Many tears roll from cheeks and seep into Venezuelan soil. Yesterday afternoon, Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias, President since first being elected in 1998 and a man who touched the hearts of many, passed away after a prolonged battle with cancer. Who knows how he found the strength, almost six months ago now, to tour the country, speaking to crowds of hundreds of thousands on a daily basis, millions in Caracas, and expending every ounce of energy to continue on the path of a national project that has truly transformed people’s lives here. Politically, Chavez was an international giant, and will be remembered across the continents. In Latin America, as he strove for the unity proposed by Simon Bolivar before him. He will be remembered by Muslims for his fearless stances on so many occasions; in support of the rights of the Palestinian people, and in condemning foreign intervention in Libya, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. In the centres of power, namely, the government of the United States, Chavez earned many enemies, and for all the right reasons. Indeed, he was an example extremely rarely seen in politics; a man who denounced imperialism for what it is, who called for peace when others clamoured for war, and who spoke in the language of ordinary people.
Jacobo Arbenz, Guatemala. Salvador Allende, Chile. Manuel Zelaya, Honduras. Imperialism is not an obscure word in Latin America. Just yesterday, Nicolas Maduro took the step of expelling two US military diplomats from the country. If the United States wish to interpret what others see as a tragedy as an opportunity, as they so often do, they will face an organised and determined population. Not only a government, and not only a military, but an entire nation.
In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez will be missed as a brother, a son and a father by many more families than his own, as the scenes last night attested to. However, despite the breadth of his influence, which I believe will be felt for quite some time, he was one human being. Every person has their time to be born, and every person has their time to be taken from this world. There were signs in recent weeks; his naming of Vice-President Nicolas Maduro as the person to take over, his subdued return after treatment in Cuba, but above all, the general lack of communication on his part. Chavez was a larger-than-life character in more ways than one, and he will be remembered for much longer than the fifty-eight years he spent on Earth.
For many of the younger generation in Venezuelan, the Bolivarian Revolution is all they have known of political affairs in their country. For many more, memories of corruption, repression and political stagnation remain fresh. It is a past they never want to see again.