In the spirit of Hugo Chavez
March 8, 2013

In the spirit of Hugo Chavez

The reactions to the untimely death of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez are sad, not only because of the tragedy of death, but, for us in this region at least, on two other counts. Firstly, our primary sources of news, reports, opinions and commentaries are derived from the western news media, never known to be kind to Chavez and the cause he espoused.{{more}} In the second place, the major focus has been on a post-Chavez Venezuela, with negative connotations about the state of the country he has left behind.

In making their assessments of Hugo Chavez, most of his detractors fail to make the point that his Bolivarian Revolution is still largely a work in progress — he had not even started his fourth term. In addition, any objective analysis would also have to take into account, the constant hostility he faced from the traditional ruling classes in Venezuela and their powerful US allies, Bush, Obama et al.

Chavez had his own powerful revolutionary rhetoric, but unlike the sixties and seventies, today’s reality is that revolutionary talk alone is not enough; people expect the goods to be delivered. The Cuban Government can testify to that. So how did Chavez fare where delivery is concerned?

His enemies talk of problems in the Venezuelan economy, of crumbling infrastructure, of mounting debts etc. These may have some truth, but look around the world, starting with the USA and Europe. Hasn’t president Obama argued for economic recovery on the basis of renewing America’s ageing and failing infrastructure? Talk about debt and economic difficulties? Well the people in Washington, London, Brussels, Athens, Madrid and Rome are very much acquainted.

Chavez has not solved all of Venezuela’s problems, but because he has focused on the poor, the trampled underclass of Venezuela, the blacks and indigenous people, shut out from power by the white elite, he chalked up impressive achievements. Chavez instituted a series of initiatives, called Bolivarian Missions, which tackled the challenges in poverty, education, health, food and nutrition, access to land, housing and the other areas fundamental to the enjoyment of life and happiness for Venezuela’s poor.

As a result, the poverty level, 59 per cent when he had just started in 1999, was reduced to 26.4 per cent by 2009, with extreme poverty cut from 21.7 per cent to 9.9 per cent. In education, over 1 million black and poor Venezuelans learned to read and write during his tenure; if the impact of ALBA programmes is counted, over 3.6 million Latin Americans became literate. He instituted thousands of free medical clinics making use of the skill of thousands of Cuban medical personnel and the infant mortality rate fell by 18 per cent in his first eight years in office. Venezuela’s vast oil wealth, before the privilege of Los Blancos Ricos and Los Yanquis, was used to provide cheap fuel, food and housing subsidies for the poor, a housing programme aimed at building three million homes by 2018, and unemployment fell from 15 per cent when he took the reins of state power to 7.8 per cent by 2009. True, it has gone up since, but can the USA, UK, European Union etc. point fingers? Not with their problems!

Chavez’ ideology, based on socialist values, aimed at giving the poor of the region, the original indigenous people, and the people who are “darker than blue”, a place at the table. He sought to counter hegemonism in the hemisphere and was instrumental in helping to stop US plans for an American-dominated Free Trade Area of the Americas, the FTAA, (do we remember?) and to build instead regional cooperation and solidarity, exemplified by Petro Caribe and ALBA, so bitterly criticized.

It is a pity that in our own country and in many of our neighbours’ so many of us are susceptible to the propaganda of those whose only aim is to continue to oppress us. Hugo Chavez was no saint and certainly had his weaknesses and made errors. We may not always have approved of his tactics, rhetoric or methods, but the balance sheet demonstrates clearly on which side he stood. Venezuela now has the fairest distribution of income in Latin America, proving his success in reducing inequality. How could we rejoice at his passing? How could a black US President not be so gracious as to even refrain from expressing grief and condolences? Obama’s real enemies are those of Chavez, are those of the black, indigenous and poor people of the Americas.

Hugo Chavez will be remembered in the history of the Americas, making his contribution in the long tradition of nationalist, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist fighters, the traditions of Chatoyer, Jose Marti, Simon Bolivar, Marcus Garvey and Fidel Castro. None of them perfect, but all on OUR SIDE!