Legacy of Hugo Chavez

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

Hugo Chavez has died of cancer at 58 on March 5, 2013. His body will be embalmed and put on a display in a glass casket for eternity at a military museum after a big state funeral, like the one which has not been seen since the death of Argentina’s Eva Peron, before the country braces itself for a tumultuous election campaign.

This Latin American Socialist icon had been widely regarded as one of its most popular leader, amongst the new wave of leftist parties that are working for the emancipation of Latin American countries.

Chavez was seen as a virile force of nationalisation by the Venezuelans and he drew inspiration from the Cuban Revolution, the leftist governments of Juan Alvarado and Omar Torrijos in Panama. He used his country’s rich natural reserves such as oil for which he was seen as a liberator of the poor. He invested millions of dollars in oil in countries that were ideologically similar.

In 1992, Chavez launched Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement against President Carlos Andres Perez. After the death of 18 lives and 60 injuries, he gave himself up and languished in prison for two years, when his associates tried to seize power but they failed again.

As a leader for Venezuelans, he spoke, wrote and read widely. He delivered 40 hours of speeches per week. He discussed his policies frequently on radio and television. 'Alo Presidente' (Hello President), the programme where his policies were discussed had no time limits. Chavez preferred weekly meetings with his cabinet in order to stay in direct contacts with the masses.

Born in a small village of Sabaneta in July, 1954 and popularly known as ‘Commandante’, Chavez was a proponent of Bolivarian Nationalism. Chavez started his journey from a small time school teacher, where he educated army officers with heroic tales of Simon Bolivar, that called an end to Spanish Colonialism who won independence to many countries in the early 1800’s.

He tried to embody himself as the next Che. His early start in politics defined grass root level democracy. He even tried his best to decentralise. In 1999, he passed a referendum regarding whether or not Venezuela wanted a constituent assembly, second assembly or a second referendum ratifying the new constitution. The most considerate welfare measure which Chavez took that year was introducing articles that gave freedom to mixed races and black people.

The little ‘Red Book’ of the Venezuelan Constitution became a best seller for the people on the streets. "The indigenous peoples," it says, "have the right to maintain their own economic practices, based on reciprocity, solidarity and exchange ... and to define their priorities ... " It’s popularity was such that articles of the book were even written on the soap power packets found in commercial retail chains.

Chavez’s social missions provided free healthcare and education till university level, to formerly excluded people that changed their life and outlook. He began real land reforms and guaranteed women rights. The facts speak for themselves: the percentage of people in poverty fell from 55% in 1995 to 26.4% in 2009. When Chavez was sworn into office, unemployment was 15%. In June, 2009 it was 7.8%. The poorest housewives got at least 120 pounds a month. Chavez won eight elections and eight referendums in eight years, which is regarded as a world record.

‘The 2002 Venezuelan Coup’ attempt ousted him for 47 hours, but he was luckily restored by a combination of military loyalists and through massive public support for his government. It was a failed attempt by Pedro Carmona, who headed an amalgam of pro-business elites known as the Venenzuelan Federation of Chambers and Commerce.

"On August 1805," wrote Chávez, Bolívar "climbed the Monte Sacro near Rome and made a solemn oath." Like Bolívar, Chávez swore to break the chains binding Latin Americans to the will of the mighty. He owed much of his education to avowed Marxist, Salvador Allende, the Socialist leader of Chile. He wanted to be a pacifist and a democrat like him.

Chavez drew lessons from the coup of Allende in Chile, and it shaped up his belief system against far right democracies and cruel imperialist policies which served as ordeals for the poor countries.

Chavez even had his critics. To many local media outlets, he was seen as a repressor as he clamped down their services. His social programs were criticised because it soared up inflation and decreased production. To businessmen, he was seen as a proponent who was an antagonist to investments. His legacy in the world today has received mixed reactions.

His governance had proved as a threat to the United States policies for their local alliances with the elite anti left, especially the wealthy business class in Caracas who owned villas in Miami. Interestingly, his dictatorship was not seen as authoritarianism by the people. It is because he constantly challenged actions against cruel and oligarchical servants, and for this reason he won support from the masses.

In 2009, his rule announced unlimited term for his officials and himself – pure dictatorship for the people of Venezuela, until his untimely death. His last words were, "I don’t want to die” before succumbing to a massive heart attack, as narrated by his loyalist generals.


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