When visiting the Caruachi hydro-electric plant to whip up support Chavez suffered the indignity of being heckled by workers demanding unpaid wages and the restoration of collective-bargaining rights. His microphone failed and a back-up sound system transmitted what sounded like shouts of justicia, justice, at which point state television cut the broadcast. A nation accustomed to highly choreographed presidential events with handpicked audiences gasped at the glimpse behind the curtain.
Chavez can boast genuine accomplishments. He put poverty and social exclusion at the forefront of debate. He made millions feel they had an ally in government. And he called time on US browbeating in Latin America. However, the price was high. Gutted institutions, a caudillo (strongman) cult, economic dysfunction. After a recent spate of bad news — a prison riot, a collapsed bridge, an oil refinery accident — Chavez reached for a telling metaphor. “The show must go on.”
Maybe it will, maybe he will win, and live to rule. But what cost the spectacle?