by Luis Vega

Charismatic leadership is measured amongst a wide variety of people. This is especially true in politics. For that particular person to catch your attention and have you agreeing with many things that they say and promise has to have something working in their favor. Latin America has longed been plagued with occupation and colonialism of European forces in the 19 th century, and American forces to a certain extent in the latter part of the 20 th century. Latin America’s economy and politics have been unstable in a majority of those countries since outside forces have either left or been forced out by way of revolution.

There are many reasons for this; much has to do with corruption in the government, the constant switching of governments from democracy, to dictatorship, back to democracy and so forth. All the countries in Latin America have seen some form of charismatic leadership by a person or persons since the 1800’s. Nicaragua was brought together by Guerilla leader Augusto Sandino in 1930’s against United States forces. Alberto Hurtado in Chile formed one of the most important country-wide assistance programs that provided food, housing loans, and drug rehabilitation programs for the Chilean people. (Hogar de Cristo) Many countries trace their freedom to liberator Simon Bolivar such as Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. And who could forget the beloved figures Pancho Villa, and Emiliano Zapata of the Mexican Revolution? These are just a few men among hundreds in Latin America that have done what they thought was ethically right for their country.

Charisma refers to several qualities, meanings and significations. Among these it is (a) a special type of authority generated by the personal trust given to leaders by his followers, (b) the followers accept the charismatic leader because he is believed to have extraordinary qualities, and (c) those extraordinary qualities are not inherent in the leader, but rather are a representation believed by the followers to be held by the leader. They constitute a gift received from a non-human source. ( Caribbean Charisma, p. 214) Charisma in politics is measured a bit differently, “Whether through emulation or autonomous thought, there seems to be relative consensus concerning the elements combining to produce political charisma and concerning their order of sequence, that is: (1) a crisis situation, (2) potential followers in distress, and (3) an aspirant leader with (4) a doctrine promising deliverance. (The Spellbinders: Charismatic Political Leadership, p. 43) Charismatic leadership in politics is said to be a thing of the past. Many scholars argue that charismatic leadership is counterfeit in the contemporary world. People identify their leaders in many fashions, for example they see their leader as a god and a savoir putting a religious spin on him. People also see their leader as a magician with the ability to perform superhuman acts with exceptional powers. In Latin America/Caribbean where instilled democracy is failing in most countries because of the inability to improve economic growth and rule out political corruption the majority population of the people would rather see an authoritarian regime with a brutal hand if their lives were going to improve and lift them from poverty. Many people agree that democracy is not working, and are relying on a person(s) to help improve their way of life.

In contemporary Latin America and its leadership or lack there of has caused many countries especially those without an abundance of natural resources to be in economic and political distress. Many of the countries leaders are often puppeteer to the United States and do things in favor of the United States in order to maintain import, and export agreements and a constant flow of capital into their impoverished countries. Contemporary leaders who have gone against the grain in maintaining close ties with the United States have often been ridiculed and subject to harsh repercussion by the United States. The best example is Fidel Castro, president of Cuba who has survived over 600 assassination attempts, 10 United States presidents, and a trade embargo that halts the economic progression needed to help lift Cuba out of poverty. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has been president since 1999 and the powers abroad that are the United States have accused Chavez of communist beliefs and have had fears of another “Communist Revolution”. This is due in part to Chavez’s close relationship with Fidel Castro and his admiration of the 1959 Revolution.

Venezuela, a country in South America that is unlike other Latin American Nations has been free of authoritarianism since 1958 when democracy was instilled. It also boasts one of the largest oil deposits in the world as well as large quantities of coal, iron ore, bauxite, and gold. It has been one of the more stable governments in Latin America, but still has not managed to free itself of mass amounts of corruption and poverty. Not many Venezuelans have prospered from the countries natural resources.

Hugo Chavez
Hugo Chavez Frias was raised part of a provincial family, where both his parents were elementary school teachers. He is a dark skinned mestizo mix and is representative of the largely populated mestizo-Indian population that is scattered throughout Venezuela. 80% of the 24 million people in Venezuela are what would be considered poor, even by third world standards. Hugo Chavez is representative of what most Venezuelans are. He is not white, or fully of European descent like most leaders in other Latin American countries. When the Venezuelan people look at themselves in the mirror they see Chavez, and he is proven fact that you don’t have to be white to become president you just have to be true to what you believe in, and risk your life if necessary to achieve it. He has fought for shanty town dwellers, informal traders, small business owners, and landless farmers. The ex-military paratrooper speaks out against the “squalid oligarchs” (elite), “devils in vestments” (church hierarchy), and “counterrevolutionaries (those who disagree with him). Chavez is able to maintain support of the poorer working class who view him as a redeemer. He has outlawed discrimination against immigrants, granting the same rights to free education to Peruvian and Colombian immigrant children. He has made it illegal to charge school fees; this is mainly aimed at the church who charges for a private education. He has introduced a new type of Bolivarian school, non-denominational which offers three meals a day for poor children who would otherwise stay at home.

