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Latin America's Left Sees Void After Chavez

  • Bill Rodgers

The death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez leaves a void for the left in Latin America that most analysts say is unlikely to be filled soon. His death could also eventually affect communist Cuba, which has benefitted from cheap oil and other subsidies from the petroleum-rich nation.

In death, as in life, Hugo Chavez won acclaim from the leaders of Latin America's new left, united in their opposition to what they see as U.S. domination of the region.

For them, the late Venezuelan leader has joined the pantheon of Latin American revolutionary heroes.

"We are fully committed to continuing with these battles, to give continuity to the dreams of Bolivar, Sandino, Marti, Fidel, and Hugo Chavez," said Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua.

During his lifetime, Chavez tried to fulfill the dream of Simon Bolivar, the 19th century South American liberator who aimed to unite the continent.

Former Brazilian leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva wrote in the New York Times that history will remember Chavez for this effort and his commitment to alleviate poverty.

To this end, he formed regional blocs, aimed at countering the free market and free trade policies promoted by Washington, to advance what he called 21st century socialism.

The rise of like-minded leaders in Latin America helped push these projects forward. But it's unclear if anyone can take Chavez's place, according to Michael Shifter who heads the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy group.

"His money was an important part of his power base and he helped a lot of people. So he really created a sense of loyalty and allegiance among a lot of people and a lot of governments in Latin America. And there’s not going to be anybody who is going to fill his shoes in the region," Shifter said.

Because Venezuela is a major oil producer, money was readily available.

And Cuba became a major beneficiary, receiving heavily discounted oil and other subsidies from the late Venezuelan leader, who viewed Fidel Castro as a mentor.

Cuba paid to tribute to Chavez after his death with a 21-gun salute. But the honors did not ease the anxiety of some.

"It is a loss, because Chavez helps our country a great deal. Without him I think things will be a bit more difficult," said housewife Yuney Valladares.

While Cuba has been able to reduce its dependence on Venezuelan oil by developing its own resources, there is still concern - says Philip Brenner, a Cuba specialist at American University in Washington.

"Venezuela clearly was a ready source of oil and it’s not a ready source anymore if there’s going to be a change there," Brenner said.

But no immediate change is expected, given that acting President Nicolas Maduro is favored to win next month's election. Even though he was handpicked by Chavez, analysts say he will likely focus primarily on Venezuela's domestic needs instead of fostering Latin America's left.