Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

Hugo Chavez's death is a body blow for the poor and oppressed throughout Latin America

President Hugo Chavez
President Hugo Chavez
President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez has died aged 58
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez points at his head to show his hair has started to grow back after chemotherapy treatment (AP/Ariana Cubillos)
Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez with daughters, Maria Gabriela and Rosa Virginia (AP)
People withdraw money from cash machines next to posters of President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela (AP)
A photograph of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, alongside one of Jesus Christ, held by a Chavez supporter at a rally in Caracas (AP)
A supporter of Hugo Chavez wears a soccer shirt with the president's name and the number one in Caracas, Venezuela (AP)
A minister claims there is evidence of a plot to assassinate leading members of Hugo Chavez's government in Venezuela
A life-size cut out image of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez is carried by a Chavez supporter during a symbolic inauguration ceremony (AP)
A supporter of Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez holds up a star covered in photographs of Chavez (AP/Fernando Llano)
Supporters of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez create a poster with his image alongside an outline of their country in Caracas (AP)
People hold candles during a vigil in support of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez in Caracas (AP)
Supporters of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez pray as he is under surgery during a vigil at Simon Bolivar square in Caracas (AP)
A person holds an image of the Saint Jose Gregorio Hernadez as people gather to pray for Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez in Caracas (AP)
A supporter of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez holds up a painting of him during a symbolic inauguration rally in Caracas (AP)
Hugo Chavez blows a goodbye kiss prior to boarding a plane near Caracas (AP)
Supporters of Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, gather for a vigil (AP)
Supporters of president Hugo Chavez celebrate outside the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela (AP)
President Hugo Chavez waves a Venezuelan flag as he greets supporters at the Miraflores presidential palace balcony in Caracas (AP)
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez waves as he arrives to a polling station in Caraca to cast his vote in the presidential election (AP)
Supporters of Venezuela president Hugo Chavez cheer after polling stations closed in Caracas (AP)
Supporters of Venezuela president Hugo Chavez cheer as he arrives for a campaign rally in Caracas (AP)
Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez sings with a member of The Cadillacs during a campaign rally in Caracas (AP)
There have been claims a plot to kill Hugo Chavez's brother Adan Chavez were hidden in a crossword puzzlet (AP/ Javier Galeano)
Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez with his daughter Rosa Virginia before they flew to Cuba (AP)
Fans of Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez shout their support for the leader who is recovering from cancer surgery (AP)
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez gestures to supporters from a balcony at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas (AP)
Hugo Chavez smiles during a meeting with his cabinet in Havana, Cuba (AP/Miraflores Press Office)
Hugo Chavez receives military honors outside Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela (AP/Fernando Llano)
Supporters of President Hugo Chavez gather for a rally in Caracas, Venezuela (AP/Fernando Llano)
Hugo Chavez gestures during an event at Teresa Carreno theatre in Caracas, Venezuela (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez greets supporters while travelling from Miraflores to Caracas, Venezuela (AP/Ariana Cubillos)
Hugo Chavez shakes hands with a rural worker in Santa Barbara, Barinas State, Venezuela (AP)
Hugo Chavez attends an event event honouring him at the Teresa Carreno theatre in Caracas, Venezuela (AP/Fernando Llano)
Hugo Chavez issued an order to temporarily halt new admissions to the country's overcrowded and violent prisons (AP)
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez told thousands of supporters in Caracas he would 'win his battle for life' and beat cancer (AP)
Fidel Castro and Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez in Havana, Cuba (AP)
Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez gestures during a religious event in solidarity with his struggle against cancer (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, center, waves during a visit to the Perito Moreno Glacier in El Calafate, Argentina, Saturday, May 16, 2009. Chavez is on a two-day official visit to Argentina. At left Daniel Peralta, governor of Santa Cruz province. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Young supporters of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez peer from a car after the National Electoral Council (CNE) announced the results of state and city elections in Caracas, Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008. Chavez's allies won a majority in Venezuela's state elections, but the opposition made important gains, winning two of the most populous states and the mayor's post in Caracas. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez waves to supporters upon his arrival at a polling station in Caracas, Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008. Chavez sought to hold on to his dominance in state and municipal elections Sunday, facing an opposition aiming to win back power in key states and cities. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Residents wait to cast their ballots outside a polling station in Caracas, Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008. President Hugo Chavez sought to hold on to his dominance in state and municipal elections Sunday, facing an opposition aiming to win back power in key states and cities. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gesture at a news conference at the Meiendorf Castle residence outside Moscow on Tuesday, July 22, 2008. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, visiting Moscow to pursue weapons and energy deals, on Tuesday called for a strategic alliance with Russia to protect his country from the United States.
In this photo released by Cuba's newspaper Juventud Rebelde, former Cuba's President Fidel Castro speaks during a meeting with Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, unseen, and Cuba's President Raul Castro, unseen, in Havana, Tuesday June 17, 2008. Cuban television showed the first images of Fidel Castro in more than five months, broadcasting a silent video of the ailing revolutionary chatting in a garden with visiting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. (AP Photo/Juventud Revelde)
Two opposition members paint the word "No" over an image of the Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez during a rally against constitutional reforms proposed by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2007. Venezuelans will vote on the changes in a referendum on Dec. 2, 2007.
Masked gunmen point guns toward student opponents of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, unseen, during a shootout at Venezuela's Central University in Caracas, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2007, shortly after the anti-Chavez students returned from a protest against constitutional reforms that would expand Chavez's power. Shots were fired during the clashes where at least one person was killed and six injured, officials said.
Argentinian soccer legend Diego Armando Maradona, left, waves as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, center, embraces his Bolivian counterpart Evo Morales during the inauguration of the Copa America soccer tournament in San Cristobal, Venezuela, Tuesday, June 26, 2007.
A riot police armored vehicle sprays water against a kneeling university student in Caracas, Monday, May 28, 2007, during protests against Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez's decision to shut down opposition-aligned television station Radio Caracas Television, RCTV.
Policemen arrest a demonstrator outside Radio Caracas Television, RCTV, during clashes in Caracas, early Monday, May 28, 2007, after Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez decided not to renew the the opposition-aligned channel's broadcasting license which expired at midnight.
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, right, embraces Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez during a welcoming ceremony at the Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas, Thursday, March 6, 2008. Fernandez is on a one-day official visit to Venezuela.
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez

