Debate: What will Hugo Chavez’s legacy be?

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Joseph Miles – Chavez’s legacy will be one of corruption

I do have sympathy for Chavez. The US has a long history of intervening in countries in order to install leaders in Latin America that are favourable to their policy aims. Chavez’s desire to keep his country staunchly independent from a US plutocracy would have been admirable had he not set Venezuela on the path to being governed by a cult of personality.

Under Chavez’s presidency, he abolished term limits for the president and he also ensured a law was passed that would enable the president to seize dictatorial powers for up to 18 months. Most seriously, Chavez’s Health and Social Minister Roger Capella abused a list of voters who had petitioned for a recall of the President in order to deny dissenters jobs. It is true that Chavez made a public statement calling for the list to be buried, but only after he had first called for its widespread use- ostensibly for catching “illegal immigrants”.

What is clear is that, like all autocrats, Chavez could not conceive of the country functioning without him. He may have justified his executive abuses, as his supporters in the West did and still do, by arguing that these were mere bourgeoisie rights when people were starving. 

Chavez understood his country as revolving around him to such an extent that  he forgot that there would be a Venezuelan people long after there would be a Chavez. His blindness to his own mortality and conviction that he alone knew what the Venezuelans needed means that his successor will come into a position with almost unrivalled power in the democratic world, which guarantees a bitter struggle for the presidency before we know whether Chavez’s replacement has his ostensibly good intentions. If they do not, I fear that it may be too late for resistance.

 

Charlotte Cooper Beglin – Chavez improved the lives of the poor and delivered.

Chávez wasn’t perfect. He took steps to cement his power, supported dictators such as Gaddafi and Assad, and silenced some opposition. However, all too often these less than edifying facts have been used by Western critics to condemn him as a dangerous dictator, and to write off what’s happened in Venezuela since he came to power in 1998.

What rulers and governments are flawless? The United States, perhaps his fiercest opponent, has far from a spotless record on human rights and democratic values – indeed through the CIA the US attempted to overthrow the democratically elected Chavez. Add to that record drone attacks, immigration detention and the death penalty and you realise that Western condemnation of Chavez’s Venezuela is somewhat hypocritical.

Chavez was a democrat. Look at participation, for example; Chávez led a huge drive to register the poor to vote, and was recently elected with a 54-63% majority, in elections that got a massive turnouts (over 80%) and was praised as unscrupulously fair ex-US president Jimmy Carter.

He was no mere autocrat, and recognising his abuses shouldn’t prevent us from celebrating his achievements. His legacy is one thing that is remarkable and refreshing about Chavez; he cared about the poor- passionately cared, prioritised them, and took real measures to improve their lives. A list of his reforms reads like a compassionate socialist agenda: free healthcare, the doubling of education spending, rights for women and indigenous peoples, literacy campaigns, college enrolment drives, workers’ cooperatives…

More than that, he achieved results. In his first decade of rule GDP doubled, while infant mortality and unemployment halved. Extreme poverty has more than halved since 1998 and millions were given access to healthcare for the first time. We shouldn’t have to divide history into “heroes” and “villains”, but while Chavez wasn’t a simple hero, there’s a lot there lot there that we can look to for inspiration of how a government might work more in favour of its people. Oh, and once he called George Bush “a donkey” on air. That must count for something.

 

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