The man finally died at 58 after battling an incurable Cancer for a few years. If there is life after death as many have argued and as I strongly believe and if the man is able to resurrect in spirit and witness all the adulation and the love showered on him by the great majority of his own people, he would predictably view his untimely exit as the best thing that could have happened to him even if he had lived a hundred years. With “Commandante” Chavez what you see is what you get. He could care less about what his critics thought about him. He refused to let his enemies define him and he did it with the persistence of a demon.
I admire and respect him for that even in death. The litmus test for a productive life is not how long a human being lives but what a difference or contribution the individual has made to make this world a better place for his fellow countrymen thru his adherence to what he strongly believes. Obafemi Awolowo the best President Nigeria never had, and arguably one of the greatest statesmen the African continent has produced said it best when he eloquently told Justice Sowemimo after his conviction at his famous treasonable felony trial in Nigeria that “it is not life that matters, but the courage each and everyone of us brings to it” Viewed from that prism alone, President Chavez.was not only a “sui generis” among his peers, he was a courageous leader in his own right and a political genius.
The lives of great leaders the world over bear an eloquent testimony to the Awolowo precept and Hugo Chavez’s life clearly epitomized that in my judgment. We can draw the same inference about great leaders like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, F. Delano Roosevelt, Chairman Mao, John F Kennedy, Patrice Lumumba, Gamel Abdel Nasir, Julius Nyerere, Murtala Mohammed, Fidel Castro, Madiba Nelson Mandela to mention a few. Chavez was viewed by many of his detractors as a thug. Some actually described his exit as good riddance to bad rubbish. They made a huge mistake however to view him that way because history would be far much kinder to him than his critics People who hardly know him can run their mouth and they say what they like about him. What matters, as I hinted earlier on, is the verdict of those who knew him best. I mean the great majority of his people.
I was expecting the CNN as the world-famous Television Network to give more air time to covering his death and funeral and to give praise where praise is due. The CNN woefully failed to do that for obvious reasons but thank God BBC the mother of all TV stations around the world did a far better job regardless of what might be their home Government’s views of the man and his contributions to Venezuela in particular
I will be the first to admit that Hugo Chavez was far from perfect. He had his human weaknesses just like every human being. He came to power by leading a revolt against the powerful Establishment in his country. He was arrested, detained, victimized, and could possibly have been convicted and put away for treason but like Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, the man was not only lucky but he was clearly cut out for greatness. He was released out of prison to run for President and he won. He could easily have led a coup but he chose to rise to power thru the ballot box. And for 14 good years he led the country as the unapologetic champion of the poor and the oppressed in his country.
Many in the West have wrongly accused and faulted him of using his nation’s oil as a political tool. He evidently stepped on so many toes in so doing both within and outside his country. I think he did the right thing given the peculiar circumstance of his country. A good leader must play to his strength and not his weaknesses. Hugo Chavez did just that and rightly so. Venezuela’s greatest asset was her huge reservoir of oil which is ranked higher than Saudi Arabia’s. It was the greatest bargaining chip Venezuela could have leveraged to launch herself into one of the most prosperous nations in South America. Hugo Chavez that, and he wisely took full advantage of that as leader of the country. It would have been foolish or cowardly of Hugo Chavez not to use the oil as a weapon for the economic transformation and development of his country. If America can use her scientific and technological power to intimidate and dominate the world so can Hugo Chavez.
The man was resilient, resolute and determined in his belief and he carried out his plan at redistributing the wealth of his oil-rich country to benefit the poor and the middle class in Venezuela in pretty much the same way like Barack Obama is advocating today in America that the richest 1 per cent of American multi-millionaires should also pay their own dues to guarantee a level playing field for all Americans. Hugo Chavez might have been a little bit ruthless in doing what he did but he did it within the powers granted him by the Venezuela Constitution. It was arguably the only way he could have done it given the peculiar situation of his own country and people at the time he came to power.
America or the industrialized nations are certainly asking for too much by expecting third world countries and their leaders to always dance to their tune by leaving their economy to the whim and caprices of institutions like the World Bank and the IMF whose primary goal is to first and foremost serve the best interest of the developed nations while paying lip service to helping the developing nations. Many of those developed countries forget how long it took them to reach their current level of sophistication as democratic countries.
America in particular ought to be remanded of a point in her History when their founding fathers or the immigrants coming to the new continent from many parts of Europe pretty much behaved like many of the third world leaders they are criticizing today. The first generation of Americans had to overpower and suppress the red Indians, the original owners of the land to take over the country and simply damn the consequence. History has recorded how long it took America to emancipate the black slaves and how long it took to grant the slaves and even American women the right to vote. Close to 250 years after American Independence, those rights are still being threatened, suppressed or denied as we speak and despite their claim to being catalysts for Democracy. So those who fault and criticize Hugo Chavez and other third world leaders for their autocratic conduct should really think again if they remember their own history and their evolution.
The world ought to view Hugo Chavez in pretty much the same way it now views Nelson Mandela who was for many years blackmailed in South Africa as the enemy of the Apartheid Regime and a terrorist rather than a freedom fighter. Where were all these lovers of Democracy when Nelson Mandela was allowed to languish in jail for 27 years? He could easily have died in prison. The Apartheid regime did all they could to break him down, but he remained steadfast and defiant to the very end till he was able to lead South Africa to the promised land by the special grace of God.
Mandela and his ANC had done it with the moral and financial support of countries like Nigeria, Cuba, Libya and their leaders like Murtala Mohammed, Fidel Castro and Moammar Ghadafi to mention a few. America and much of the developed world never tried to put pressure on the Apartheid Regime until it became clear that victory was within reach. Nelson Mandela is now arguably one of the greatest statesmen in the world because he promoted reconciliation rather than pursuing vendetta and he knew how to quit the stage while the ovation is loudest. Hugo Chavez like Mandela was very tolerant of the opposition in Venezuela. If he had done what dictators elsewhere always do his party could easily have massively rigged the last election and declared a 99 percent victory. He won by only 55 percent while the opposition won 45 and his handpicked Vice President, Mr. Maduro now acting President is a hot favorite to win the next presidential election. Those who think the legacies of Hugo Chavez may not endure are jumping the gun too quickly because the great majority of Venezuela voters do not blame Hugo Chavez for the downturn in the economy of Venezuela. They view him in pretty much the same way the Chinese view Chairman Mao at the peak of his glory because they knew he lived and died for them.
May his soul rest in peace.