Chavez – Catalyst for Change

By Raffique Shah
March 09, 2013

Raffique ShahHUGO Chavez cast a giant shadow over the Western Hemisphere during his relatively short life. Few world leaders can claim to have influenced the course of history and geopolitics the way he did. For more than half-a-century, visionaries formulated and articulated ideas for the creation of a new power centre that resided outside of North America and Europe. Chavez transformed those dreams into reality, however limited, and upon his untimely death he left behind the legacy of a new world order that seems set to redefine Latin America and influence global affairs in the 21st Century.

There are many who would disagree with these assertions. His detractors include the largely white upper-middle and upper classes of Venezuela, those of their ilk in the Americas, and conservatives across the world. For them, Hugo was a rambunctious dictator who imposed his socialist ideology on his hapless homeland. They say that he routinely violated his opponents’ human rights, that he ran the oil-rich country’s economy to the ground, and worse.

I shall not engage this lot in futile debate save to raise a few pertinent points. Chavez convincingly won three elections and two referendums during the 14 years he held power. How, therefore, can he be branded a dictator? For most of the 20th Century, Venezuela had oil and was governed by two parties, the AD and the COPEI. In their wake, when Chavez first came to power in 1999, extreme poverty stood at an estimated 40 per cent. By 2010, that number had declined to seven per cent.

Indeed, from his detractors’ perspective, one of Chavez’s cardinal sins was that he spent too much of the national budget on alleviating poverty and social programmes. He focussed on low-cost housing, improving health services, making education accessible to all, establishing state-run groceries that delivered food to the poor at minimal cost, and much more. Little wonder that stricken though he was with cancer, he won a resounding victory in the October 2012 presidential election.

One Associated Press reporter gained notoriety when she suggested that instead of “wasting” billions of dollars on social programmes, Chavez should have used Venezuela’s oil money to build prestige projects (skyscrapers, art galleries) the way Dubai and Abu Dhabi did. Her warped priorities no doubt mirror those of the elites who were the sole beneficiaries of the country’s wealth in the pre-Chavez era.

Without doubt, Venezuela’s economy, more so the critical oil sector, has not performed as well as it should have, given buoyant oil prices during most of Chavez’s stewardship. A significant drop in crude oil production and refinery throughput is cause for concern. These declines would hardly have happened overnight, though: more than likely industry infrastructure degenerated over decades. His successors must now move to restore dynamism to the economy, a fitting tribute to the fallen leader.

Chavez really made his mark on the wider canvas of Latin America and the Caribbean. From early in his political career he invoked the spirit of the legendary liberator Simon Bolivar. By the dawn of the 21st Century, the giant that is Latin America was coming awake after almost 100 years of economic slumber, battered by repressive US-installed regimes that were barbaric towards the continent’s 200-plus million people. Endowed though they were with rich resources, the countries of South and Central America were mired in stagnation and relative poverty, serving mainly the geopolitical and economic interests of the US.

It was a case of “cometh the hour, cometh the man” when a young and brash Hugo broke the political horizon in 1999. He took on the mission that Bolivar had left unfulfilled however many years before. In a flash—or so it seemed—he killed Uncle Sam’s Free Trade of the Americas (FTAA) initiative and established the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA)—a small but not insignificant regional grouping.

By 2008 he had convinced his colleagues, radical leaders like Lula in Brazil, Kirchner in Argentina, Morales in Bolivia and Correa in Ecuador, to come together as the Union of South American Nations. Next came the Bank of the South (BancoSur), a lending institution independent of US-dominated agencies like the World Bank and the IADB. By 2011, the 33-nation Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), to which most Caribbean countries belong, was up and running. And back in 2005, when rocketing oil prices put immense pressure on small oil-importing countries, Chavez put in place the Petrocaribe alliance, a soft-loan-deferred-payment system that all but saved small Caribbean countries from economic disaster.

For the first time in history, Latin American countries set about charting their own economic and political destinies, freeing themselves from the harsh strictures of international lending agencies. Today, thanks to Chavez’s aggressive pursuit of continental integration, and to the progressive leadership that responded to his call to arms, South America, as Lula noted, is now “the world’s most dynamic continent”. From Caracas to Tierra del Fuego, the giant in its many manifestations has awakened, forging ahead—this time with the masses very involved and benefitting from the bounty.

