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Friday, December 3, 2021

El comandante departs


Chavez's death has created a void but the movement will thrive on the impetus provided by him, says Saurabh Kumar Shahi
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: March 17, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Venezuelan President | Hugo Chavez | Nicolas Maduro | Caracas | Cuba | Latin America | US | |

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez finally lost the battle against cancer that he fought so bravely for over two years. Vice-president Nicolas Maduro, who is also pegged as his successor, made the announcement on public television shortly after emerging from the Military Hospital in Caracas, where Chavez was being treated. “Those who die for life can’t be called dead,” a tearyeyed Maduro said.

On February 18 this year, the 58-year-old President returned to Caracas from Cuba, where he was operated upon for cancer. Chavez travelled to Havana on December 10 last year for the fourth surgery after his cancer resurfaced, in spite of close to a year-and-a-half of treatment that included chemotherapy. The second round of treatment had begun in late March 2012, when Chavez started receiving radiation treatment in Cuba after an operation in February 2012 that removed a second cancerous tumour from his pelvic region. His first tumour was removed in June 2011.

His death has come as a blow to progressive leadership all over the world. Indeed, Chavez's impact on world politics was much more than any world leader of his time. A curious mix of personal charisma, pro-people policies and anti-imperial stand made Chavez a darling of the millions.

Chavez came from a very humble background. Born in a poor family on July 28, 1954 in Sabaneta, he struggled his way up and graduated from the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences in 1975. It was sometime in the late 70s that Chavez started participating in the revolutionary movements inside the Venezuelan armed forces that was seen by the masses as the protector of capitalist and imperialist interests.

His first chance towards redemption came in 1992 when he spearheaded a military coup to topple the regime of Carlos Perez that was close to the US administration. However, the attempt did not succeed and he was arrested and jailed for 25 months. This failed attempt brought him to the attention of the masses who were desperately looking for a leader from among themselves to lead them. It gave a kick-start to Chavez's political career.
Chavez started touring Venezuela and soon garnered a solid following for himself. His oratory, especially his no-holds-barred style, stuck with the masses and catapulted him to his first presidential election victory in 1998. He never lost the elections after that. However, in 2002, a lobby of pro-American politicians, along with some soldiers and officials backed by the United States, staged a coup against Chavez. He was briefly arrested and sent to an undisclosed location. However, merely 48 hours after the coup, a counter manoeuvre by common Venezuelans and officers loyal to him swept him back to office. Over the last 14 years, Chavez put himself and his agenda to the test on 14 separate occasions, and won thirteen of them by huge margins.

Chavez was a street fighter who fought his way up the ladder but unlike many in the past, he never severed his connection with the common masses and made it a habit to listen to their problems. The idea behind his successful Bolivarian revolution was to provide economic and political independence to the masses of Latin America who had suffered from their geographical proximity to the United States all these years. Venezuela under Chavez put its oil revenue to proper use and funded the massive social projects that returned social statistics that stunned even the United Nations. He extended the revolution in the neighbouring countries too and utilized their expertise in lieu of the cheap oil that was sold to them. 
It was his ascent to power that revitalized the leftist, anti-imperialist movement in Latin America and saw similar socio-political experiments in neighbouring Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. With Cuba at the ideological helm, Latin America for the first time in decades started exerting its economic and political rights in the region. Mercosur, as an economic body, not only challenged the American dominance in the regional market but also put it on the back foot by forcing it to accept the economic positions that it wouldn't have even considered a decade or so ago.

Politically too, Chavez revitalized the struggle in several countries by striking an alliance with the likes of Iran, Syria and others. His position on Palestine also angered the US and its allies. However, what riled them the most was the fact that their domination was no more unchallenged.

As the Commandant departs, these powers are looking for an opening. The onus now is on the Venezuelan masses to deny them that.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017