Hugo Chavez and the 500 years of silence

Just as he held “imperialism” responsible for the poverty in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez believed that the United States was behind the crises in the region.

Hugo Chavez and the 500 years of silence

Sinan Ozdemir / World Bulletin - Brussels

With his high charisma, colorful personality, and rhetorical power, Hugo Chavez will not be easily erased from memory, particularly in Venezuela, and will be remembered according to his pros and cons. It is hard to create a balance sheet of his fourteen years in power. No doubt he too will be judged before history. However, the benefits he secured for South America and Venezuela over the last ten years cannot be denied.

When reactions to his death from around the world are reviewed, it becomes evident that the most emotional responses came from South America while the most veiled responses came from the United States and Europe. Among these reactions, the statements of U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ed Royce provide important clues for understanding the ideological battle between North and South America. Royce stated that “his death dents the alliance of anti-U.S. leftist leaders in South America.” In the statements from Europe and America, the strongest emphasis was placed on the "transition period." It is a fact that this term has historical significance in South America.

With its nearly one million square kilometers territory, underground and surface wealth, and geopolitical location, Venezuela tops the list of countries that cannot be ignored in Latin America. In fact, the internal and external dynamics experienced in Venezuela over the last ten years can be evaluated under the category of "deja vu" in the context of South American history. The occurrences which took place between April 10 to 13, 2002 in the capital of Caracas especially served as the Venezuelans’ first serious test against internal and external balances. Hugo Chavez was removed from power through a coup organized by the elites in control of capital and media power following their merger with the military.

With the gathering of Venezuelans around the Miraflores Presidential Palace in the morning regardless of the coup, and the realization by the military units close to Chavez that they had been duped, a counter-coup was accomplished. The events of April 13 actually became the most important achievement won by the people during the Chavez era. By defeating their fear, abandoning their passivity, and supporting the president they had elected to power, the people proclaimed their steadfast decision to maintain the source of power in their hands. While being ousted from the Miraflores Palace the previous day, Hugo Chavez had responded to a supporter’s question “my President, are we going to return?" with the answer, “we have not left yet!” The events of the next day revealed that this “we” was a reality.

The role of the Chavez era in the redefinition of national identity and its transformation to reality cannot be ignored. The depth of the political polarization in society was transformed into a political reality by his opponents—through the use of media—rather than by Chavez. To avoid manipulation, literacy courses were opened throughout the country. Millions of Venezuelans have benefited from these courses. According to UNESCO, the problem of illiteracy has disappeared in Venezuela. The second aim of the courses was that people not only read, but also develop the reflex of understanding what they read.

Chavez knew about the destitution in Venezuela through his own life as well as his travels between1992 and 1994. He believed that such experiences could only be transformed through a change of power. During this period he came to the idea that coups did not produce positive results and that change must be realized through political means. In his eyes the people shared in only one percent of the country’s wealth. After coming to power, he applied various methods in order to correct this injustice. In doing so he often emphasized the "justice" concept as a refuge. With the elites refusing to share “what they had acquired in problematic circumstances,” one crisis followed after the next. This reality lay in the background of the April coup (2002) carried out by internal actors. Rather than retreating, he somehow secured the return of this wealth to the people.

Written texts express that Venezuela is a country surviving on oil revenues and that Chavez does not have any operations aimed at development. This has truth to it, but is incomplete. It is a fact that Chavez has allocated a significant portion of oil revenues to the fight against poverty. When the places to which oil revenues were distributed and between whom they were shared over the last century is studied, it is evident that authorities before Chavez reserved it for themselves while Chavez preferred to “distribute it to the public.” Health care, housing, food and education form its main headings. The understanding of sharing during the Chavez period is different from the Peronist understanding which has been, and still is, active in Argentina for many years (the former is not populist).

Destitution dropped from 49% to 27.4% during his period, as the percentage of people living below the poverty line decreased from 25 to 8 percent. The national income per capita increased from 3,889 dollars to 10,731 dollars. The distribution of wealth decreased from 49% to 39%, and child mortality from 20.3% to 12.9% (per 1,000 births). Looking at the Human Development Index over the last decade, it is seen that Venezuela has achieved the best result in South America.

What has been lacking is the matter that nationalized institutions and enterprises have failed to obtain the expected results in terms of production. The role of those involved in the opposition block in this “failure” cannot be ignored. Of course the nationalization policies not being based on real criteria has also played a large role. However, when looking at the big picture, this should not be cast as an argument for failure; because this problem is foremost among the chronic problems Venezuela has faced since the last century. But it does not mean that important expansions have not been made in regards to agriculture, construction and technological transfers. For instance, like Venezuela, serious difficulties in industrial production can be seen in Russia, Algeria and Saudi Arabia despite high oil revenues.

Just as he held “imperialism” responsible for the poverty in Venezuela, Chavez believed that the United States was behind the crises in the region. He would not hesitant to make long speeches on these matters in order to inform the people of the region, particularly Venezuelans; because he saw his mission as not limited to Venezuela, but also encompassing South America and especially the southern hemisphere. Given this framework, Ed Royce’s statement about Chavez should not be underestimated. With his defense of 21st century socialism and his anti-American stance, Chaves was not only an example for South America, but also a source of power. With his defiance, he drew the fire of the forces aiming to maintain their influence in South America.

By heading alternative formations, he endeavored to reduce America's presence and strength. He worked in partnership with leaders like Evo Morales, Cristina Kirchner, Lula, and Castro to free Latin America from the image, since colonial times, of an unstable region. He placed the Bolivarist character of change in the forefront. By increasing regional alliances, he did not hesitate to bypass America (i.e., the Bolivarian Alliance-ALBA for Latin America) and to extend the olive branch when necessary (he wanted to believe that U.S. policies would change with the election of Barack Obama). During his verbal duel with King Juan Carlos of Spain at the Spain-South America Summit held in Santiago in 2007, as much as his response to the king’s “shut up” comment was about being elected, it was possible to hear in the background of his words the reaction of the people who have been listening for 500 years. Through his statements, Hugo Chavez was making it heard that after a long silence, it is South America’s turn to speak.

Last Mod: 12 Mart 2013, 14:50
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