Chavez and the New Latin American Socialism

Geoffrey Hawthorn in the LRB:

It is a distinctively Latin American story. Yet a comparison does come to mind. Thucydides said of Pericles, the political general who extended the ‘ancient liberty’ in Athens in the 440s and 430s BC, that he had ‘advantages in abundance’. Indeed he reported Pericles himself as having told the Athenians that he had them all: an ability to see what to do, the capacity to expound it to an audience, unimpeachable patriotism, and an indifference to personal gain. Pericles was a rich patrician from a distinguished line. Chávez, part criollo, part Indian, part African (the three constituencies of the Venezuela that Bolívar described), shares his gifts. He is the son of a poor primary-school teacher in the provinces; he joined the army, he says, to play baseball in the military leagues. Athens had a wide empire, whose tribute it had to strain to maintain. Chávez has oil, which once he had managed to wrest Petróleos de Venezuela away from directors who favoured American buyers and their own pockets (eventually firing them on television in terms borrowed from baseball), he has not had to defend against anyone. And the tribute of the markets (the US remains the largest) meanwhile rose from $9 a barrel in 1999 to more than $60 in 2006 and touched $80 this summer. Both Pericles and Chávez, however, can be seen to have been carried away by their own success. Pericles insisted that Athens could win against Sparta; yet his very insistence suggested that he knew the risks, and was anxious.

Chávez is showing something of the same anxiety.