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How Chavez Changed History for the Better


Hugo Chavez died in early March. Heads of state came to his funeral and sent condolences to his family— except for the US President. Even in death the White House maintained a resentful tone toward a man we had names as an enemy. But what did Chavez do to us? He offered cheap fuel to the US poor to heat their homes in winter time. Or does Obama take personally what Chavez said in his UN General Assembly speech in 2006. He still smelled the sulphur aroma left by “the devil,” meaning, as he explained, George W. Bush who had preceded him to the lectern. But, why do US Presidents lean so strongly against other heads of state who promote progressive social policies that help their people? Why does Washington kiss the behinds of Saudi Arabian royalty and other degenerate Arab oil state leaders while denigrating Chavez who promoted popular health, education and food for the poor? The European Union, the Organization of American States, the Union of South American Nations, and the Carter Center confirmed that Chavez’ had won all four of his electoral victories freely and fairly.

Chavez also set a good example by sending Venezuelan oil money flowing throughout Latin America to help like-minded presidential candidates initiate projects that both helped the poor and thus also won them political favor. Thanks to Chavez’ aid, Evo Morales in Bolivia could push programs that helpedBolivia’s poor, and especially indigenous people. Chavez also aided Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. His supporters – and his support for — included the Presidents of Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, El Salvador, Cuba, and several neighboring Caribbean islands. “Charismatic and idiosyncratic, capable of building friendships, communicating to the masses as few other leaders ever have,” wrote former Brazilian President Lula, “Mr. Chávez will be missed.” (NY Times March 6, 2013)

Chavez’ programs also brought Latin American nations closer together – and hence further away from Washington. For several decades in the late 20th Century, Washington supported right wing and military candidates in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and much of Central America.  Chavez, however, backed the left. Former Brazilian President Lula sang his praises as did his successor President Dilma Rousseff and Argentine President Christina Kirshner.

Washington and US media denounced Chavez’ theatrical antics. The Venezuelan majority applauded his singing and clowning. He won handily in all his elections —beginning with his first victory in 1998 and through his last electoral victory of 2011.

Chavez transformed Venezuela by narrowing its ineuquality gap from 48% to 29%, as he also spread wealth for progressive purposes throughout the world. He changed the geopolitics of Latin America by creating new Latin American institutions, like ALBA (The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, including Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent, the Grenadines Venezuela, Suriname and Saint Lucia) The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, to encourage economic cooperation, which includes 20 Latin American States, 13 Caribbean nations and 11 from outside the region),plus outside  eight associates. These new organizations moved Latin America based on promoting economic integration and social equality, and CEPAL (further from Washington’s grip.

But, Obama offered nothing interesting about him after death, not even the good taste to offer sympathy to his family.  “At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez’s passing,” the White House statement read, “the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government.

As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States says it remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.”

Did Obama not recall the tacit support Washington offered for the botched military coup in 2002, for its open support of the right wing in Venezuela?

Yet, all observers concluded that the majority in Venezuela supported Chavez, because he had given the poor housing, food, health and education, as well as hope for a bright future. US governments historically had backed Christian and Social Democratic governments characterized by their theft of national wealth and by their ignoring of the needs of their country’s majority. That’s’ why they didn’t win second terms.

Chavez started Barrio Adentro, which offered free health care, and subsidized food for the very poor. That’s why he won their votes. He also outlined for Venezuela’s majority a socialist future, much to the chagrin of the very rich and their Washington patrons.

Chávez also increased Venezuela’s control over oil production. (See Gregory Wilpert (2007). Changing Venezuela By Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government. Verso. p. 69)

Fidel Castro recognized in Chavez a man who possessed the energy and will to carry out progressive nationalist programs. After he left prison for his role in the unsuccessful 1992 coup attempt, Chavez accepted Fidel’s invitation to visit Cuba, where the two became intimate friends. If Fidel represented the 20th disciple of Bolivar in Century, Chavez became his Sucre in the 21st. Chavez started what Fil hoped to do: transform Latin America into a growing and progressive region of the world.

Chavez also tried to educate Obama, giving him a cpy of Eduardo Galeano’s “The Open Veins of Latin America”) to help him understand why Latin Americans harbored the deep resentment toward US policy.

I met Chavez in Caracas in 2010 with other Latin American and US activists and intellectuals in an exchange of ideas.  His lack of dogma, his enthusiasm about a new kind of socialism, charmed and stimulated the group. He did not show disrespect toward those who disagreed with him or criticized certain of his programs. He also explicitly espoused Christianity as his religion and then invited everyone to visit his new projects in and near Caracas. We saw the public’s approval of Chavez. His charismatic behavior never denied the worth of the person with whom he was conversing. He impressed the entire group.

He insisted that Venezuela had become the Bolivarian Republic, keeping the tradition of the man who first began the liberation of the continent and drove the march for independence from Spain, a march that evolved in Chavez’ mind to independence from the United States in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.

Chavez changed history for the better. He enriched his people and helped millions of others. The White House’s sour note contradicts the support Chavez had from millions around the world who adored his courage and will, qualities Obama could use. Hugo Chavez stood proud and left no sulphurous stench when he spoke in public.

Viva Hugo Chavez!

Saul Landau is filming Cuba’s campaign against homophoba (with Jon Alpery), His FIDEL and WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP are available on dvd form

SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

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