Venezuela’s ‘Comandante’ Hugo Chavez dies

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the charismatic leftist leader who dominated his country with sweeping political change and flamboyant speeches, died today, Tuesday, at age 58, after a long battle with cancer that prevented him from being inaugurated for a fourth term.  Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias was born on 28 July 1954 in the rural town of Sabaneta in western Venezuela.

The “Chavistas” praised El Comandante for reducing extreme poverty and expanding access to health care and education for all.  As president, Hugo Chavez initiated a new constitution and had the name of the country changed to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. He fully nationalized the state-run oil company, expanded the country’s armed forces. Chavez used his country’s vast oil wealth to launch massive programmes to create jobs, state-run food markets, new public housing, free health clinics, free education, and other services for the poor. The economic expansion in the country began when Chavez’s government got control over the national oil company in the first quarter of 2003, and since then, real GDP has nearly doubled, growing by 94.7 percent in 5.25 years, or 13.5 percent annually.  A 2009 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found poverty was cut in half during the first decade of Chavez’s rule; child mortality fell by a third; malnutrition deaths were down by 50%; and college enrollment doubled.   US and global business interests, however, blamed him for high inflation, food shortages, escalating crime and mismanagement of the country’s oil industry.

“He will be remembered as someone who generated over 14 years an international presence and impact way beyond his country’s size or wealth and beyond his own talent and personal charisma,” said Jorge Castenada, the former Mexico foreign minister. [Chavez] “will be remembered for his bold assertion of autonomy and independence for Latin American governments… We came to know a man who expressed a vision to bring profound changes to his country to benefit especially those people who had felt neglected and marginalised”, said Jimmy Carter, the former US president. .

“We recognise a great leader, an irreparable loss and above all a friend of Brazil, a friend of the Brazilian people”, said Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s president.  Evo Morales, Bolivia’s president, responded the news saying that “Chavez will continue to be an inspiration for all peoples who fight for their liberation… Chavez will always be present in all the regions of the world and all social sectors. Hugo Chavez will always be with us, accompanying us”.  Cuban president Raul Castro, on the other hand, expressed the feelings in his country with the following words: “It is with deep and excruciating sorrow that our people and the revolutionary government have learned of President Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias’ decease… The Cuban people view him as one of their most outstanding sons.”

Similar feelings have been expressed by other leaders of Latin America: “Chavez’s death was an “irreparable loss” for Latin America. We have lost a revolutionary, but millions of us remain inspired”(Rafael Correa, Ecuador); “Chavez’s death was “a great loss for Venezuela and the region, for Colombia and for me personally” (Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia); “You are always saddened by a death. But when you are talking about someone who has fought on the front line, and about someone who I remember I once called ‘the most generous leader I have met’, well the pain takes on a whole new dimension” (Jose Mujica, Uruguay).

“Honour and glory to Hugo Chavez,” Vice President Nicholas Maduro said in Spanish on Venezuelan television, calling for public memorials at every town square in the country.




Keele, 5 March 2013



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