The life of Hugo Chavez has been an eventful one, built around the ins and outs of the Venezuelan military. He enrolled in the military with plans to play on the professional army baseball team, but injuries halted that dream. Chavez was limited to the life of a regular soldier and graduated in 1975 from the military academy with a degree in engineering. In the army he discovered that his ancestors played a major role in the 19 th and 20 th century as rebels in the struggle against landowners. Chavez and a group of his comrades were growing displeased with the corruption and economic instability in his country. They formed, with Hugo Chavez as the leader, a semi clandestine group within the army called “Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement” (MBR). The name stemmed from Simon Bolivar, the South American independence leader in the 20 th century. In 1992 he and his movement attempted a coup with soldiers who were more loyal to him than to the Venezuelan Army. Their plan was to overthrow President Carlos Andres Perez because of growing animosity at the economic austerity measures. The coup claimed eighteen lives and wounded sixty before Chavez put his arms down and surrendered. Nine months later while Chavez was still in jail his comrades tried to seize power again. He was given one minute on a national television station to announce the fall of the party, and pleading with his comrades to put their arms down. The failed coup laid the foundations for Chavez’s claim to fame. After two years in prison he was granted a pardon and is a hero in the eyes of Venezuelans, especially the poor. This is when his life transforms from soldier to politician. The name of the movement was changed to “Movement of the 5 th Republic” (MVR), all while the Venezuelan government was falling apart. And although Venezuela has enjoyed democracy since 1958, a lot longer than most Latin American nations, the two parties in power who switched back and forth were accused of running a corrupt government and reckless use of the countries vast oil wealth.

In the 1998 elections Chavez ran for president with promises to alleviate widespread poverty. Citizens saw someone who can make a difference in the country’s continuing economic decline, restore growth, create employment, and overcome escalating social problems. What made Chavez popular as well were his attacks on business leaders and trade unions. He was very popular among the poor Venezuelan class which accounts for 80% of the countries people. People saw someone who could change the instability in Venezuela giving him 59% of the vote in the 1998 elections, the largest margin for president in over forty years.

In April of 2002 Hugo Chavez was deposed and arrested in an alleged military coup. On April 9 th 2002 the Confederacion de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV) held a general strike led by Carlos Ortega. This was due to Chavez carrying out new elections of the union leadership in the course of fraud allegations. He did not recognize reelection of union leadership. To call off the strike he raised the national minimum wage by twenty percent to call off the strike. In a protest held by anti-Chavez, and pro-Chavez demonstrators on the same day violence between police and demonstrators broke out. Seventeen people were killed and there were over one hundred people wounded, most of them were Chavez supporters. It is alleged that anti-Chavez protesters rerouted their parade to come face to face with pro-Chavez supporters and this is said to be the beginning of the overthrow of Chavez. And although the military coup was publicly condemned by most Latin American nations, the United States did not do so until Chavez restored power a couple of days later. In the two days that Chavez was not head of Venezuela a business man by the name of Pedro Carmona was selected as interim president. He was head of the Fedecamaras, and also head of the anti-Chavez protest. Carmona imposed a laundry list of new laws and revoked the constitution imposed by Chavez. Some of them include:

Dissolving the National Assembly, promising elections by December
Pledged Presidential elections within one year
Declared void the 1999 Constitution introduced under Chavez and approved by popular vote
Promised a return to the pre-1999 bicameral parliamentary system
Repealed the 49 laws that gave the government greater control of the economy
Reinstated retired General Guaicaipuro Lameda as President of Petroleos de Venezuela
Fired all Supreme Court Judges
Even though many people believed that Hugo Chavez had authoritarian tendencies they found the actions of Carmona more threatening for everything that he did as head of state was done in a period of less than seventy two hours. Carmona now lives in exile in Colombia. Even though people either love, hate, or have mixed feelings about Chavez they still fear the person that will succeed him will take away the rights that he has given to the majority people in Venezuela (poor) and give them back to the minority elite class (rich). It depends on what side you are looking at the situation from.

