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Hugo Chavez: savior or scoundrel?

La Voz Latina


A full month has passed since the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a remarkable truth has emerged: the man remains as polarizing in his tomb as he was in life.

Two recent commentaries illustrate the point perfectly.

From Rafael Romo, Human rights groups consistently raised alarms that Chavez was using the judicial system as a political tool to repress the opposition and silence dissent.

“By his second full term in office, the concentration of power and erosion of human rights protections had given the
government free rein to intimidate, censor, and prosecute Venezuelans who criticized the president or thwarted his political
agenda,” New York-based Human Rights Watch said this week, adding that the Chavez government had shown “open disregard for basic human rights guarantees.”

Regardless, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner eulogized the fallen leftist leader on her Twitter account by
saying that “The great legacy of Chavez is the social inclusion of millions of Venezuelans that used to be invisible and today are protagonists.”

I would argue his legacy goes beyond that.

An argument could be made that the Cuban economy would have collapsed without the oil it gets from Venezuela. Chavez also ushered in a new area of populist leaders including Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.

They have all borrowed Chavez’s playbook by catering to the poor and railing against the United States, a country they call “the evil empire.” They all benefited from cheap oil from Venezuela while Chavez made allies who helped him slowly but surely tilt Latin American politics to the left.

But, for the outside world, at least, the inclusion of the poor will probably remain at the top of Chavez’s legacy.

The formula is so simple it makes you wonder why nobody though of it before. After all, a 22-year-old single mother of two in Petare, Chapeu Mangueira, Chimalhuacan or Ciudad Bolivar, doesn’t care about macroeconomic policies or free market economies, but about a leader who will make it possible to feed her children tomorrow. And to millions of Venezuelans, that was Hugo Chavez.

From Thor Halvorssen, Historians and pseudo-historians favorable to Chavez have spent the better part of his 14-year rule assuring the world’s intellectuals that, domestically, Chavez embodied the spirit and struggle of a neglected population of Venezuela’s underclass that was ignored in a 50-year duopoly that never shared Venezuela’s oil wealth.

They have used every metric at their disposal to claim that, on balance, Chavez has been a significant step forward in Venezuela’s development. Beyond Venezuela, his defenders delight in how he was an impish and daring voice against what they see as a North-South divide; that Chavez stood up to the United States on behalf of the world’s poor and downtrodden.

The alternate view…

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