Last Tuesday the whole world was informed of the transition of Comrade Hugo Chavez, the ailing President of Venezuela who passed away in a military hospital in Caracas two weeks after returning home from months of battle with cancer in Havana, Cuba. As soon as the then Vice President and now Interim President Nicolas Maduro made the announcement amid tears millions of Venezuelans, men and women, young and old, whose lives Chavez touched one way or the other, trooped out onto the streets to express their collective grief. Soon after the announcement the fear of the unknown gripped the Latin American nation as the future with Maduro (without the 'El-Comandante') became uncertain. That was expected because Chavez, for the past 14 years, had carved a niche for himself as an enigma, a nationalist and a friend of the poor.
Massing spontaneously opposite the Miraflores presidential palace and the military hospital where he gave up the ghost in the capital city many were weeping while others were praying and chanting in unison: "We are all Chavez! Long live Chavismo!" Last weekend (Friday) the late President was given a befitting state funeral witnessed by scores of world leaders and millions of his faithful followers. According to his anointed successor his body would be embalmed and deposited in a museum for good. Just like the immortals: Vietnamese Ho Chi-Minh, Chinese Mao Zedong and Russian Vladimir Lenin. Chavez deserved whatever glorious 'treatment' he got after his demise given his popularity and patriotism.
Born in 1954 the second son of humble village school-teachers studied at the military academy in Caracas and thereafter went to Simon Bolivar University. In 1992 he headed a Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement that tried to overthrow President Carlos Perez. When the effort failed Chavez was sentenced to two years in prison! (Two years only behind bars? He was very lucky to have come from Venezuela and not Nigeria where coup plotting attracted maximum life jail or even execution a la Mamman Vatsa). Upon his return from the prison he founded the Fifth Republic Movement, a left-wing socialist political party, in 1997 to bolster his bid for the presidency the following year.
As the scourge of the oligarchs and hero of the poor the larger-than-life former paratrooper, in power for 14 years, was ready to end the institutional corruption that was eating away the Venezuelan resources. Swinging between euphoria and occasional depression Chavez was unpredictable as he 'dictatorially' sought to apply his vision for a better Venezuela. He empowered millions of poor folks feeling marginalised in the scheme of things prior to his rise to power -- providing cheap houses, education and health services and other social amenities hitherto lacking. For doing justice to the cause of the poor the masses became his 'friend' voting for him in large numbers at every presidential poll, singing with him, dancing with him and praying for him.
Running a rich oil-producing country (unlike Nigeria where the welfare of the people and the security of their property are not the priorities of the governments) Chavez deliberately elected to pursue the welfare of his people to the detriment of multi-national oil companies whose exploitative capitalist tendencies he denounced. His socialist policies produced mortal political backlash sometimes culiminating in violent sponsored overthrows that were nipped in the bud. But he survived every politico-economic turbulence with the people by his side! His was a one-man revolution done 'sans' violence and shedding of blood!
A believer in Christ who loved using the new testament of the Bible as a revolutionary weapon as it were (drawing from his Christian faith) Chavez evoked Jesus Christ as his fatal cancer treatment was turning out to be his last. He was quoted by the Vice President Maduro as having said that he was hanging on to life and to Christ as it became evidently clear that the strong man was having some protracted difficulty speaking and bouncing back to life in his usual boisterous presidential swagger. His compatriots prayed against the worst happening but unfortunately the worst they feared became a reality. And their beloved Hugo was gone -- gone to the great beyond even against his wish and their wish!
If the primary purpose of governance is to take care of the welfare and security of the people by judiciously utilizing the national resources for the greatest good of the greatest number, then the late Comrade achieved greatness indeed doing just that. Hugo Chavez, the deceased populist President, loved his people (especially the poor) with passion and the people loved him in return with equal passion following him about everywhere in every circumstance with patriotic loyalty in his anti-imperialism evolution and revolution. For them a hero to right the historic wrongs was born, one strong enough to deliver them from their anguish and anxiety! Alas the revolution was still on when he succumbed to cancer.
