Hugo Chávez Kept his Promise to the People of Venezuela, and to Latin America
Mile long line of mourners waiting 7-hrs to pay respects to deceased Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, Mary Murray - NBC - #Chávez pic.twitter.com/CPzt1lWyiW
- Hugo Chávez Kept his Promise to the People of Venezuela (Oscar Guardiola-Rivera in The Guardian)
- Latin America After Chávez (Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in The New York Times)
- Statement From Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on the Death of Hugo Chavez
by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera
March 5, 2013
He wrote, he read, and mostly he spoke. Hugo Chávez, whose death has been announced, was devoted to the word. He spoke publicly an average of 40 hours per week. As president, he didn't hold regular cabinet meetings; he'd bring the many to a weekly meeting, broadcast live on radio and television. Aló, Presidente, the programme in which policies were outlined and discussed, had no time limits, no script and no teleprompter. One session included an open discussion of healthcare in the slums of Caracas, rap, a self-critical examination of Venezuelans being accustomed to the politics of oil money and expecting the president to be a magician, a friendly exchange with a delegation from Nicaragua and a less friendly one with a foreign journalist.
Nicaragua is one of Venezuela's allies in Alba, the organisation constituted at Chávez's initiative to counter neoliberalism in the region, alongside Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia. It has now acquired a life of its own having invited a number of Caribbean countries and Mexico to join, with Vietnam as an observer. It will be a most enduring legacy, a concrete embodiment of Chávez's words and historical vision. The Bolívarian revolution has been crucial to the wider philosophy shared and applied by many Latin American governments. Its aim is to overcome global problems through local and regional interventions by engaging with democracy and the state in order to transform the relation between these and the people, rather than withdrawing from the state or trying to destroy it.
Because of this shared view Brazilians, Uruguayans and Argentinians perceived Chávez as an ally, not an anomaly, and supported the inclusion of Venezuela in their Mercosur alliance. Chávez's Social Missions, providing healthcare and literacy to formerly excluded people while changing their life and political outlook, have proven the extent of such a transformative view. It could be compared to the levelling spirit of a kind of new New Deal combined with a model of social change based on popular and communal organisation.
The facts speak for themselves: the percentage of households in poverty fell from 55% in 1995 to 26.4% in 2009. When Chávez was sworn into office unemployment was 15%, in June 2009 it was 7.8%. Compare that to current unemployment figures in Europe. In that period Chávez won 56% of the vote in 1998, 60% in 2000, survived a coup d'état in 2002, got over 7m votes in 2006 and secured 54.4% of the vote last October. He was a rare thing, almost incomprehensible to those in the US and Europe who continue to see the world through the Manichean prism of the cold war: an avowed Marxist who was also an avowed democrat. To those who think the expression of the masses should have limited or no place in the serious business of politics all the talking and goings on in Chávez's meetings were anathema, proof that he was both fake and a populist. But to the people who tuned in and participated en masse, it was politics and true democracy not only for the sophisticated, the propertied or the lettered.
All this talking and direct contact meant the constant reaffirmation of a promise between Chávez and the people of Venezuela. Chávez had discovered himself not by looking within, but by looking outside into the shameful conditions of Latin Americans and their past. He discovered himself in the promise of liberation made by Bolívar. "On August 1805," wrote Chávez, Bolívar "climbed the Monte Sacro near Rome and made a solemn oath." Like Bolívar, Chávez swore to break the chains binding Latin Americans to the will of the mighty. Within his lifetime, the ties of dependency and indirect empire have loosened. From the river Plate to the mouths of the Orinoco river, Latin America is no longer somebody else's backyard. That project of liberation has involved thousands of men and women pitched into one dramatic battle after another, like the coup d'état in 2002 or the confrontation with the US-proposed Free Trade Zone of the Americas. These were won, others were lost.
The project remains incomplete. It may be eternal and thus the struggle will continue after Chávez is gone. But whatever the future may hold, the peoples of the Americas will fight to salvage the present in which they have regained a voice. In Venezuela, they put Chávez back into the presidency after the coup. This was the key event in Chávez's political life, not the military rebellion or the first electoral victory. Something changed within him at that point: his discipline became ironclad, his patience invincible and his politics clearer. For all the attention paid to the relation between Chávez and Castro, the lesser known fact is that Chávez's political education owes more to another Marxist president who was also an avowed democrat: Chile's Salvador Allende. "Like Allende, we're pacifists and democrats," he once said. "Unlike Allende, we're armed."
The lesson drawn by Chávez from the defeat of Allende in 1973 is crucial. Some, like the far right and the state-linked paramilitary of Colombia would love to see Chavismo implode, and wouldn't hesitate to sow chaos across borders. The support of the army and the masses of Venezuela will decide the fate of the Bolívarian revolution, and the solidarity of powerful and sympathetic neighbours like Brazil. Nobody wants instability now that Latin America is finally standing up for itself. In his final days Chávez emphasised the need to build communal power and promoted some of his former critics associated with the journal Comuna. The revolution will not be rolled back. Unlike his admired Bolívar, Chávez did not plough the seas.
[Oscar Guardiola-Rivera is a senior lecturer in law at Birkbeck, University of London and author of What If Latin America Ruled the World?]
Hugo Chavez funeral-Friday 1030a ET. Body then returns to military school for 7 days of public viewing.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva,
March 6, 2013
History will affirm, justifiably, the role Hugo Chávez played in the integration of Latin America, and the significance of his 14-year presidency to the poor people of Venezuela, where he died on Tuesday after a long struggle with cancer.
