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Hugo Chavez, the life and legacy of a revolutionary

By Brian E. Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Mar 14, 2013 - 4:47:24 PM

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Venezuelan people show support for President Hugo ChavezPhoto: AP/Wide World photos
( - Fifty-five heads of state from Latin America, the Caribbean and the Middle East, joined government officials, family and saddened citizens to pay final homage to Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias, the late president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela who succumbed to cancer in a Caracas Military hospital March 5.

When the Venezuelan vice-president, now interim President Nicolas Maduro made the official announcement in a solemn press conference via state TV, shock and sorrow were immediate reactions in the South American country and around the world by many who admired the progressive and avant-garde leader.

“Chavez has altered history and … made history. Latin America will never be the same after Chavez,” said activist John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man in a telephone interview with The Final Call.


Hugo Chavez liberated Venezuela from the grip of neocolonialism, abject poverty and illiteracy. Under his leadership, literacy soared to the current 93 percent, according to 2012 statistics. Before Mr. Chavez was democratically elected in December1999—after a volatile and protracted struggle—Venezuela was the fiefdom of corrupt governments and repressive elites, who kept wealth and power away from the masses.'

It’s been said the contribution of consequential people can only be judged and determined after a period marks the completion of their lives. And so it is with the passing of the 58 year old freedom fighter.

“Hugo Chavez was a great, great patriarch, and a great servant of the masses of the people. He was so strong in his desire for the masses of the people of Venezuela to partake of the wealth of Venezuela that he earned the wrath of the oligarchs who ruled Venezuela, and the government of the United States of America, and others,” said the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, of the Nation of Islam during a March 8 public address in the Central American nation of Belize.

“Hugo Chavez is a man that comes once, maybe in a hundred years,” Minister Farrakhan said.

For the Venezuelan people and those who benefited by President Chavez’s generosity the Minister recited words of solace from the Qur’an—the Muslim book of scripture. “Speak not of those who die or are slain in the way of God as dead; they are alive but you perceive not.”

The Minister described President Chavez as a man who travelled “the uphill road” and lifted the oppressed by sharing the vast oil wealth of Venezuela with the poor, the locked out, and the servant class of the rich.

In the days leading up to the state funeral, the outpouring of esteem for the revolutionary figure was overwhelming as his flag draped coffin moved through the barrios of Venezuela atop an open hearse where hundreds of thousands along the route chanted, “La lucha continúa! Vidas de Chavez!”—“The fight goes on! Chavez lives!”

Hugo Chavez liberated Venezuela from the grip of neocolonialism, abject poverty and illiteracy. Under his leadership, literacy soared to the current 93 percent, according to 2012 statistics. Before Mr. Chavez was democratically elected in December1999—after a volatile and protracted struggle—Venezuela was the fiefdom of corrupt governments and repressive elites, who kept wealth and power away from the masses.

“Chavez’s bottom up revolution gave the world an example of a rare and genuine transfer of power and wealth to the people,” wrote Gerald Perreira, international secretary of The Black Consciousness Movement-Guyana, in an article. Honoring Mr. Chavez, he added, “A great orator and thinker, but most importantly, a man who walked the talk.”

Mr. Perkins agreed and pointed out fruits of Mr. Chavez’s struggle where over one decade “10 countries had democratic elections where they’ve elected presidents that are fairly progressive.” Strong anti-imperialist leaders like Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador and others were elected as a direct result of Mr. Chavez’s tenacity for self determination.

Though the amount of progressiveness varied from country to country, the one constant was the strength of Mr. Chavez’s influence and example, said Mr. Perkins.

A global visionary

Observers called him a “visionary” who advocated “South-South” unification of all people of color and oppressed people globally. With his death, contemplation abounds about the future of Venezuela and the Bolivarian revolution that undergirded the Chavez era.

The impact will be “hurtful on our people, not just in Venezuela but throughout the world,” said Abel Muhammad, Latino representative for the Nation of Islam on the Sankofa Experience Internet radio show. Mr. Chavez “worked and strived to unify” oppressed people politically and economically worldwide and advocated for Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America, he said.

His death came on the heels of the third Africa-South America Summit that recently convened in Equatorial Guinea where “President Chavez issued a statement calling upon the governments and the peoples of Africa and South America to unite against the threat of increased Western imperialists’ military intervention,” said Abayomi Azikiwe, analyst and editor of Pan African Newswire.

What’s next for Venezuela?

Venezuela’s constitution mandates an election be held within 30 days and its electoral commission announced a special election for April 14. Analysts say if Mr. Maduro wins the election then the revolutionary legacy of Hugo Chavez continues. Sworn in as interim president, Mr. Maduro was publicly endorsed by Mr. Chavez in December 2012 as the leader’s health deteriorated.