Comrade Chavez, 59, during his controversial presidential sojourn here on earth, demonstrated forcefully what was developmentally possible with sound leadership tailored towards the improvement of the lives of the downtrodden. Rather than aligning with the imperialists he chose consciously to work with the people, for the people, damning whatever consequencies that were bound to follow such adamant show of pro-people bravado rare in many climes (especially African).
What he did in Venezuela was similar to what a young air-force officer did in Ghana many years ago by decapitating the corrupt Generals hell-bent on killing the Ghanaian hope and dream! Jerry John Rawlings has many things in common with Hugo Chavez: fearlessness, resoluteness, patriotism and military bravado. There might not be much in terms of ideology or philosophy of power but they succeeded where the 'philosophers' and 'ideologists' had failed! We salute their staying power. Their courage; their audacity.
In Nigeria (my beloved country) the Generals, living and dead, are still calling the shots by imposing their surrogates to hold the nation hostage. What fuels their staying power, their gripping influence on the national polity is their ability to manipulate elections, mind-boggling corruption, impunity and mediocrity. Nigeria without Generals Ibrahim Babangida, Olusegun Obasanjo and Abdulsalami Abubakar (with Gen. Sani Abacha gone) would have been a nation keeping a date with her destined greatness! But come 2015 an Hugo Chavez may come visiting the landscape with good tidings!
Hugo Chavez was not only charismatic but intrepid; in chosing to work for the people he was loved and loathed. But love him or hate him you could not ignore his charm, his populist rethorics and his rabble-rousing diatribes against the West and their neo-colonialism and capitalism. The West were forced to pay attention to his management of power with the sole objective of serving his nation and his people. With oil wealth to flaunt Chavez commanded attention globally -- helping those in need and providing succour to those in distress even beyond his national frontier. That is what leadership entails, a leadership without empty grandstanding and megalomania.
A conspiratorial dimension to the Chavez demise was however added by his annointed successor, former bus driver, Nicholas Maduro who alleged that scientific autopsic evidence of the cause of death would expose America's involvement! Of course the US dismissed the claim as "absurd". The United States has had a tumultuous diplomatic relation with Venezuela under Chavez. And hours after announcing Chavez's death Maduro declared that two American diplomats had been expelled for 'subversive activities'.
The late Comrade Hugo Chavez was a highly controversial figure who spoke his mind in whatever circumstance sometimes without any diplomatic niceties. In New York during one of the UN's General Assembly meetings he had labelled the former US President George W. Bush as a "devil". Though he seemed to have liked President Barack Obama (even openly canvassing for his re-election recently during the presidential poll in the US late last year). The major factor that worked for Chavez during his presidency was that he was prepared for power and when he got it he did his best to leave an immortal legacy behind. We shall all miss him!
At a summit in 2007 in Lima Peru the Spanish King openly rebuked the 'garrulous' Chavez asking angrily: "Can't you shut up and keep quiet?" Diplomatic relations between Spain and Venezuala had been very controversial during the Chavez years. In 2002 when a coup d'etat was executed against Chavez the then Spanish Prime Minister had congratulated and recognised the coupists before it was put down by Chavez's loyalists. The 'terrorists' involved in seperatist movements against the Spanish state were said to be exiled in large numbers in Caracas -- aided and abetted by Chavez.
The truth remained that the Spanish King must have been irked by the rising international profile of Chavez coupled with his camaraderie with the exiled Spanish seperatists. What he said might not have been undiplomatic or vulgar enough to warrant such open reprimand but Chavez maintained his radical revolutionary self refusing to be intimidated or cowed by an old Monarch reputed for his longevity, reverence and reticence.
Adios Hugo Chavez, Dominus Vobiscum! (Goodbye Chavez, God be with you!) In this prevailing national melancholic mood we -- black and white, young and old, male and female -- we are all Chavez! Viva Frater!!