Chavez is dead. Long live the Great Man Theory

Hugo Chavez, Venezuela

Hugo Chavez: Charismatic, controversial

In death, as in life, Hugo Chavez, has taken over the ether. Within minutes of TV, radio and the internet simultaneously announcing the Venezuelan president had died, journalist Jonathan Katz re-tweeted “Chavez’s last tweet”. It read: “Still clinging to Christ, trusting docs & nurses. Then quotes Che & Fidel, adding: ‘We will live’.”

Slate magazine chimed in with the “fun facts” about the military officer who went on to become president of Venezuela and guiding light of a political ideology he called Bolivarianism: “He was a 9/11 truther and he doubted that the moon landing happened”.

They might have added this absolute corker from Caracas – that Mr Chavez was given cancer by the evil West; that it was a plot, a conspiracy.

Chavez’s death leaves a gaping hole – in conspiracy theories, just as much as in Venezuelan politics: in stop-start regional attempts to forge ever closer union; any continuously maintained list of anti-American firebrands and the eight-year-old, 18-nation Petrocaribe (a good gig for Caricom; a costly attempt at peddling influence by Chavez).

But mostly, of course, Chavez’s final removal from the scene – 15 days after he returned to Caracas from a Cuban hospital – raises huge questions about Venezuela’s future. Chavez’s outsize personality, strident opinions and absolute certainties made him a hugely controversial and enormously charismatic figure. He exemplified the Great Man Theory of history, ie that a certain time and place in the life of a country can be explained by the impact of “great men”, or heroes. For Venezuela, that was the last 14 years.