Friday, March 8, 2013
Well, Hugo, You Will Be Missed
Hugo Chavez is being remembered in many ways. The fiery Venezuelan leader wasn't afraid to antagonize the United States, which endeared him to many Latin Americans, but also made him a favorite villain in the American media. Perhaps his greatest show of defiance was at a 2006 UN assembly meeting in which he openly castigated the Bush administration, and held up Noam Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival as a must read for anyone who wanted to understand the United States' role in shaping the global order. But, even Chomsky had strong words on the nature of his regime in Venezuela, calling it an "assault" on democracy. That's the problem with befriending Libertarians, you never know when one will turn against you.
But, like him or not, Chavez brought much needed reforms to Venezuela and definitely made it a better place to live for the 98 per cent. He held his office for 6 terms, although his opposition argued over the fairness of these elections. Of course, his opposition wasn't one for playing by the rules either, and many felt that Bush gave his tacit support to a coup attempt in 2002. Chavez had only been in power for three years at that point, but it was enough for the "pro-business elites," represented by the Venezuela Chamber of Commerce. As a result of their failed attempt, they were forced to endure 11 more years of Chavez, as the action cemented in many Venezuelans' minds that Chavez was their man.
Chavez was just the latest and most outspoken thorn in America's side in its Pan-American relations. He was seen as heir-apparent to Fidel Castro, whose health deteriorated to the point that he abdicated his power to his brother in 2008. Chavez' steadfast resistance to US policies led to similar election victories for Evo Morales in Bolivia, Lula de Silva in Brazil and the conservatives' arch-nemesis Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. Neo-cons felt this was a direct result of Bush's neglect of Latin America, and he was roundly castigated for it.
President Obama had a chance to mend these bridges when he was elected in 2008, but other than one highly publicized Pan-American conference in 2009, which he attended, Obama has likewise shown little interest in the region, much to the chagrin of Latin American leaders who were hoping for better ties with the United States, notably Raul Castro in Cuba. However, it does seem the State Department has maintained close contacts in Venezuela and is hoping for improved relations with the succeeding president, Nicolas Maduro, although by constitutional law Venezuela is required to hold new elections within 6 months.