Published on March 6th, 2013 |
by Joe Lo
When Hugo Chavez died last night he was universally described as “controversial” but why is this? What has he done to irritate the Western media so much and why is there so much heated debate surrounding him? What nobody is debating is that Chavez challenged US interests in Latin America both rhetorically and in policy. He called George W. Bush “a donkey” and, when speaking after him in the UN, he said “I can still smell the sulphur”; he also nationalised the nation’s oil. Instead of American interests, he championed Venezuelan interests and especially those of the vast majority of Venezuelans living in poverty. This is surely the job of a Venezuelan President but challenging a global superpower in their “own backyard” will always be controversial and this was no exception. Figures in the American media called for his assassination – Pat Robertson said: “if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, well, we should go ahead and do it”.
Robertson went on to say that “Venezuela is becoming a base for Muslim extremists” which shows the intellect of many of Chavez’s opponents. But invoking the threat of Islamism in a country with no Muslim community is no more ridiculous than calling Chavez a“dictator”, a lie that sadly has been repeated enough that many will believe it. Unlike most dictators, Chavez has won seventeen elections and referenda since 1998. Were they rigged? Not according to Jimmy Carter, the former US President and founder of the Carter Centre for Human Rights, who in 2012 said: “of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world”. In fact, it is Chavez’s opponents, with the active backing of the CIA and urged on by the privately-owned Venezuelan media, who have tried to usurp democracy and restore Venezuela to the brutal military dictatorship it was before Chavez came along. In 2002 there was a coup attempt against him which was only narrowly defeated by a popular uprising and is portrayed in this excellent documentary.
Chavez was saved from the coup and execution because of his popularity amongst the poor. The reason for this is that he has transformed the lives of millions. Statistics do not do justice to the transformative effect Chavez has had on his country but the fact that, during his Presidency, poverty has fallen by 50%, extreme poverty has fallen by 75%, education spending has doubled and health-care is near universally free. Critics argue that Chavez has only been able to do this with the proceeds of oil revenues but one only need to look to Saudi Arabia, Iraq or Nigeria to see that oil does not lead automatically to poverty eradication. The missing ingredient is socialism. Critics also insinuate that Chavez has somehow cheated by redistributing wealth to the poor and “buying their votes”, however, giving the people what they want is the basis of democracy. In making this insinuation, western politicians and media figures show up their own lack of faith in it, their view that democracy must be “responsible”; in other words, limited for the peoples’ own good.
Like most human beings though (Lionel Messi being the exception), Chavez is imperfect. His praise for various dictators such as Ahmadinejad, Gaddaffi and Assad does him no favours and overlooks the huge suffering inflicted by these men on their own populations. The attitude that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” is morally flawed and simplistic. However, for Western leaders to criticise him for this is extremely hypocritical. The British government currently heavily subsidises the arms industry which sells to regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. Tony Blair stayed at Mubarak’s holiday villa and called the Egyptian dictator “immensely courageous and a force for good” and David Cameron reacted to the peoples’revolutions in the Arab Spring by rushing to the area to sell their dictators’ British weapons.
If history retains its integrity, the lies spread by his critics will be filtered out of the history books and Chavez will be remembered as one of the great visionary leaders of our times. He was an imperfect man but one who changed the lives of millions and who was a beacon of hope to all of those struggling for a fairer world.