“While I don't approve of everything that Chavez said or did, he at least worked to improve his citizens' standard of living instead of selling them out. You can't help but respect that.”
~ Will Kraft, on the Internet
Hugo Chávez, the populist President of Venezuela since 1999, died yesterday after a two-year battle with cancer and I’m a little sad about this.
I know some people think Chávez, just 58, was a jerk, an anti-Semite and a foe of the United States. I don’t. My understanding is that the guy had a big heart, an unwavering commitment to his country and a huge set of you-know-whats. You can’t help but respect that.
I’ve never been to Venezuela, the urbanized country on the northern coast of South America that has some of the largest oil and natural gas reserves in the world. But I’ve read about Chávez because I had a brief fascination with Brazil, Venezuela’s neighbor to the south. Some say he made life better for poor Venezuelans – poverty dropped from 71 to 21 percent during his tenure and the percentage of malnourished residents dropped from 21 percent in 1998 to just five percent today – and others insist the country’s gains in the areas of education, health and poverty were inevitable in spite of his policies.
I think the truth is that he was a flawed but talented leader who refused to march to the beat of my country’s drum so he was labeled an unscrupulous dictator by the corporate powers that determine what we’re told. (And no, I’m not wearing any tin foil as I write this.) Anyone who is as reviled as Chávez was by American politicians is probably in actuality not that bad a fellow.
Click here to read a disappointing piece at ThinkProgress.org entitled, “Why Democrats Shouldn't Eulogize Hugo Chávez.”
What I like about Chávez is he wasn’t afraid to call it like he saw it. In the fall of 2006, he delivered a speech to the United Nations General Assembly the day after Dubya addressed the same crowd and said, “The Devil came here yesterday and it smells of sulfur still.” (He called President Obama a “clown” in late 2011 but had referred to him as an “intelligent man” in 2009 so I’m giving him slack.) He also called our 43rd president a “donkey,” defined himself as “anti-imperialist” and “anti-capitalist,” presided over a nation that offered universal health care to its people and hung out with the leaders of Libya, Iran, Iraq, Nicaragua and Cuba.
Gee, I can’t imagine why this nation’s puppeteers and media overlords would develop a negative attitude about an independent guy like Hugo Chávez.
I know why Jewish folks weren't his fans. For one thing Venezuela is 92 percent Roman Catholic. As referenced above, Chávez counted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – Israel’s Enemy Number One – among his friends. And he said in December of 2005 that “a minority has taken possession of all of the wealth of the world” which some interpreted as thinly-veiled anti-Semitism. (He also famously accused his opponents of being “poisoned by those wandering Jews.”)
Maybe if I were Jewish, I’d hold a different opinion about the guy. But I’m not entirely comfortable with the sway Israel holds over my country’s foreign policy – and with the fact that the U.S. provides Israel with $8.5 million in military aid each day – especially as it relates to the Israel/Palestine conflict.
I remember Chávez offering to help Hurricane Katrina victims back in 2005 – faster than the U.S. government, in fact – and saying he would provide free home heating oil to low-income Americans in East Coast states during a cold spell in 2007. Contrary to what you may have heard about this “tin-pot tyrant,” Venezuela under Chávez regularly held fair, certified elections and he was elected each time with over 60 percent of the popular vote despite vigorous campaigns against him. (When the topic of smooth, fair elections arises, the U.S. should probably keep its head down and its mouth shut anyway.)
Sure, Venezuela experienced economic challenges (including a banking crisis in 1994), has been deemed “corrupt” and has a high homicide rate and a drug trafficking problem. But Hugo Chávez brought subsidized food and free health clinics to long-neglected slums – and that alone warrants kind words on the occasion of his passing.
I don’t hear many folks in Washington talking about doing that here now.
Rest in peace, Mr. Chávez.
Sources: CNN.com, FoxNews.com, ThinkProgress.org, CBSNews.com, IfAmericansKnew.org, Reuters.com.