Hugo Rafael Chàvez Frias has died.
The Venezuelan President, a fiery populist who declared a socialist revolution in his native country and crusaded against the USA's imperial influence, passed away on March 5.
During more than 14 years in office, Chávez routinely challenged the status quo at home and internationally. Surely, the American media will portray him as a vile individual who polarized Venezuelans, palled around with dictators, maintained ties to communist Russia, and, the ultimate insult: befriended El Comandante Fidel Castro -- eternal thorn in Americans' egos. Multiple U.S. Administrations rued Chavez' help lent to follow South American nations to topple U.S.-friendly puppet governments.
Some enlightened observers might wonder why the man the media vilifies is showered with love and adulation despite his perceived transgressions. While I cannot speak for the Venezuelan people, I have some theories as to why Hugo Chávez means so much to millions of world citizens.
In 1498, Christopher Columbus sailed along the eastern coast of Venezuela on his third voyage. Like Canada, the European transitioned from explorers to settlers and oppressors. The Spanish and the German colonizers enslaved the indigenous people, harvested all the pearls, pillaged any resources they could find (namely gold), and made the Spanish Empire abundantly rich. African slaves were imported to keep the gold looting going.
Three-hundred years on, Simón Bolivar inspired the entire continent when he led a campaign to rid South America of its colonial plunderers. By the 1980s, successive military regimes and undemocratic leaders had kept the majority of Venezuelans outside the umbrella of socio-economic prosperity. An Apartheid-flavoured society was firmly in place, with the rich elite in the seat of power while the rest of the population lived sparely. Hugo Chávez became a national voice for the denunciation of corruption and the structural paradigm that was quite unfair, to put it mildly.
"Let them eat cake." -- Queen Marie Antoinette. (Apparently uttered during one of the famines that occurred in France during the reign of her husband, Louis XVI)
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Chavez says on television from Cuba that he had a cancerous tumor removed from his pelvic region. He later says the tumor extracted was the size of a baseball. <em>Caption: In this photo downloaded from the state media Cubadebate web site, Cuba's Fidel Castro, left, and his brother Cuba's President Raul Castro, right, pose for a photo with Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez in his hospital room in Havana, Cuba, Friday June 17, 2011. (AP Photo//Cubadebate)</em>
Chavez returns to Venezuela, but later travels to Cuba periodically for chemotherapy and medical tests. <em>Caption: Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez gestures after a meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)</em>
Chavez says he completed chemotherapy and calls the treatment successful. Says later that tests show no reappearance of cancer cells. <em>Caption: Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez greets supporters from a plane as he arrives to La Fria, Venezuela, Thursday Oct. 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)</em>
Chavez says his doctors found a new lesion in the same place where the tumor was previously removed, and announces plans to return to Cuba for surgery. <em>Caption: An altar boy prays next to an image of Venezuelas President Hugo Chavez during mass supporting him in Managua, Nicaragua, Thursday March, 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)</em>
Chavez undergoes operation that removes the tumor from the same location in his pelvic region. Says later that follow-up tests showed the tumor was "recurrence of the initially diagnosed cancer." <em>Caption: A supporter of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez holds up a sign that reads in Spanish "Pray for Chavez" during an event event honoring Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez at the Teresa Carreno theater in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)</em>
Chavez travels to Cuba to begin radiation therapy. <em>Caption: In this photo released by Miraflores Press Office, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, center, and his daughter Rosa Virginia, left, review the honor guard prior to their departure to Havana, at the Simon Bolivar airport in Maiquetia, Venezuela, Saturday March 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Miraflores Press Office/Francisco Batista)</em>
Chavez travels to Cuba for second round of radiation treatment. <em>Caption: In this photo released by Miraflores Press Office, Cubas Vice President Jose Ramon Machado, left, receives Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, center, and his daughter Rosa Virginia, right, upon their arrival at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, Saturday April 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Miraflores Press Office)</em>
Chavez returns to Venezuela following cancer treatment in Cuba, saying his latest round of therapy was successful. <em>Caption: In this photo released by Miraflores Press Office, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, right, speaks with members of his staff including Vice President Elias Jaua, left, upon his arrival to the airport in Maiquetia near Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, April 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Miraflores Press Office, Efrain Gonzalez)</em>
