In political strategy there are no mistakes worse than underestimating your adversary, believing your own propaganda and wishful thinking. Venezuela is the heart of a continent-wide polarization. Democracy there is a particular case; nobody is about to intervene in the country; and condemnations are hot air. Just as the ire of Florida Cubans gave 50 years' worth of political mileage to Fidel, the Chávez phenomenon was fueled by the opposition's mistakes. First of all they tried their last resource, the coup d'état; then backed down from coup to elections, by way of strikes, protests, referendum and accusations of fraud. Then they came crawling back to elections, with decimated forces. Theirs was a perfect diminuendo of forces, at each stage losing influence in the armed forces, the state oil company, the Supreme Court, the Electoral Council and the Assembly. Thus the regime now has all the laws and institutions in its pocket. And by now - the regime having poured hundreds of millions of dollars into generous social policies - clearly more of the people are for Chávez than against.
Some think that with the death of Chávez, his regime and party will crumble. But the reality seems to be otherwise: the charismatic leader's death will actually strengthen the movement and the regime. As one adherent said, "Chávez will enter the mythology of roadside altars," like Che Guevara. On the left there is no saint who has put so much hard cash in so many pockets. His early demise will spare him the consequences of his inefficient government.
It is a mistake to overestimate the detrimental effect of the power struggles that will take place within Chávez's party
It is a mistake to overestimate the detrimental effect of the power struggles that will take place within his party, the PSUV. The unity of the opposition is even more fragile. The military is hand in glove with the regime and unlikely to turn against it - indeed, in combination with the nouveau-riche wing of chavismo, they are the main bulwark against further radicalization. The PSUV's recent electoral victory, with a candidate under the knife, amid inflation, scarcity, inefficiency and a rising tide of criminal violence, shows that we are looking at a more complex phenomenon. Such problems would normally bring defeat for any governing party, and this cannot be explained merely in terms of unfair electoral competition. The strength of Chavism lies not in efficacy, but in the fact that it dramatically re-directed the flow of oil income, which used to go almost entirely to the upper levels of society, while now the poor get a considerable share. Chávez gave some social inclusion to the very poor, generated opportunities for the enrichment of new elites, and gave these sectors a political identity and power. This has changed Venezuela forever.
In 1991 the revolutionary Sandinista party in Nicaragua obtained 40 percent of the vote - and this, amid a US-sponsored, counter-revolutionary war, a spiral of currency devaluation, a scarcity worse than that of Venezuela, and with no petroleum. One of the strengths of Sandinism was a package of rice, frijoles and sugar that poor Nicaraguans received. The processes of social inclusion, generation of new elites and construction of political identity are something more than mere "populism." They withstand economic crises, and their eventual electoral erosion is slow. No doubt chavismo will exhaust itself eventually, but not immediately.
The PSUV is and will remain the hegemonic force in the land, though it may lose the government. Venezuela's future now depends more on what happens within pro-Chávez ranks than on what the opposition does. However, it is unlikely that further radicalization will happen. Why should influential Cubans support the construction of the "revolutionary model" that they are timidly dismantling? The Bolivarian Revolution has no future, but Chavism is here to stay.