The death of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez met with an outpouring of grief and tribute not only in Venezuela, but all over the world - evidence of the impact he had on the lives of millions, people for whom his dedication and commitment to justice accorded him a status that few political figures have enjoyed in modern history.
As Bertolt Brecht once wrote, 'Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes.'
Chavez came to power at a time when Venezuela was indeed an unhappy land. Moreover, he lived in an unhappy world, one in which ostentation and obscene wealth for the relative few is measured in the crushing of hope for millions, particularly in the southern hemisphere. The poor of Venezuela, Latin America, and elsewhere knew that Chavez was with them - not dictating to them from above, but walking by their side in solidarity. This is why they loved him with such passion and why his enemies hated him just as passionately and have quick to denounce him in death.
Indeed, the attacks on Hugo Chavez and his record have been every bit as, if not more, revealing than the grief and tributes. In Washington members of the political establishment on both sides of the aisle have vented their disdain for both him and all that he stood for - which in a word was justice. Epithets such as 'dictator', 'despot', and 'tyrant' have been levelled at the former Venezuelan president in recent days in Washington.
Here, for example, is the reaction of Republican member of the House of Representatives, Ed Royce, to Chavez's death.
'Hugo Chavez was a tyrant who forced the people of Venezuela to live in fear. His death dents the alliance of anti-U.S. leftist leaders in South America. Good riddance to this dictator.'
Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement:
'Hugo Chavez ruled Venezuela with an iron hand and his passing has left a political void that we hope will be filled peacefully and through a constitutional and democratic process, grounded in the Venezuelan constitution and adhering to the Inter-American Democratic Charter.'
This can only be the product of cognitive dissonance - unless, of course, Hugo Chavez was the only dictator and tyrant to have been elected to office four times in democratic elections adjudged by ex-US president Jimmy Carter and other international observers as the most democratic of any country on earth. As for ruling Venezuela with an 'iron hand', this is something that no one obviously thought to inform the large, privately controlled media in the country over the years it was consistently broadcasting and spouting the most vile insults and libellous smears against their president.
On a more prosaic level, surely having your commitment to democracy or democratic principles questioned by members of a US political class that is bought and paid for by vested interests equates to being told to stand up straight by the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
When it comes right down to it, the extent to which Hugo Chavez has been attacked and smeared in Washington, and by the rich in Venezuela and elsewhere since his death, is in direct proportion to his effectiveness in distributing Venezuela's considerable oil wealth to the poor and forgotten of his country, and his role as a strong voice against US hegemony not just in Latin America but all over the world. This is why they hate him and it also is why millions loved him.
Here in Britain, meanwhile, perhaps the most startling editorial out of all of the mainstream newspapers in the wake of the death of Chavez was the one that appeared in the 'progressive' Independent newspaper on March 6. The concluding paragraph reads
'Mr Chavez was no run-of-the-mill dictator. His offences were far from the excesses of a Colonel Gaddafi, say. What he was, more than anything, was an illusionist - a showman who used his prodigious powers of persuasion to present a corrupt autocracy fuelled by petrodollars as a socialist utopia in the making.'
So there you have it - the former Venezuelan president and inspirer behind the Bolivarian revolution is deserving of nothing more than being labelled a 'dictator' and 'illusionist' in the pages of a British broadsheet identified with centre left politics. This is nothing short of remarkable when you consider that Venezuela now boasts the fairest income distribution of any country in Latin America, as measured by the Gini coefficient index. It is also remarkable in light of the previously mentioned democratic mandate which Chavez won not once but four times. None of that matters to Chavez's well fed and well heeled detractors, however, whose abiding contempt for the poor is reflected in the contempt they hold for the one leader in the world who governed in their interests.
Not only is this kind of demonization of Hugo Chavez in the pages of the liberal and right wing press an insult to his record and to the truth, it is an insult to the millions of Venezuelans who supported and voted for him. It is also an insult to any notion of justice.
Perhaps, in the last analysis, it is exactly as the man says: 'Dogs can dance on a lion's grave but they can never become lions'.
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