The death of Hugo Chavez at just 58 is a body blow for the poor and the oppressed, throughout Latin America and the wider world.

The most elected leader in the modern era, Chavez transformed Venezuela by the force of his will and a popular revolution which encompassed the marginal, the ethnic minorities, the workers, and key sections of the progressive intelligencia who saw in him a veritable Spartacus.

He rallied an army of not slaves, but those despised by the oligarchy as hewers of wood and drawers of the oil which previously made only the rich richer.

Under Chavez' revolution the oil wealth was distributed in ever rising wages and above all in ambitious social engineering. He built the fifth largest student body in the world, creating scores of new universities.

More than 90% of Venezuelans ate three meals a day for the first time in the country's history. Quality social housing for the masses became the norm with the pledge that by the end of the presidential term, now cut short, all Venezuelans would live in a dignified house.

Chavez' ambitions were not limited to Venezuela alone. He fostered Latin American unity promoting democratic and socialist movements throughout the continent.

He founded a Bank of the South, a University of the South, even a television station of the South - Tele Sur. And further afield he championed the Palestinian cause, giving citizenship to stateless Palestinian refugees.

When Israel invaded Lebanon, from where I write, in 2006 he expelled the Israeli ambassador from Caracas - relations which remain severed. He stood up to North American hegemony and with the victims of imperial domination everywhere.

I knew him as a warm gregarious bear of a man, a force of nature.

My wife and I spent almost two weeks working in his presidential campaign late last year. It is heartbreaking to be writing what amounts to his obituary so soon after yet another of his great political triumphs.

He will be remembered as a man who lived and died for his people, as a paratrooper, a tank commander, a president.

Hasta siempre Comandante. Presente.

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