The future of Hugo Chavez, and ultimately that of Venezuela lay in the vote referendum scheduled for Sunday August 15 th, 2004. This is due to a constitutional law that Chavez himself instilled in 1999 where any elected official including the president can be booted out of office. Although this is a reality in the minds of many Venezuelans and people abroad as well, it is a hard process to complete. 20% of the registered voters must vote in favor of the opposition, which equates to 2.4 million voters. In August of 2003 the opposition produced petitions that had 3 million names on it to get the president out of office, but since it was before Chavez had reached midterm the petitions were ruled inadmissible. Three months later in November the opposition held a four day marathon with 3.4 million names but somehow the Chavez government deemed 1.9 million names invalid. All the names on the petition needed confirmation, and once they were confirmed the referendum was scheduled. There are some other regulations that apply to the referendum; the referendum is not valid unless 25% of the electorate cast vote. Also the opponents of Chavez have to match or exceed the number of votes that got him reelected in July of 2000, which equates to 3.76 million votes. Even if he doesn’t come out victorious in the referendum he is able to run for president in thirty days and then again in 2006.

There are many reasons why people love to hate Chavez. The number one reason is the fear of a newly installed communist regime where people are deprived of certain rights. Even though Venezuela was headed in the wrong direction before Chavez but he has been blamed for the worst fiscal crisis in Venezuela in the past twenty years. Along with this he has also been blamed for increased unemployment, inflation, poverty, and malnutrition. He has been accused of forming alliances with countries accused of violating Human Rights such as Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Cuba. He has also made ties with Marxist-Colombian guerillas, and it has been alleged that that his revolution is not a democratic one and is leading Venezuela into a Civil War. In addition to the allegations against Chavez he has organized and financed armed pro-government groups which attack and intimidate members of the opposition.

Supporters praise Chavez for the improvement of their lives, which has enabled him to remain popular among millions. Local governments, community organizations, people holding key positions in the armed forces, and civil action groups that get funds from the government give voice to the poorest sections of Venezuela. There are over 70,000 of these groups that give fight for right of the marginalized. One of the key people in the quandary to “defend the revolution” is Ms. Ron who started the “Venezuelan Peoples Unity Party” which she claims are made up of radicals, hardliners and men and women of violence will stop at nothing to defend the government.

Similar to Fidel Castro, is current president of Venezuela Hugo Chavez. Chavez whom is good friends with Castro has emulated his revolution after Castro’s. Venezuela which is rich in oil, under the rule of Chavez has sent fear in to the hearts of Americans. Venezuela which is the second largest supplier of oil to the United States in the world; the Chavez government has often ridiculed the United States on imperialism, and being to capitalistic. This is very threatening to the United States because America happens to be at war with its number one supplier of oil right now. Chavez has spoken out publicly against President George Bush and his administration of being terrorists and killers. He has restored a sense of self respect to the Venezuelan people. The only reason why America has not taken action against Chavez and his government is because he doesn’t label his way communist but rather social democrat because of his government program but revolutionary in expression.

Born on August 13, 1926 Fidel Castro during a time that was known as Cuban Decadence. He began his apprenticeship in politics in what is known as “action groups” or “revolutionary groups” against Batista. On July 26, 1953, he led an unsuccessful attack on an army post in Santiago de Cuba and was imprisoned. He was later released in a general amnesty; he went to Mexico where he organized the 26th of July movement. Castro and eleven others, including his brother Raul and Ernesto “Che” Guevara, survived the initial encounter and hid in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra. It was there that they organized a guerrilla campaign that eventually toppled the Batista regime on Jan. 1, 1959. On January 1, 1959 the Cuban revolution began under his leadership with the largest popular support of any political movement in the history of the country.

Fidel Castro’s name became widely known on the attack on Moncada especially to those of his generation on July 26, 1953. Castro did not participate on the attack at Sierra Maestra because he had just got out of prison and he arrived in Cuba three days late. It was here where he lost most of his men due to the engagement in battle. Castro gave the people of Cuba faith and inspiration. He had initially distinguishes himself by being the first to engage in armed struggle and by having it waged successfully. After 1959, he continues to differentiate himself by adopting a highly populist, puritanical, and nationalistic style of governance, which contrasted sharply with the behavior associated with the politicians of the older. (Gonzalez, p. 50) Castro’s was the first guerrilla movement in Latin America to defeat the military. Castro proved to be a skillful political and military strategist.

