Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela is dead. The man was nothing short of an enigma. The flamboyant President was 58 years old only. He has been suffering from cancer for a while now, and had even gone through four operations in Cuba. Since 2011, he has never made a public appearance, but was always there in the mind and heart of his people. Chavez was also always picking up the US – he was one of the hardest hitting detractors of capitalism.
But Hugo Chavez is one man, who has almost single-handedly changed the economics and the political fortunes of his country. The west might have hated him for his anti-capitalism tirade, but his people loved him for what he has done for Venezuela. He is often said to be a “political beacon”. In death, not only has the world lost one of its most powerful and colorful personalities, but even the political balance in Latin America might be altered. In fact, his influence and power went far beyond Venezuela. He was often seen as the main man behind Latin American unity, and perhaps the most successful communist or socialist leader ever.
Both in death and in life, Hugo remained a confounding figure. To the millions of Venezuelans and South Americans, he was nothing short of a hero, somebody who was able to break the back of the power elites of Venezuela and could stand up to the economic and diplomatic hectoring of the US. To some European countries and of course the US, Chavez remained a demagogue and a leader who had dangerous authoritarian leanings.
Some of the Achievements of Hugo Chavez
- He was the leading social reformer who came to power in Venezuela in the 1990s. He pursued economic development with a special emphasis on participatory politics and social justice. Chavez was strongly against the corporate-led growth model.
- Hugo Chavez was among the most anti-West leaders. However the west could do nothing much about his socialist structure because of his immense popularity among the masses. Hugo Chavez was always a threat to the US because Venezuela is very close to the US borders.
- He was able to use the natural resources of the country (the oil reserves) to improve the lives of Venezuela’s people. He also supported other Latin American nations, thus enhancing his popularity in those countries as well.
- He nationalized the oil industry. Exxon had to leave the country, but there was no negative economic impact of this.
- Export earnings were used efficiently for pensions, education, healthcare and poverty eradication.
- Poverty dropped from 61% in 1997 to just 33% in 10 years. The extremely poor population came down from 30% to just 9%.
- Inequality came down dramatically.
- Education was made absolutely free till the University level. One in three people in the country now seek higher education – this is the fifth best in the world.
- Even UNESCO has recognized the rapid progress made by Venezuela in literacy.
- Malnutrition has come down to 5%.
- Food imports stood at 90% in 1980. It was 30% in 2011, thanks to the easy credits program for farmers.
- Infant mortality has come down to 13 per 1,000 in 2010 from 25 in 1990. A 50% improvement.
- Number of doctors for 10,000 people has gone up from 18 in 1998 to 58.
- 96% of people have access to clean drinking water.
Statements Made By Hugo Chavez Over the Years
In 2006, while speaking at the United Nations, he addressed the US President Barack Obama and said, “Mr Obama, You are a clown, a clown. Leave us in peace … Go after your votes by fulfilling that which you promised your people”.
While addressing Condoleezza Rice, the former US Secretary of State, he said, “Remember, little girl, I’m like the thorn tree that flowers on the plain… Don’t mess with me, Condoleezza. Don’t mess with me, girl”.
Hugo Chavez was suffering from cancer for a while. He eventually died from this disease. While speaking on cancer in Latin America, he once said, “Would it be so strange that they’ve invented technology to spread cancer and we won’t know about it for 50 years”?
Chavez was often the rallying point for all anti-West leaders. While speaking on Iran’s nuclear program, he once stated, “That hill will open up & a big atomic bomb will come out. The imperialist spokesmen say Ahmadinejad and I are going into the basement now to set our sights on Washington and launch cannons and missiles… It’s laughable”.
Hugo was a known US detractor. He had a lot of comments to make on the US foreign policy. This is what he said once, “Let’s save the human race, let’s finish off the US empire”.
The legacy of Hugo Chavez
The man has certainly done a lot for the masses of Venezuela. Hugo in his life had established a power structure. He was able to control it with his authoritarian style. What happens now, with him gone, remains a question. What would happen to the economic and social structure of the country also remains a question. Will the obvious economic gains be frittered away? We have to wait and see.
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