Written March 6, 2013
Yesterday afternoon I started getting messages from my friends and family telling me that Hugo Chavez died. I did not believe it until about the third message at which point I went online and saw the headline. “Wow.” Were the words that spilled out of my mouth. Although I knew that Chavez had been battling cancer for a couple years now and I had even written about Venezuela’s need to have a second in command, I never actually foreshadowed his death. If Chavez was good at anything it was making himself seem like this larger than life figure. For that reason I never thought about him dying in the near future. When hearing of the news all I could think about was what is going to happen now, not only in Venezuela but all of Latin America.
I got on Twitter and started tweeting and re-tweeting about what happened. I started browsing news sources for information. I somehow managed on a TMZ article that briefly informed that Hugo Chavez had died, described him as hating the United States, and ended its article by saying ‘Hugo f**k yourself’. Disgusted by lack of class when I got home I turned on CNN to see if I could get a more educated report. I was frustrated to hear Anderson Cooper focus on Chavez’s hate for the United States. CNN painted him as a dictator that aligned with other enemies of the US. They spoke of him as being paranoid for thinking the US had tried to assassinate him before. They spent little time on the story and did not once have any sort of remorseful tone. This single event is great evidence of how manipulative and polar media is in the United States. They mold people’s minds to think the way they want them to, only reporting one side of the story, never the whole thing. I am not saying that Hugo Chavez was perfect. But he was a father and had a family. And he has a great percentage of Latin America mourning his death. The media in the United States should be respectful of that.
When it comes to topics like Hugo Chavez opinions do not have to be black and white, and mine certainly are not. While the media in the United States is reporting only the white, that an evil United States hating authoritarian has died. Latin America is reporting the black side, that Venezuela has lost its leader and Latin America has lost a dear friend. I would say that my opinion is grey. I believe that Hugo Chavez did make great accomplishments for Venezuela while he was leader. I think his animosity towards the United States is completely justified. However, I also think that he made many mistakes as leader, not stepping down being one of them.
Hugo Chavez held the seat of power in Venezuela for fourteen years, if he lived through his current term it would have been twenty. During his time as Venezuela’s leader Chavez nationalized oil which allowed him to spread the country’s wealth. He reduced the country’s poverty by half, extreme poverty by seventy percent. He increased access to health care and education. He focused on the country’s ignored population. Venezuela’s poor loved him, they saw him as a man of the people.
On the other side is Venezuela’s wealthy, who mostly hated Chavez and many of whom fled the country. They blame Chavez for the high inflation and crime rate. Many said he was unable to deal with the country’s violent crime population. I see Chavez’s weakness in not stepping down, he let himself become more important than the revolution. If he stepped down and allowed someone else in the party to run for election the popularity of the revolution would have been tested. Instead, he used his control to hold on to as much power as possible. While he was president no balance of power existed and only until recently did he appoint a second in command.
Hugo Chavez brought the world’s attention to Venezuela, before the was president the world ignored the South American nation. He was the first democratically elected left presidents in Latin America, and the first that vocally opposed the United States’ control over Latin America. Those that criticize him for hating the US do not know Latin American history. The US has an ugly history of starting wars, taking out democratically elected presidents, colonizing nations and trying to hold all power over Latin America. It is a surprise that more Latin American countries do not loathe the US. Hugo Chavez was not paranoid for thinking that the United States was trying to kill him, although Nicolás Maduro was taking it to a new extreme saying the US gave the political giant cancer. Hugo Chavez survived a Washington backed military coup that tried to overthrow him. He believed that the US tried several times to assassinate him, like it has with his ally Fidel Castro. Sources close to Chavez said that he hoped relations with the US would improve under Barack Obama but lost that hope after the 2009 coup in Honduras, which he vocally opposed.
Now the world is watching Venezuela closely to see what happens on April 14th when the country will vote for the new president. Many say that Henrique Capriles, a lifelong politician, will run for the president’s seat again, he ran against Chavez in last year’s elections. Current acting president Nicolás Maduro, a former bus driver, will run under Chavez’s party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Political analysts expect Maduro to win. Chavez’s party has more than seven million members. Chavez was able to win the elections last year without really campaigning, as he went through cancer treatments during the majority of the campaign. Many of Chavez’s supporters will vote for Maduro simply because that is what Chavez told them to do before he died. If Chavez’s party continues to rule it is unlikely that relations with the US will improve. Maduro will most likely rule just like Chavez, he has even been speaking like Chavez recently.
I am most interested to see what happens politically in Latin America. Hugo Chavez started a trend of left governments in Latin America, especially South America. Presidents from across the region are expected to come to Venezuela to mourn his death. Unlike in the US, Chavez was a big deal in Latin America and the region is shaken by his death. He was the leader of left governments and opposition to the US. It will be interesting to see if the trend of left governments continues in Latin America after his death.
The most demonized democratically elected president is dead. The political giant has fallen. Now it is time for a new leader in Venezuela, and Latin America.