Hugo Chavez, like José Martí, Túpac Amaru, Pablo Neruda, Che Guevara, like Fidel Castro and Gabriel García Márquez, the last remaining voices of their generation, and like his hero Simón Bolívar, will enter into the mythology of Latin American folklore. This was the opinion of Colombian writer William Ospina in a column he wrote for El Espectador in January, and it is an opinion I share. In that column he described Chavez as a great man who has loved his people and tried to open the way to a little justice in a scandalously unjust continent. That is an opinion I also share.
Despite his reputation as a “dictator” in the United States (a four-time democratically elected dictator overwhelmingly supported by his own people no less), for the working poor in the rest of America (not just the United part of it) Chavez is regarded as a saviour. His use of oil revenue to invest in social programmes for the poor in his own country, low-interest loans for developing countries in the region, and even heating oil for low-income families in Europe and the US, has done infinitely more good than concentrating the wealth in the hands of a few individuals. Venezuela’s poverty rate has plummeted from 55.44% to 27.8% during his tenure while income inequality has increased in the rest of the world. As austerity threatens to sink Greece and Spain in the First World, Petrocaribe is one of the only lifelines keeping some emerging economies in the Caribbean afloat, including my own.
Does Venezuela have issues with press freedom and civil liberties? Of course. Does the United States? Yes, as I’m sure Bradley Manning will attest. Will Venezuela’s wealthy mourn Chavez’s passing? I’m sure they won’t. But, as Ospina put it once again, Venezuela is the only country in
Latin America where the poor are happy and the rich are angry. That must mean something.
In Jamaica, there are statues of Simon Bolivar and high schools named after José Martí. I am certain that one day the name of Hugo Chavez will share that honour.