The American media portrayed former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as a totalitarian dictator who was staunchly opposed to U.S. policies. His crackdown on dissent and his drafting of a new constitution which granted him almost exclusive executive power led many to consider him an authoritarian leader who violated human rights.
On the other hand, Chavez was a hero to many in his home country. He was a champion of the poor, and his policies helped facilitate a significant decline in the poverty rate and an improvement in the general quality of living. His concept of “socialism of the 21st century” shaped the trajectory of Venezuela’s foreign and domestic affairs.
Since his death last week, an important question looms over what the next step will be for Venezuela: Will the Chavez system last? After 14 years under the rule of a single man, it is difficult to gauge how the country will be run without him. Much of this depends on next month’s presidential election, which features two candidates with quite different agendas to move the country forward.
One candidate is Chavez’s former vice president, Nicolas Maduro, who vows to govern Venezuela just as the late president would have wanted — with a continuation of his socialist policies. The other candidate is Henrique Capriles Radonski, who lost the presidential election to Chavez last year, but posed the strongest opposition to the ruling party since the beginning of Chavez’s presidency in 1999.
Nicolas Maduro is a former bus driver and union leader, but he rose in the ranks of the Venezuelan government and eventually made it to Chavez’s inner circle. After spending less than five months as the country’s vice president, Maduro is suddenly thrust into the spotlight as the new interim president. Though he lacks the charisma and military experience of his predecessor, many believe a strong backing from his party can help him win the election. Maduro refers to himself as the son of Chavez, showing his dedication and admiration for the late president.
Henrique Capriles Radonski has found a strong base of support throughout Venezuela, but he has also been the victim of several media attacks. During his failed run at the presidency in 2012, the opposition party accused him of being too liberal and too westernized, a Zionist agent and a homosexual. Capriles is known as the “anti-Chavez,” as he favors market-friendly economic policies and social liberalism. He stated that he no longer wants Venezuela to maintain such close ties with Iran, since he does not wish to support the authoritative rule of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This is the antithesis of Maduro’s foreign policy, which calls to strengthen ties with Iran to establish a more efficient oil trade.
For a more democratic future, the people should opt for Capriles’s vision. It’s time for Venezuela to move past the Chavez era and construct a pathway to democracy. This election is a chance for Venezuela to begin anew. A continuation of Chavez’s policies will result only in political stagnation and will prevent a long-awaited opportunity for change. Corruption, repression of journalistic expression, high crime rates, currency control and political arrests have plagued the country for far too long. The prospect of a freer and more prosperous Venezuela dictates that the Venezuelan people choose Capriles.
Aishwarya Raje is a freshman Economics major from Princeton, N.J. She is a Staff Writer for The News-Letter.