Chavez was the first Latin leader to embrace the Caribbean and open for us a door to immense trade and other possibilities. Through CELAC, the region can now reap the fruits of South-South investment and trade. Tourism takes on a new dimension. Manufacturers have new markets. And Trinidad and Tobago, with its huge pool of young engineers and technocrats schooled in hydrocarbons technologies, can tap into new energy horizons that are lighting up the southern skies.

As we enjoy the fruits of a whole new world at our southern doorstep, let us never forget the catalyst of change who made it possible, Hugo Chavez. Thanks for everything, Bro.

7 thoughts on “Chavez – Catalyst for Change”

  1. Venezuela Opposition won’t win

    By LAUREL V WILLIAMS Monday, March 11 2013,174670.html

    FROM eating dog chow to the bread itself, the lower class masses in Venezuela would not vote for the Opposition parties in the next election to find a replacement for President Hugo Chavez who died last week Tuesday following a two-year battle with Cancer.

    So says Anthropologist John Sorrillo, who said that prior to the late President Chavez taking leadership in Venezuela, 14 years ago, that oil rich country’s poor people ate dog chow as they “could not even get the crumbs of the bread to eat.”

    Sorrillo, a Venezuelan-born who has called Trinidad his home for the past 30 years, hailed Chavez as a great leader whose ideologies came from liberator Simon Bolivar. Describing himself as a ‘Chavista’ (a die-hard supporter of Chavez), the anthropologist praised the leader for transforming the country and creating programmes to benefit the people.

    Saying the people lost a hero, Chavez’ love for the masses was reflected at his funeral last Friday with thousands of people attending.

    Although he was loved by many, Sorillo said, Chavez was also hated. Some have even labelled the popular leader a dictator, but Sorrillo dismissed such terms as propaganda. “It is very easy to criticise someone. To judge Chavez, we have to understand the history of Venezuela. Do these people who criticise Chavez highlight why he came into power? Do they highlight what used to happen before Chavez? Have they analysed all the oppressions Venezuela had under the previous government?” Sorrillo asked.

    Growing up in Venezuela, Sorrillo recalled that there were consequences to person who openly criticised the government of the day. He charged that then governments have used violent tactics against the University of Central Venezuela, his alma mater, many times especially when students protested against the government of the day.

    For one year there were no classes at the university back in the 1970s, he added. “Why do they not explain why there were so much poverty in Venezuela, a country so rich in oil?

    In the 1970s, Venezuela had an income of more than US$270 billion from oil. There was rampant corruption, but Chavez changed that,” Sorrillo said. Referring to Venezuela’s history he explained that Chavez first came to the forefront because of the Caracazo crises in 1989 when then President Carlos Andrés Pérez tried to impose certain measures. This, Sorrillo said, caused a revolt and the crises was tough. Chavez, Sorrillo added, assumed responsibility for an attempted coup in 1992 telling the nation on national television that it was “por ahora” (for now).

    “Those two words were a hope for the popular masses. I remember children dressing as “chavistos” ( little Chavez). He went to jail for over two years. He brought power to the people and this is something the Opposition do not like to speak about. They do not like to talk about that aspect of history,” Sorrillo said.

    Chavez treated the people of Venezuela, Latin America and even the Caribbean great and was instrumental in creating several oragisations and programmes. Two of such are the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean (ALBA) and PetroCaribe.

    Sorrillo is of the view that Trinidad and Tobago can benefit significantly if it joins ALBA and PetroCaribe.

    “Transportation is costly and Venezuela is a close neighbour. If TT joins ALBA, children and also persons with cataract can utilise the benefit of ALBA for free operations. Many countries from the English-speaking Caribbean have already joined with ALBA,” Sorrillo said.

    Saying that although TT and Venezuela has a 50-year history of close diplomatic relations, he has noticed that of late, there has not been “much closeness” between both countries. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar joined with dozens of world leaders who attended last Friday’s State funeral for Chavez at a military museum.

    Reading from a book entitled El Encuentro, Sorrillo added that Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution is very clear as what would happen to Venezuela after Chavez. With a smile, Sorrillo said: “Chavez vive, la lucha sigue!” ( Chavez lives, the fight continues).,174670.html

  2. Once upon a time, there was sympathy towards the poor and those that are loaded searched their consciences and made contributions to those towards eradication of poverty and suffering. It was part of their conscientious inner being speaking to them and saying “thou shalt have mercy on your less fortunate brothers and sisters”. Today they strip them of the only authentic institutions that speak for their pride and existence – the unions.
    The rich and powerful no longer care what happens top the poor. Hugo Chavez was one of those leaders who identified with the poor working class. People do not choose poverty, they just find themselves there and once there they struggle to get out of it.