Castro has put together and dismantled organizations, one thing is for sure he has never abandoned is his personal leadership. In the beginning he was “democrat”, then he was a “humanist”, later he was a “socialist”, and at the moment “Marxist-Leninist”, each changing with the different circumstances of Cuba. (Suarez, p. 18) With no formal training or education, Castro has always managed to have his followers no matter the size carry out the constantly changing orders of their chief. Castro was able to be successful in his movement because, even while he was imprisoned in Mexico, Castro had managed to get his pamphlet “History will Absolve me” in enough circulation to begin another revolution. When Castro was announced the revolutionary leader of Cuba after the sudden collapse of Batista regime on January 1, 1959 he offered five “revolutionary laws” as immediate reform:

Restoration of Constitution of 1940 (a confused liberal radical document more honored in the breach than the observance and never reinstated by Fidel or replaced by another constitution) “until such time as the people should decide to modify or change it.”

Full ownership of small farms worked by tenants, sharecroppers, and squatters.

The right of workers and employees “to share thirty percent of the profits of all large industrial, mercantile, and mining enterprises, as well as sugar mills.”

The right of agricultural workers on sugar plantations “to share fifty five percent of the value of sugarcane produced.”

Confiscation of “all property and wealth secured through politically protected fraud and graft during previous regimes.” (Halperin, p. 14)

Castro managed to reach his audience mainly by television. During these times he is able to instruct them, at times confessing to them the problems and difficulties he as their leader confronted. He visited even the most desolate areas to make himself available to the population. With the relationship that Castro developed with the people of Cuba he manages to remain popular amongst them. He has been successful at distinguishing himself as a selfless leader that personally took charge of exile forces at the Bay of Pigs, participating in the annual cutting of sugarcane along with other government officials, and developing a salvage operation following hurricane Flora. “He managed to captivate his audiences with honesty stating “I am not an intellectual; I am a man of revolutionary action”. (Suarez, p. 28)

Even though Castro thought himself to be a revolutionary man rather than an intellectual, he was a law student, the son of a prosperous land owner, an excellent athlete, he possessed physical strength, and authority. Now the people of Cuba could live vicariously through their new leader. He managed to maintain his charismatic control by solidifying his support among the urban lower classes as well as the younger generation, which allowed Castro to remain relatively free of formal constraints and individual challengers in consolidating his power. (Gonzalez, p. 171) He took charge of the armed forces, became the prime minister of the Revolutionary government, and made himself president of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform. In doing this amongst taking charge of other things he became the sole control authority in Cuba. His presence has allied Cuba with the Soviet Union in 1960 in order to free them from the dependence on the United States of America. Castro sought to build a new society free from North American influence. In being successful in doing this Castro managed to retain unity, integrity, and autonomy. (Gonzalez, p. 185)

Castro was able to distance himself from the United States when the United States had such large investments in Cuba, especially in the sugarcane, and tobacco industries. Castro openly spoke out against the United States openly blaming them for the current state of many poor nations. Without the support of the United States of America, Cuba sought to seek financial support from the former Soviet Union who managed to keep them afloat. America has tried plenty of times to assassinate the revolutionary leader of Cuba but have not been successful. One attempt at the overthrow and assassination of Fidel Castro was the Bay of Pigs in which fifteen hundred CIA agents entered Cuba but were soon incapacitated when Kennedy cancelled the air strike to take out Castro’s air force. This caused over one hundred men to die while the rest surrendered. All this did was enabling Castro to blame the United States for its social and economical shortcomings. With the win at the Bay of Pigs, Fidel Castro proclaimed it the “first defeat of American imperialism” in the western hemisphere. This allowed him to gain more and more acceptance of his Cuban people.

Castro has managed to deal with obstacles big and small. In the eyes of many Americans he has failed horribly at his position and in many instances he has. But overall as a charismatic leader and motivator of the people he has excelled. One may ask how a country with a 99% literacy rate can be unable to produce food, shelter, transportation, and clothing to meet the basic needs of the people living in the country of eleven million people. Since the Cuban government of Castro has gone unchallenged in over forty four years it is hard to tell how bad the country is really doing. It is easy to give an opinion being from the outside looking in.

