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March 8, 2013

Prof: Chavez's death means leadership void in Latin America for leftist parties

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The death of Hugo Chavez leaves a void in Venezuelan politics and among other Latin American countries seeking a defining figure in their search to understand - and implement - democracy, says a Purdue University political science expert.

"The influence of Chavez went beyond his country's borders, and now that he's gone, and with Fidel Castro largely out of the picture, it's not clear if any leader in Latin America can define for voters in these newer democracies what the left looks like in practice," says James McCann, a professor of political science who studies political behavior in Mexico. "Chavez was very much a transnational leader. Citizens in other countries watched what he was doing, and those who favored the left expected their leaders to act in a similar way. This was of great value for many of the left parties that are in a state of flux."

Chavez's role also extended beyond his favored party supporters and influenced those in the opposition, McCann says. For example, the 2006 Mexican presidential election is an example of how its citizens' attitudes toward Chavez and his record helped Mexican voters decide whether they wanted to back their country's own leftist candidate or the candidate on the right.

"Left, right or center, most political scholars and analysts would say the full spectrum is needed to have a coherent party system and a strong ticket for accountability in democracy," McCann says. "Because there is no such leader to follow Chavez, there is a void for the Latin American countries seeking democracy."

McCann is co-author of "Democratizing Mexico: Public Opinion and Electoral Choices" and he is part of a team of scholars collecting and evaluating survey data to understand how Mexico is transitioning from the dominant-party era to the new democratic system.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: James McCann, 765-494-0738, mccannj@purdue.edu