Will Brazil miss President Chavez?

President Dilma made the expected and diplomatic statement of condolence and attended the funeral with Lula, the shadow President.  The question is, aside from the tears for the Bolivarian socialist President of Venezuela, how much he will actually be missed.  For the promises of investments in Brazil and participation in Mercosur, quite honestly, not that much.  But as someone who smoothed the way for Brazilian construction companies, the upcoming period of uncertainty may present some problems.  Chavez never came through on his investments in the Petrobras refinery in Pernambuco, but, I think, the Brazilians never sincerely believed that he would or at least on the scale required.  On the other hand, the infra-structure projects in Caracas and elsewhere in Venezuela have been great.  With an upcoming election, a new administration and a possible reordering of priorities, Dilma’s presence in Caracas makes more than diplomatic sense.  Several billion dollars of building projects from the metro, to roads and bridges are on the line and Brazil’s international construction industry, by no means socialist itself, knows how be pragmatic within the bounds of South American populist politics.  There may be a certain distaste for Chavez’s style, but Lula and Dilma can easily go along with the game.  It was interesting though to see Lula give a speech about Venezuela’s need for more transparency and greater democracy.

The important thing that goes neglected is real and sincere draw of Chavez’s personality, his discourse and his populism.  While the middle class and the intellectuals proclaim disdain and ponder how much damage Chavez has wreaked upon the Venezuelan economy, the masses are tearfully saying farewell to the “dearly departed”.  Chavez was democratically elected and that should not be forgotten.  Chavez incorporated the petulance of the perceived “rights denied” of the Venezuelan population.  Ever since the discovery and major production of oil some 70 years, the people have been told how rich they are and how rich they should.  Somehow, the wealth never trickled down.  Chavez began a reversal of this situation but state driven and so called “socialist” political economy has not led to savings, investments and productivity.  So Venezuela still has a lot of oil wealth but the economy is not productive, the opposition is ineffective, and the new administration will need to prove its competence and redefine the rules of the game.  This process and the probable restructuring of who gets what will, in the end, determine how much Brazil misses Hugo.

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