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U.S. Opinions: Miami

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Chavez’s legacy of plunder

From an editorial Wednesday in the Miami Herald:

Hugo Chavez’s folksy charm and forceful personality made him an extraordinary politician. His enviable ability to win a mass following allowed him to build a powerful political machine that kept him in office from February of 1999 until his death on Tuesday. But as a national leader, he was an abject failure who plunged Venezuela into a political and economic abyss.

Dead at 58, Chavez leaves behind a country in far worse condition than it was when he became president.

Soon after coming to office, he rewrote the constitution to his liking and aggressively set out to rig elections and stifle adversaries in the legislative branch and the courts.

Unfortunately for Venezuela and for all his political skills, the president was both an incompetent executive and a worse economist.

In an energy-rich country that once knew no blackouts, electrical shortages are frequent, the result of Chavez’s plundering of the country’s public oil company. In a country that once enjoyed a thriving free market, prices are controlled and food items often scarce.

In recent weeks, while Chavez was hospitalized, Venezuela was once again forced to devalue its currency, this time by one-third. This was the inevitable outcome of a series of disastrous economic decisions that included nationalizing the telephone company and other utilities, which scared off foreign investors and spurred capital flight.

For Venezuelans, the worst aspect of the Chavez years was the soaring crime rate. Venezuela has become one of the most violent countries in the world, with nearly 20,000 murders recorded in 2011 and a homicide rate that some experts say is four times greater than in the last year before Chavez took power.

The president’s death means a new election must be called soon. Under Hugo Chavez, the electoral machinery was stacked against the opposition and that will doubtless be the case again, but the United States and democracies throughout the hemisphere should insist on a fair and transparent electoral process to select the new president.

Without discarding “Bolivarian” principles and restoring the country’s democratic institutions, no one will be able to stop the downward spiral of Venezuela that began the day Hugo Chavez was elected president.

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