Who Is This Hugo Chávez?
Requiem aeternum Hugo Chávez Frias
Oh what a circus! Oh what a mess!
Venezuela has gone to town
Over the death of their President Hugo Chavez
They’ve all gone crazy
Mourning all day and mourning all night
Falling over themselves to get all of the misery right
Apologies to Andrew Lloyd Webber. Strong Man politics may look funny from a stable country with a middle class that doesn’t know it is on the way out. In Venezuela the politics of Rich vs Poor are deadly serious. The New Yorker has an interesting Postscript to the life of Hugo Chávez.
A one-time army paratrooper who served two years in prison after leading a botched military coup against Venezuela’s government in 1992, Chávez emerged from behind bars, after an amnesty, with a renewed determination to achieve power, and sought the support of Cuba’s veteran Communist leader Fidel Castro to do so. In 1998, Chávez won Venezuela’s Presidential elections, promising to change things in his country forever, from top to bottom. Since the day he was first sworn in as President, in February, 1999, he devoted himself to doing precisely that. What he has left is a country that, in some ways, will never be the same, and which, in other ways, is the same Venezuela as ever: one of the world’s most oil-rich but socially unequal countries, with a large number of its citizens living in some of Latin America’s most violent slums.
To his credit, Chávez was devoted to trying to change the lives of the poor, who were his greatest and most fervent constituents. He began by hammering through a new constitution and renaming the country. Simon Bolívar, who had fought to unite Latin America under his rule, was Chávez’s hero, and so he changed the country’s name to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and thereafter spent a great deal of time and resources attempting to forge what he called his “Boliviarian Revolution.” It was not, initially, to be a socialist or even necessarily anti-American endeavor, but over the following years, Chávez’s rule, and his adopted international role, became both, at least in intention.