Already proving to be a contentious contest, the most formidable opponent facing the government in the special poll is Henrique Capriles, a state governor who garnered 40 percent of the popular vote in October 2012 elections against President Chavez.

Meanwhile with President Chavez gone and the election scheduled, there’s the political angling by the U.S. which hopes to foster a new relationship with Venezuela.

President Barack Obama said in a statement, “The U.S. reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government.”

However critics doubt that will happen unless a U.S. friendly, counter-revolutionary opposition wins the elections.

U.S.-Venezuela relations

Caracas and Washington relations have been thorny and complicated at best. The Chavez government is Socialist, fiercely independent and oil rich. Some 40 percent of Venezuela oil crude exports went to the U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. However, the entire 14 year rule of Mr. Chavez was characterized by a “David versus Goliath” scenario where he fought against U.S. neo-liberal policies that sucked the economic blood of Caribbean, Central and South American nations.

“I believe that the relationship the United States have had with Venezuela and Latin America has been an exploitative one, designed to maintain imperialist hegemony over that region of the world,” explained Mr. Azikiwe.

Mr. Azikiwe expects hostilities will continue into the near future because Mr. Chavez and the United Socialist Movement of Venezuela have wide popular support. “They have consolidated their revolution,” he said.

Mr. Chavez was an unfailing critic of crippling U.S. foreign policy in the region and on the world stage. He blamed U.S. meddling on an unsuccessful attempt to depose him in 2002. Diplomatic relations disintegrated with the antagonism—and there has not been a U.S. ambassador in Caracas since 2010. The Chavez government also expelled a U.S. military officer in 2006. In the final hours of the president’s life, Mr. Maduro publicly expelled two American military Attaches for alleged espionage activity and plotting to destabilize Venezuela. The government identified the Americans as David Delmonaco and Devlin Kostal, both of the U.S. Air Force.

Was Chavez murdered?

Mr. Maduro also repeated accusations implicating the U.S. government in President Chavez illness. “We have no doubt that the historical enemies of our country sought to harm the Commandante’s health,” he said.
“This is a very serious matter from the point of view of history, that will have to be investigated by a special commission of scientists,” he declared to members of the cabinet, Socialist governors and the high military command, according to Prensa Latina news agency.

The late leader also maintained the view that his cancer, discovered in 2010, was induced by U.S. intelligence agencies, often citing other cases of Latin American leaders diagnosed with the disease in recent years such as Paraguayan leader Fernando Lugo, former Brazilian President Luiz Lula da Silva, current Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, and Argentina President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner.

The Obama administration dismissed the claim as “absurd.” However several U.S. activist groups are calling on an investigation into the leader’s demise and submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) demands on the CIA, State Department and the Defense Intelligence Agency for materials, documents, recordings and any information pertaining to possible assassination designs on President Chavez.

“If they say it’s absurd that they were involved in such plots; then the documents they release to the public through the FOIA should reveal that,” said Brian Becker, of Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (A.N.S.W.E.R.) Coalition–one of the requesting groups. “The government is obliged to respond … We don’t know what caused Hugo Chavez’s cancer; we are not stating that the U.S. intelligence agencies exposed him to cancer causing elements.”

It’s an attempt to review what happened either way through available documentation, Mr. Becker told The Final Call.

There is precedent for such actions: In recent months credible allegations surfaced that the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was possibly poisoned by Mossad, the Israeli spy agency, and his remains were exhumed to explore the charge. Activists also point to the U.S. government’s lengthy history of targeted assassinations and attempts on foreign leaders like Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi, Fidel Castro of Cuba, Salvatore Allende of Chile, Omar Torrijos of Panama and Patrice Lumumba of The Congo—as the CIA delivered a vial of poison to be placed on his tooth brush, according to accounts of the time.

“If there was no acknowledged record that the U.S. did in fact carry out assassinations or attempted assassinations of government leaders, this would be a non-issue, but since it is widely acknowledged and there is great suspicion regarding how President Chavez got cancer, we decided to file,” argued Mr. Becker.

For now, Hugo Chavez, the man is gone, but the eternal principles of freedom, justice and equality that emboldened his spirit lives. The revolutionary is finite while the revolution continues.

“His presence will be greatly missed but he has left a tremendous legacy for the people of Venezuela, the peoples of Latin America and Africa and indeed all oppressed and struggling people throughout the world,” said Mr. Azikiwe.

Related news:

Venezuela President Hugo Chávez succumbs to illness, VP Maduro: Illness was induced

From Venezuela; A Message of Solidarity (FCN, 01-01-2007)

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Venezuelan president says U.S. played key role in ’02 coup attempt (FCN, 03-05-2004)