Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Life After Chávez: The Apple Can Fall Far From the Tree



The day Steve Jobs died after a much-publicized battle with cancer, Apple’s shares rose in what analysts called “a tribute” to the company’s late founder. The next year, Apple’s stock continued its climb, making Apple the most valued company ever as a measure of market capitalization. Jobs’ successor, Tim Cook, had long been preparing for this moment, assuring the market that he could handle the company after Jobs was gone.

Yet, as time goes by, Apple, its shareholders, Cook, and millions of Apple customers around the world are painfully reminded that there can only be one Steve Jobs.

This lesson could be instructive to Venezuela’s interim president, Nicolás Maduro, as he faces the daunting task of preserving the Bolivarian revolution without the charisma of its colorful founder.

Maduro’s short-term strategy may seem obvious: win the elections against a confused opposition and extend the life of la revolución, using the Chávez brand in a sort of political halo-effect.  The long-term strategy is less clear, however. Even if Maduro wins and the government’s popularity increases in the near future, Maduro must eventually face the harsh realization that he is not Chávez, and that pretending to be him is easier said than done.

This does not need to be a tragedy for the Venezuelan government. It can be viewed as an opportunity to upgrade the revolution, as Deng Xiaoping once did with China. Meanwhile, the opposition must also learn to manage the revolution, instead of simply fighting it. If not, animosity will once again cloud rational judgment.The vastly different visions of Venezuela’s future present many challenges: for starters, the opposition rightly believes that the government’s brand of socialism violates their individual economic and political rights, and they have fought incessantly to change the government’s understanding of freedom.  For the government, the equation works differently and favors the redistribution of wealth from the “haves” to the “haves-nots,” a cause that they say advances social justice.

The opposition has not been very good at convincing the majority of Venezuelans that their vision is better than that of the government, or that the government’s redistribution of wealth is motivated by a political agenda. Instead of promoting sustainable growth, the government is distributing wealth that Venezuela does not have, borrowing unscrupulously and mortgaging the future.

Given the present circumstances, there may be an opportunity for the opposition and government to attempt a new trick that was not possible when Chávez reigned supreme: the enlightenment of la revolución.

According to some political philosophers, liberty and equality are fundamental pillars of democracy. John Rawls’ theory of egalitarian liberalism accepts that citizens should not be treated differently whether they are rich, poor, black, white, male or female, etc.

Therefore, according to Rawls, all social goods should be distributed equally unless an unequal distribution would be to everyone’s advantage—particularly to the worst-off. It is in this idea that the Venezuelan opposition and government could philosophically converge. Instead of changing the government’s concept of freedom and hoping that this will generate better economic policies, the opposition’s task is to influence the government’s concept of social justice—convincing the government to mend economic variables and its relationship with the productive sector—in the hope that this will eventually  influence its concept of freedom.

Under Rawls’ philosophy, material inequalities are not viewed through the lens of Marxism. Instead, inequality is allowed as long as it makes everyone in society better off. According to Rawls, Venezuelan food and beverage magnate Lorenzo Mendoza’s fortune would be justified because he pays taxes that redistribute his wealth, creates jobs and produces goods that almost everyone enjoys.

Venezuela’s revolution could be redefined—transforming from a Robin Hood state to a sophisticated welfare state that promotes the growth of the public sector with private sector best practices—like China, Russia, Brazil, and, more admirably, Nordic countries do. In other words, why fight a radical left if the opposition can manage to work with and enlighten a progressive one?

Opposition and government radicals would probably wince at this idea—they are too contaminated. The major obstacle for mutual understanding is not ideology, but a deep-seated mistrust.

The truth is that Venezuela is extremely divided, and no one political force clearly overpowers the other. Either the government and opposition form a common platform of genuine understanding, or a dangerous clash is in the making.

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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
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