Venezuela’s President, Hugo Chavez, is dead. Think of him as a Barack Obama type, only worse. Much worse. This guy actually had military experience and was the quintessential “caudillo.”
What is a “caudillo?”

A Latin American military dictator. In the wake of the Latin American independence movement in the early 19th century, politically unstable conditions and the long experience of armed conflict led to the emergence in many of the new countries of strongmen who were often charismatic and whose hold on power depended on control over armed followers, patronage, and vigilance. Because their power was based on violence and personal relations, the legitimacy of the caudillos’ rule was always in doubt, and few could withstand the challenges of new leaders who emerged among their own followers and wealthy patrons.

Chavez took populism to new heights and certainly did not adhere to a rule of law. But, the United States does not have much moral high ground for criticizing Chavez. Chavez defined domestic opponents in terms of “terrorism” and, just like us, locked them up. He did a masterful job of demonizing the wealthy while, at the same time, cutting deals with some of the very wealthy who were willing to play ball with him. Guess what? Those insiders made even more money. Of course, the play to pay rule required that they help enrich Chavez and his cronies.

This is included setting up offshore accounts to hide the wealth. Obama has not gone to that extreme. But if you look at the “green energy” boondoggles that have reaped millions in taxpayer funded “gifts” it is the same kind of crony payoff.

Chavez was particularly pernicious in pandering to Islamic terrorists. He facilitated the movement of wealthy Lebanese merchants, with ties to Hezbollah, from Maicao, Colombia to new homes in Venezuela. They were able to pursue their black market smuggling without fear of being grabbed by the United States.

Chavez was a throwback to the 60s and 70s. He played lefty redistributionist politics to the detriment of Venezuela. Panama has benefitted enormously from Chavez. Wealthy Venezuelans have relocated to Panama City and the skyline of that city has erupted in a massive number of skyscrapers and new condos and luxury homes. I was in Panama today and was shocked at what has transpired since my last visit two years ago.

The photo below is taken from Punta Patilla, which is at the southern end of main Panama City. The skyscrapers in the distance have been built in the last two years. It is called Costa del Este. There also is a new neighborhood in the area called “Little Venezuela.”

Panama’s economy is booming, thanks in large part to Venezuelan capital seeking a safe haven. The death of Chavez is not going to lead to any major changes in policy in Venezuela, at least in the short term.

What is Chavez’s legacy? He has driven away many of the wealthy and educated who are critical to building a sound economic future in Venezuela. His replacement lacks the charisma and political savvy of Chavez. The future for Venezuela will be one of instability. The good news? The new leader will probably not be able to spend as much money enabling leftists in Bolivia, Argentina and Ecuador. The bad news? Nicholas Maduro, the new Chavez, is just as much a dick. He spoke today:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was infected with cancer by “imperialist” enemies, his No. 2 alleged on Tuesday, adding that the socialist leader was suffering his hardest moments since an operation three months ago…

“We have no doubt that commander Chavez was attacked with this illness,” Maduro said, repeating a charge first made by Chavez himself that the cancer was an attack by “imperialist” foes in the United States in league with domestic enemies.

“The old enemies of our fatherland looked for a way to harm his health,” Maduro said, comparing it with allegations that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004, may have been poisoned by Israeli agents.

Sadly, and this applies not just to Obama but also to Bush, the United States has ignored Latin America and not been very effective in tapping into the growth that is occurring throughout the region, at least in South America and Panama. Chavez? Good riddance.

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Larry C. Johnson is a former analyst at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, who moved subsequently in 1989 to the U.S. Department of State, where he served four years as the deputy director for transportation security, antiterrorism assistance training, and special operations in the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism. He left government service in October 1993 and set up a consulting business. He currently is the co-owner and CEO of BERG Associates, LLC (Business Exposure Reduction Group) and is an expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, and crisis and risk management, and money laundering investigations. Johnson is the founder and main author of No Quarter, a weblog that addresses issues of terrorism and intelligence and politics. NoQuarterUSA was nominated as Best Political Blog of 2008.