"We lived in Venezuela for a year (we have been back 3 years now) and I just want to say that Rory Carroll and all the other hacks who will try to bring the legacy of Chavez into question are wrong - what we saw and experienced first hand when we were living there was a country where the poor and excluded were given access to free health care, free education, subsidised food and the opportunity to participate in building a fairer, more equal society - the most amazing thing was the genuine love and affection in which the man was held by the people of Venezuela" - Deirdre O'Neill
"We're not perfect, but we do have democracy" - Hugo Chavez
In a shallow world where grandiose symbolic gestures are granted great significance, the announcement of seven days of mourning and a state funeral in Venezuela after the death of Hugo Chavez would be considered great honors for any national leader, and yet they barely scratch the surface of the sense of loss, the vacuum felt by his millions of supporters - not only the poor in Venezuela who adored him, but also admirers from around the world, those who appreciate all he achieved for the poor of his nation, and who effortlessly see through the shameless and disgusting bias and smears of the corporate media, which is now alight with open or barely disguised glee at the news of his death.
Various obituaries have appeared, a good one here, in which much of the background of the man can be found. Chavez experienced poverty firsthand as a child, being forced to live with his grandmother when his parents could not feed him (despite both of them being school teachers). From his grandmother Chavez said he learned the importance of solidarity and sharing with others.
On joining the army Chavez began to learn of the exploits of Simon Bolivar, the revolutionary hero who fought for the independence of Latin America from the Spanish Empire. For the rest of his life, Chavez characterized his political philosophy as 'Bolivarianism', and worked to free his nation from the US Empire and its 'Washington Consensus', now known more commonly as neoliberalism.
Venezuela's problems are manifold and most foreign observers will be well acquainted with them, highlighted as they are at every opportunity in the corporate media as means to attack and label Chavez as 'corrupt', 'incompetent', a 'strongman' and a 'buffoon'. The murder rate in Caracas is among the highest in the world while corruption runs through many Venezuelan institutions, most critically the justice system, with allegedly thousands of extrajudicial executions carried out by police officers. Add to this around 12 million illegal weapons in circulation and Caracas being a major center of operations for organized crime and you have a situation in which violent crime is both out of control and very difficult to contain. Tellingly, the similar plight of Mexico is blamed exclusively in the corporate media on organized crime, with little or no criticism of the government.
In response to these issues, Chavez created a new national police force in an attempt to impose much higher standards on recruitment and operations, and policies were formulated for control and disarmament of weapons and ammunition.
Focusing solely on these issues, serious though they are, is a means to deflect from the truly remarkable achievements of Chavez; namely his 'Bolivarian Missions'. The Missions are social programs: anti-poverty initiatives; educational programs that have made over a million adult Venezuelans literate; subsidies for food and housing; and the building of thousands of free medical clinics for the poor. As a result of these policies, the infant mortality rate fell by 18.2% between 1998 and 2006; poverty dropped from 59.4% in 1999 to 30.2% in 2006; and extreme poverty fell from 21.7% to 9.9% over the same period. The Gini coefficient, a measure of societal wealth inequality, fell from 48.7 in 1998 to 42 in 2007.
The Missions encourage citizen- and worker-managed governance, creating a powerful sense of community and involvement in society, something most of the poor have never experienced before, ignored and repressed as they were by previous administrations. In addition, thousands of free land titles have been granted to formerly landless poor and indigenous communities.
The Scottish Venezuela Solidarity Campaign adds:
More than 2.7 million Venezuelans have been lifted out of poverty since 1998, with extreme poverty halved.
Over 17 million people now have access to free healthcare for the first time, saving up to 300,000 lives.
Over 1.6 million adults have benefited from literacy campaigns with illiteracy now abolished according to UNESCO standards.
Access to clean drinking water has increased from 80% in 1998 to over 92% today, benefitting more than 6 million people.
98% of Venezuelans now eat three times per day thanks to government provision of subsidised food and free school meals.
New rights for working people — Venezuela's minimum wage is now the highest in Latin America, with recently announced increases.
The creation of a Women's Development Bank and new Ministry for Women, giving opportunities to millions.
Historic racism is being tackled with new rights for indigenous people and other black and minority ethnic communities.
In a recent article, Pepe Escobar writes:
Unemployment went down from over 20 percent to less than 7 percent. No less than 22 public universities were built in the past 10 years. The number of teachers went from 65,000 to 350,000. Illiteracy has been eradicated. There is an ongoing agrarian reform – still a dream in most South American latitudes.
The people of Venezuela may be poor, but a Gallup poll found that they were the fifth happiest nation on the planet.
In John Pilger's documentary, The War on Democracy, Chavez was asked in an interview why, when Venezuela was rolling in oil dollars, there was still poverty in the nation. He responded as follows:
The poor in Venezuela carry on being poor, yes. I always say that we don't want to be rich. Our aim is not material wealth. It is to live with dignity, of course to come out of poverty, and to come out of extreme poverty above all. And to live, to live with dignity, this is the objective. Not to become millionaires, the American way of life. No, that is stupid.
Ignore the soulless and lazy corporate media lackeys who will cherry-pick statistics to spread hate and confusion; the true legacy of Hugo Chavez is what he has achieved for the poor. Chavez understood that human rights must always come before economic concerns, and that the true measure of a successful life is not material wealth and the pursuit of it - the flawed, limited, shallow and propagandistic 'American Dream' - but instead a capacity for kindness, good humor, compassion and empathy, the spiritual richness gained from freely aiding those in need.
Distraught supporters of Chavez, while ensuring that the seeds he has sown are never crushed underfoot, can therefore take solace in the fact that while his life ended far too soon, his journey among us was truly successful. Rest in peace, Hugo Chavez.
Written by Simon Wood