, while Chavez did his own speaking.
They were both extremely charasmatic populists, focusing their attention on the poor of their nations, espousing an “us against them” agenda, For Chavez it was primarily the USA, George Bush, democracy in general and other “historical enemies”. For Evita was the the very rich of Argentina. They both made the poor feel that they were important; that the leadership was on their side, that they were the champions of their lot. And they both nurtured and enhanced that image. Never mind that Chavez traveled in a personal Airbus worth $65 million and wore clothes by one of the top fashion designers in Caracas, and the Evita lived a life of high fashion and luxury.
Taking advantage of commodity booms, (Argentina beef and grain, Venezuela, oil) They both did some good for their countries. Evita for instance pushed for the legalization of voting rights for women, raised worker wages,built schools and hospitals, and put a time limit on daily working hours. Chavez raised the literacy rate in Venezuela to 93% , 96% of the population now has access to clean water, and there has been a a massive drop in infant mortality, from 25/1000 in 1990 to 13/1000 in 2010.
And yet in Venezuela,Caracas has one of world’s highest murder rates, the infrastructure, (roads, bridges, power grids, food shortages) are falling apart. And in Argentina, the economy started to slow down, the opposition got braver in terms of publicly opposing him, which eventually led to his overthrow. In both of these cases, the issues were swept under the rug by the populist method of blaming outside entities, such as Bush and the US in the case of Chavez, and any foreigners (especially the UK) in Argentina.
In short, they both used a populist method of statesmanship where they appealed to the emotions of the down-trodden, where responsibility and blame for the nations ills were thrown on not the governing, but on external, non-controllable forces that they would be sure would always be convenient scapegoats.
Will the political philosophy of Chavez still remain in Venezuela 60 years after his death much like Peronism is in Argentina today? I think that is a very real possibility, as his supporters will pass on his legacy to their kids and grandkids to the point where he will become a legend. Even today, Argentina is sabre rattling about the Falkland Islands, again, using that populist mentality against the UK, even though they lost a war about it not too long ago. Get those emotions stirred against outside parties! Same thing could be happening in Venezuela for decades to come.
Was Chavez brilliant politician? Absolutely. To get the level of affection and loyalty that his people have shown and to have stayed in power for so long he would have to be. An interesting personality? Again, you bet. A cross between a demagogue and a father figure. A perfect model for a musical. But before “Hugo the Musical” comes out, I would like to see if one can be written for the American politician who, like Evita and Chavez was every inch a populist and brilliant politician as those two were. I am referring to, of course, Huey P. Long of Louisiana.