I’ve just come off the stage after a relatively successful but terrifying performance to be greeted with the huge news that Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, has died. At the age of 58, Venezuela’s very controversial leader (first elected in 1999) has been announced to have succumbed to the cancer he has been battling for many years. He has seen strikes, coups, referendums to be removed, yet his socialist ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ has seemed to surmount the insurmountable, and with it vastly dividing opinion.
I don’t know how I react to this. On one hand, his socialist policy really do seem to have helped reduce poverty in Venezuela. I have no figures to hand (just rushing this) but I do remember reading impressive statistics. He’s acted as an antithesis to US imperialism across the world, providing a necessary balance to worldwide opinion. However, this has come at the downside of cozying up to dictators like Gaddafi, Ahmadinejad and Castro. His human rights record is shady at best – I don’t think this article by Human Rights Watch would be his preferred obituary – and Venezuela currently lies at the bottom end of ‘Partly Free’ in Freedom House’s 2013 report (the same grade as Egypt, for comparison).
The loss of a beloved leader for the people, or the passing of a power-crazed dictator in the making? I’ve long been unsure myself over how to classify Chavez; it seems now I won’t have to. Whatever his legacy, there is no doubt that he has profoundly shaped the course of Venezuela’s history.