On the other hand Castro has portrayed himself to be very charismatic. He has showed resilience and power with his speeches hours and hours long. He has shown physical strength and endurance. Castro has proved to the people of his country that he can defeat even the best of them including the United States with the Bay of Pigs Invasion. This is how he has dealt successfully with the phenomenon of “succession crisis”. Aside from him being the only guerilla force to wage war against the government and win, he has been very charismatic and sympathetic to the poor people of the nation. He shows the people of Cuba that he knows what it is like to be in their shoes. He had promised more property rights and profit sharing to farmers because he realized their disposition as the Batista and the United States exploited the sugarcane, and tobacco plantations of the farmers. Education has been promised to all, and it has been delivered. Despite all his shortcomings his ideas proved to be pivotal and beneficial to the country in many ways.

The protest movement proved to be a success, for Castro and many of the people of Cuba. Even though he has been the brunt of much resistance by a good percentage of the people of Cuba, the other people have been mesmerized by Castro’s leadership. He has ruled for over forty four years with a next in line, his brother Raul. Even though charisma can not be transferred Castro has to be happy with being the sole controller over Cuba for over forty years. He engaged in guerilla battle, and prospered to the top. He started out with as little as eleven other members of his guerilla unit. Castro has managed to defeat the United States, defeat the Batista regime, and maintain control in times of distress with the fall of the Soviet Union. He was able to give people inspiration in doing all this especially the people of Cuba, but not giving them enough nerve to do it themselves. Fidel Castro has been the revolutionary leader of Cuba being both an ally and a foe to the people of the same time. Charisma is what has enabled him to stay on top.

The United States has been involved in changing authoritarian, dictatorships, and military run countries to democracy all over the world, and Latin America is no exception. Latin American countries have embraced democracy with hopes of basic civil liberties, freedom of the press, and being able to chose their leader with regular elections. People are becoming restless in Latin America with slow economic growth, an ineffective legal system, social injustice and it is all being blamed on democracy. Basic Human Rights are up in these countries but the truth is corruption will always be prominent with police, and political figures. Many people believe that head officials should override the law in order to maintain stability. In an article in the New York Times “Latin America Losing Hope in Democracy” “Fifty-five percent of the people polled said they would support the replacement of a democratic government with an authoritarian one.” What’s more important economic growth for your country or maintaining democracy?

The relationship with Cuba and the United States has been uneasy since the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Succeeding ten American presidents and over six hundred assassination attempts Fidel Castro has made himself an arch enemy of the United States. And although there is no way to gage the nation’s approval rating of Castro he still remains popular among the peasant farm class and among the afro-Cuban class after forty six years in power. “ Since becoming the leader of Cuba, one of Castro’s main objectives has been to undermine U.S. power and prestige in the world. His support of anti-American guerrillas and terrorists in Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s, his military involvement with and support for anti-American regimes and groups in Africa and the Middle East in the 1970s and 1980s, and his constant denunciations of “U.S. imperialism,” “capitalism,” and “neo-liberalism” in international organizations and forums attest to his determination and consistency.” ( Suchlicki, 1958-2003 Fidel Castro on the United States)

Many statements are made about Fidel Castro and he is viewed upon in a negative light because of what we are taught as Americans about democracy, and communism. We are told that Fidel Castro has supported terrorists, and terrorist groups, but the real question is “are the same terrorist groups that the United States has supported to try and oust Castro. Would we consider the CIA and the United States government terrorist groups? Do we just give a group of exiles a funding and wash our hands of it. Of course that’s what we do but the truth of the matter is we don’t acknowledge the negative things we do and we would never know about it if it weren’t for Castro himself denouncing the American government and it’s wretchedness, and the release of classified document we would never know about who American government funds and what “terrorist groups” we fund. This is part of the reason that Castro has been able to stay popular among the Cubans and many other people all over the world especially the poorer population in many countries. People draw inspiration from the Cuban Revolution and its success. The bottom line is that Castro is a survivor of American supremacy and everything that comes with it.

In Latin America where authority rules the United States has long enforced the “right way of thinking”. This is a problem especially in Cuba, and Venezuela where both leaders lean “left”. Both Chavez and Castro have failed attacks under their belts; Chavez in 1992, and Castro 1953. With both individuals these attacks is what jumpstarted their careers as leaders and people who could possibly free their people from corruption, and economic stagnation. Both leaders denounce imperialism, capitalism, and most importantly the United States. But what makes them so popular and appealing to the group of people they represent.