However, before history is allowed to dictate our interpretation of the past, we must first have a clear understanding of Mr. Chávez's significance, in both the domestic and international political contexts. Only then can the leaders and peoples of South America, arguably the world's most dynamic continent today, clearly define the tasks ahead of us so that we might consolidate the advances toward international unity achieved in the past decade. Those tasks have gained new importance now that we are without the help of Mr. Chávez's boundless energy; his deep belief in the potential for the integration of the nations of Latin America; and his commitment to the social transformations needed to ameliorate the misery of his people.
Mr. Chávez's social campaigns, especially in the areas of public health, housing and education, succeeded in improving the standard of living of tens of millions of Venezuelans.
One need not agree with everything Mr. Chávez said or did. There is no denying that he was a controversial, often polarizing, figure, one who never fled from debate and for whom no topic was taboo. I must admit I often felt that it would have been more prudent for Mr. Chávez not to have said all that he did. But this was a personal characteristic of his that should not, even from afar, discredit his qualities.
One might also disagree with Mr. Chávez's ideology, and a political style that his critics viewed as autocratic. He did not make easy political choices and he never wavered in his decisions.
However, no remotely honest person, not even his fiercest opponent, can deny the level of camaraderie, of trust and even of love that Mr. Chávez felt for the poor of Venezuela and for the cause of Latin American integration. Of the many power brokers and political leaders I have met in my life, few have believed so much in the unity of our continent and its diverse peoples - indigenous Indians, descendants of Europeans and Africans, recent immigrants - as he did.
Mr. Chávez was instrumental in the 2008 treaty that established the Union of South American Nations, a 12-member intergovernmental organization that might someday move the continent toward the model of the European Union. In 2010, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States leapt from theory to practice, providing a political forum alongside the Organization of American States. (It does not include the United States and Canada, as the O.A.S. does.) The Bank of the South, a new lending institution, independent of the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, also would not have been possible without Mr. Chávez's leadership. Finally, he was vitally interested in fostering closer Latin American ties with Africa and the Arab world.
If a public figure dies without leaving ideas, his legacy and his spirit come to an end as well. This was not the case for Mr. Chávez, a strong, dynamic and unforgettable figure whose ideas will be discussed for decades in universities, labor unions, political parties and anyplace where people are concerned with social justice, the alleviation of misery and the fairer distribution of power among the peoples of the world. Perhaps his ideas will come to inspire young people in the future, much as the life of Simón Bolívar, the great liberator of Latin America, inspired Mr. Chávez himself.
Mr. Chávez's legacy in the realm of ideas will need further work if they are to become a reality in the messy world of politics, where ideas are debated and contested. A world without him will require other leaders to display the effort and force of will he did, so that his dreams will not be remembered only on paper.
To maintain his legacy, Mr. Chávez's sympathizers in Venezuela have much work ahead of them to construct and strengthen democratic institutions. They will have to help make the political system more organic and transparent; to make political participation more accessible; to enhance dialogue with opposition parties; and to strengthen unions and civil society groups. Venezuelan unity, and the survival of Mr. Chávez's hard-won achievements, will require this.
It is without a doubt the aspiration of all Venezuelans - whether aligned with or opposed to Mr. Chávez, whether soldier or civilian, Catholic or evangelical, rich or poor - to realize the potential of a nation as promising as theirs. Only peace and democracy can make those aspirations a reality.
The multilateral institutions Mr. Chávez helped create will also help ensure the consecration of South American unity. He will no longer be present at South American summit meetings, but his ideals, and the Venezuelan government, will continue to be represented. Democratic camaraderie among the leaders of Latin America and the Caribbean is the best guarantee of the political, economic, social and cultural unity that our peoples want and need.
In moving toward unity, we are at a point of no return. But however steadfast we are, we must be even more so in negotiating our nations' participation in international forums like the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. These institutions, born from the ashes of World War II, have not been sufficiently responsive to the realities of today's multipolar world.
Charismatic and idiosyncratic, capable of building friendships, communicating to the masses as few other leaders ever have, Mr. Chávez will be missed. I will always cherish the friendship and partnership that, during the eight years in which we worked together as presidents, produced such benefits for Brazil and for Venezuela and our peoples.
[Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the president of Brazil from 2003 through 2010, is the honorary president of the Instituto Lula, which focuses on Brazil's relations with Africa. This essay was translated by Benjamin Legg and Robert M. Sarwark from the Portuguese.]
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on March 7, 2013, on page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: Latin America After Chávez.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - Statement from Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter
March 5, 2013
Rosalynn and I extend our condolences to the family of Hugo Chávez Frías. We met Hugo Chávez when he was campaigning for president in 1998 and The Carter Center was invited to observe elections for the first time in Venezuela. We returned often, for the 2000 elections, and then to facilitate dialogue during the political conflict of 2002-2004. 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 marginalized. Although we have not agreed with all of the methods followed by his government, we have never doubted Hugo Chávez's commitment to improving the lives of millions of his fellow countrymen.
President Chávez will be remembered for his bold assertion of autonomy and independence for Latin American governments and for his formidable communication skills and personal connection with supporters in his country and abroad to whom he gave hope and empowerment. During his 14-year tenure, Chávez joined other leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean to create new forms of integration. Venezuelan poverty rates were cut in half, and millions received identification documents for the first time allowing them to participate more effectively in their country's economic and political life.
At the same time, we recognize the divisions created in the drive towards change in Venezuela and the need for national healing. We hope that as Venezuelans mourn the passing of President Chávez and recall his positive legacies - especially the gains made for the poor and vulnerable - the political leaders will move the country forward by building a new consensus that ensures equal opportunities for all Venezuelans to participate in every aspect of national life.