Chavez says at a news conference that tests show he is "totally free" of cancer. <em>Caption: In this July 5, 2012 file photo, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez waves during a parade marking Independence Day in Caracas, Venezuela. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File)</em>
Chavez wins re-election to another six-year term, beating challenger Henrique Capriles. <em>Caption: Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez greets officials after a ceremony declaring him winner of Sunday's presidential elections at the Electoral Council in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)</em>
Chavez announces he will travel to Cuba for more medical treatment. He says doctors have recommended he "begin special treatment consisting of various sessions of hyperbaric oxygenation." <em>Caption: In this photo released by Miraflores Press Office, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez holds a sword that once belonged to independence hero Simon Bolivar at a meeting with his Cabinet, at Miraflores Presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, Dec 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Miraflores Press Office, Marcelo Garcia)</em>
Chavez announces that cancerous tumor reappeared and that he must travel to Cuba for another operation. He says the surgery could be complicated and that if he is unable to stay on as president, Vice President Nicolas Maduro should run in an election to take his place. <em>Caption: Backdropped by a portrait of independence hero Simon Bolivar, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez talks during a press conference at the Miraflores palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)</em>
Chavez travels to Cuba and undergoes surgery the next day. <em>Caption: In this Dec. 10, 2012 file photo released by Cuba's state newspaper Granma, Cuba's President Raul Castro, right, receives Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez at the Jose Marti International airport in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Granma, File)</em>
Chavez misses his scheduled swearing-in ceremony, which was indefinitely postponed by lawmakers. Supporters stage symbolic inauguration in the streets of Caracas, swearing themselves in in their leader's place. <em>Caption: In this Jan. 10, 2013 file photo, supporters of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez carry a life-size cut out image of him during a symbolic inauguration ceremony for Chavez, who was in Cuba for cancer treatment at the time, in Caracas, Venezuela. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File)</em>
Maduro says he is optimistic that Chavez will return to Venezuela "sooner rather than later." <em>Caption: In this Jan. 21, 2013 file photo, Venezuela's Vice President Nicolas Maduro listens a speech by Luisa Estella Morales, president of Supreme Court, during a special session marking the start of the judicial year in Caracas, Venezuela. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File)</em>
Information Minister Ernesto Villegas says no date has been established for Chavez's return. <em>Caption: In this photo released by Miraflores Press Office, Venezuela's Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas speaks during news conference in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Francisco Batista, Miraflores Press Office)</em>
Maduro says Chavez is undergoing "extremely complex and tough" treatments. <em>Caption: Venezuela's Vice President Nicolas Maduro holds up a letter that he said it was sent by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez to his supporters during a demonstration commemorating the anniversary of a failed coup attempt led by Chavez in 1992, in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, Feb. 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)</em>
Government shows first photos of Chavez in more than two months, says he is breathing through a tracheal tube. <em>Caption: In this photo released Friday, Feb. 15, 2013 by Miraflores Presidential Press Office, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, center, poses for a photo with his daughters, Maria Gabriela, left, and Rosa Virginia as he holds a copy of Cuba's state newspaper Granma at an unknown location in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Miraflores Presidential Press Office)</em>
Vice President Nicolas Maduro announces Chavez has died. <em>FILE - In this April 13, 2010 file photo, members of the National Revolutionary Militia, also called Bolivarian militias, hold up their guns and a painting of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez at an event marking the 9th anniversary of Chavez's return to power after a failed 2002 coup, in Caracas, Venezuela. Venezuela's Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 that Chavez has died. Chavez, 58, was first diagnosed with cancer in June 2011. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File)</em>
Chavez' Friends Shared His Vision
It is perhaps no coincidence that Bolivia's President Evo Morales sought kinship in Chávez. The Andean nation, which has a small Euro-centric elite and a population which is 90 per cent indigenous/Mestizo, only saw its first non-Caucasian president in 2006.
