Hugo Chávez had been dealing with serious bouts of cancer and received many treatments in Cuba. He returned in late February, 2013 to Venezuela where his condition worsened and he died Tuesday afternoon, March 5, 2013 in Caracas of a heart attack. It is a tragic loss for the people of Venezuela, for Latin America, and the world.
Chavez profoundly improved the lives of most Venezuelans, and millions and millions of Latin Americans in the present and into the future. He connected with the popular classes of Venezuela–the street vendors, the housewives, the workers, the campesinos–through education and health care for all, reduced food prices, money for the mothers of the barrio, and by his love and respect for the people. Listening to them and voicing so powerfully their aspirations.
The Venezuelan oil revenues for the first time benefitted the people of Venezuela as it funded the many social programs. He also sold oil at reduced prices to other countries in the Americas–heating oil at reduced prices to poor people in the South Bronx and on Indian reservations in South Dakota. Chavez’s initiation of and support for the development of popular power and participatory democracy, such as communal councils, showed his trust and respect for the popular classes. Hugo Chávez was central to the process of the inclusion of the formerly excluded–to poor people no longer being the scorned and becoming subjects of their history.
Chávez empowered the poor of Venezuela as they empowered him. The advance of the Venezuelan revolution is about the growing consciousness, power, self-organization, community, and rising income of the popular classes; and the innovative social programs for and often organized at the grassroots, aided and abetted by President Chávez.
He was an original and creative thinker and doer; someone who constantly experimented with how to create a just and self-determining society. In 2005, he named it, “Socialism for the 21st Century”—a socialism whose center was ethical and cooperative where a society organized to meet human needs. Equally important was Chávez’s central role in challenging US global domination in the hemisphere and globally, and furthering Latin American solidarity. Chávez was a nationalist, a Latin-Americanist and an internationalist.
He made mistakes. He was too loyal to some of the people around him in Venezuela and perhaps too supportive of leaders around the world who challenged US domination but was repressive in their own country. Chávez probably should have delegated more tasks and details to others, and should have made more of a priority the reduction of violent crime, and the reduction of corruption and bureaucracy. He was human. His accomplishments totally outweigh his mistakes.
He qualitatively changed Venezuela and the world for the better like few individuals have ever done. Because of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela is on a path where there is the real possibility of a society that is both socialist and a participatory democracy. Millions and millions of people in Venezuela and around the world and I mourn him.
Hugo Chávez lives on. Besides mourning him, let us honor Chávez by challenging US domination and militarism abroad, by stopping US intervention in Venezuela and in other countries like Bolivia that are becoming independent of the United States—politically and economically. Let us honor and remember the inspiring example of Hugo Chávez by ending poverty and homelessness in the United States, by transforming this country, and by constructing our own 21st century socialism in the United States. With the Venezuelan people, Hugo Chávez showed it can be done. We can do it here. Hugo Chávez Presente!
Peter Bohmer, a social justice activist since the 1960’s, teaches political economy at The Evergreen State College.