  3. 1. Cristina Kirchner, current president of Argentina, with thyroid cancer in 2011
    2. Ollanta Humala, current president of Peru, with cancer in the gut in 2011
    3. Hugo Chavez, former president of Venezuela, with prostate Cancer in 2011
    4. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, former president of Brazil, with cancer of the larynx in 2011
    5. Nestor Kirchner, former president of Argentina, with colon cancer in 2010
    6. Fernando Lugo, former president of Paraguay, with lymph cancer in 2010
    7. Evo Morales, current president of Bolivia, with cancer in the nasal cavities in 2009
    8. Dilma Vana Rousseff, current president of Brazil, with cancer in the lymphatic system
    in 2009
    9. Alexander Litvinenko, former Russian secret service officer, with polonium-210
    poisoning in 2006
    10. Yassar Arafat, former chair of the PLO, with brain hemorrhage in 2004
    11. Khaled Meshaal, the leader of the Hamas, with the poisonous shutdown of the brain

    There is a lot of questions about Chavez death since the CIA can take care of backyard thugs easily. The Americans don’t like communist and so hundreds of attempts were made on Fidel. It would be naive to suggest that the CIA could not get something into Chavez food or water since he was known to be a bit careless. This is the new world we live in..

  4. America don’t like Communists? Put down de bush rum Mamboo. There was never a Communist Country in the history of mankind- even the most revererd Super Power USSR ,didn’t evolve to what Papa Karl had in mind.Trust me when I say,your socialist pal Chavez, was not that important to American covert/ overt clandestine operators. Uncle Chavez ensured that his so called enemies in Yankee land,got all the oils , and gas they needed .which is all that matters.
    Be more worried as to what your T&T mean as far as America goes,starting on de crime front. Speaking of which, Howard those boys Ish , and Steve doing with that Section 34 Bill aparathus? My extremely wise Tobago Granny always admonise me with the saying dat,” when your neighbor house on fire , wet yours!”

  5. Hugo is gone but his downfall was his miscalculation of American will. At the United Nations he called Bush the devil, this was the most insulting remark anyone ever made of a US President subjecting him to public ridicule. Such utterances can sow the seed for a quick visit to the morgue.

    Yes Hugo used American wealth ( they bought Venezuelan oil) to promote his socialist agenda. He used his power to begin a program of nationalization and poverty reduction. In the mean time beating the drums of war making his neighbours nervous. Hugo war cry was against the American imperialism but in the mean time using American money to further his stronghold on his people and neighbours. As a military man he was not diplomatic always seeking out enemies or potential enemies. He spoke like a “buffoon” at times causing those around him to get very anxious.

    Hugo’s history could have been better had he walk silently with a big stick and used it only when necessary. American tolerance for bullies is very low. And so with Hugo dies the Simone Bolivar dream of a strong united South America. Personally, I am glad that he is gone because he was in the process of purchasing war planes and more sophisticated weapons system. A militarize South America could one day threaten the peace of the region. Further his alliance with Iran, Russia and China was making Uncle Sam nervous. So as they say “Adios Amigo”….

  6. “La guerre! C’est une chose trop grave pour la confier à des militaires.”
    (War! It is a thing too serious to entrust to soldiers.)
    — Georges Clemenceau, 1841-1929, French statesman and journalist

    Whether it is General Douglas Mac Arthur,overplaying his hands, against a more crafty politician ,in Harry Truman , thus forcing the latter,to publicly fire him, Saddam pushing his luck with GH Bush,School of de Americas top student ,Manuel Noriega, testing de patience of his former CIA handler ,turned President GH Bush, Quadaffi, miscalculating the cohones of Barrack, thinking the latter, was a fast talking , and do nada ,Ronald Reagan,Napoleon , Benito Mussolini,and Hitler , pushing their respective lucks, with theWW1&2 Western allies, or now Hugo- this thing diplomacy ,is something that many do not fully understand , or appriciate , Brother Mamboo, and it often leads to their demise.
    It is said that ‘the road to hell ,is paved with good intentions’ and it’s in this context we must look at Chavez legacy. Well meaning, though it may be , yet misguided, and doomed to fail.
    One can only hope for the best , for our Latino neighbors in Venezuela, during this their trying period.

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