There are parallels to Brazil, where a man of the people, Lula, rose to power soon after Chavez' red wave. Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega followed the same trend. Cuba's Fidel Castro represents the same socialist ideal: that the poor, the coloured, the illiterate, the segregated and the oppressed citizens deserve a fair shot at the basic constructs of society: education, healthcare and employment.
Should Imperial Superpowers Deprecate Socialism?
It is much too easy, as we Canadians sit in the lap of freedom, democracy and controlled capitalism, to dismiss South American nations as "commies" and "leftist" playing Robin Hood to gain things they didn't earn. In nations where the plumbs have been distributed to the few, where all the power is concentrated in elite hands, where the social structure is cemented to maintain the rigid social model favouring only the privileged, the default remedy is socialism. Perhaps it is the only viable denouement for those unlucky enough to be born in that condemned socio-economic cul-de-sac.
How lucky are we that we never have to choose between food and freedom? Even worse, some have neither and are willing to fight and die for both.
The colonial pyramid scheme in Venezuela was tipped over in the late 1990s when Hugo Chávez was elected President. Chavez was re-elected time after time because the vast majority of Venezuelans, who are poor, finally reached more than the crumbs they had previously been given out of the proverbial populous pie.
What you won't hear on CNN or Fox News is that Hugo Chávez offered light where there was once darkness, supplied doctors to the sick, afforded free schooling to children for whom education was an elusive dream. Hugo Chávez Occupied Venezuela's Wall Street before the movement started in the USA. The private oil companies were nationalized and their profits went from padding the yacht club members' wallets to building public schools and investing in infrastructure.
Hugo Chávez brought socialized medicine to his people long before ObamaCare. I once met a Cuban doctor who had spent some time working in rural Venezuela in a cuban collaboration program. She was surprised to learn she was the first medical person to visit the area ever. Ever!
Hugo Chávez reduced poverty in his country by a whopping 50 per cent from 1996 to 2010. That's a challenge we Canadians have yet to reach, despite successive federal and provincial efforts.
Hugo Chávez granted 2.1-million elderly people an old-age pension (a privilege previously afforded to 1 out of 5 who needed it). It is also a great achievement that Venezuela is now tied with Finland as the fifth country with the happiest population in the world.
Long before the Idle No More movement, Hugo Chávez was revered as a stalwart champion of the underdog struggle for indigenous rights. Chávez secured three seats in Venezuela's National Assembly and made his country the first in the region to reserve state and municipal indigenous appointments in key regions throughout the country.
Feminist supporters say Venezuela has come a long way under Chávez, with laws enshrining women's rights, the establishment of a women's and gender equality ministry and a bank, Banmujer, which gives credit to poor women. The head of the supreme court, the head of the national electoral commission, the attorney general, the ombudsman and the deputy head of the national assembly, as well as numerous ministers and legislators, are women.
While the American press will crucify Hugo Chávez and cherry-pick his dealings with less-than-friendly nations, lest we forget that the Americans were allied with the Taliban of the 1980s, and that Tunisian President Ben Ali's regime presented no problems to the USA until the Arab Spring.
As Canada has followed the USA's lead in many foreign affairs files, and continues to grovel for China's attention in international trade despite some well-documented transgressions, it is difficult to stomach the habitual omission of Hugo Chávez' formidable achievements in favour of his debatable missteps, designed to outplay his opponents who had generations of proven experience in manipulating the masses.
Hugo vs. Goliath
Hugo Chávez did what few other Developing World leaders have dared: he stood up to Euro-American imperialism. Like El Libertador Simón Bolivar before him, Chávez did not accept the position of perpetual poverty imposed on his people. He stood up to subjugation; he stood up to corruption; he stood up for all those who, crushed by poverty and despair, did not have the strength to even crawl.
In the David and Goliath confrontation between the Mestizo and the colonial superpowers, Chávez punched above his weight. The crimson shirt Chavez wore was the colour of energy, passion, desire, strength, fire, and intensity.
Red is also the colour of the love millions have for a man who always looked out for the "peasants" and genuinely wished for their well-being. The mythic personality that Hugo Chávez has become merits, if nothing else, respect.
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