There are always two types or leaders, those who take care of the interests of the lobbyists, and those who take the bullet for the people. To be classified among the latter lot will be leaders like Yours Truly, Mahatma Gandhi, Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara, Fidel Castro during his early years in power, Che Guevara while he was a new minister in Cuba, Muamar Gadaffi before he knew what the blitz life was, Mwalimu Julius Kabarage Nyerere, and perhaps lately Zambia’s Joyce Banda or Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frias. As the world awaits the election of the new pope and the announcement of the official presidential results of Kenya’s presidential polls, those who are firm believers of revolutionary fervor, thought, criticism and rhetoric are mourning the death of the modern-day Simon Bolívar who died of cancer which had rendered him incapable of dispensing his duties lately. The Ides of March came, but they didn’t leave. The angel of death visited Venezuela heeding the words “not beyond the Ides of March” before Hugo could cross his 4th term inauguration Rubicon and snuffed out the life from El Commandent.
The fiery orator, charismatic and flamboyant Chavez was born with a wooden spoon in his mouth and raised by his grandmother; he attained greatness out of sheer tenacity, determination and faith. Chavez joined the military academy in Caracas at age 17 where his rebellious streak led him to form a secret movement within the army deriving inspiration from his hero the 19th century South American revolutionary Simon Bolivar. He entered the world scene in 1992 in the failed bloody coup which left him locked away in prison. He was pardoned two years later but his fight with the ruling class was far from over; the ex paratroopers later put on the democratic garb vying for the presidency which he won in 1998 and sworn into office in 1999. His fight was always against those who were enemies of the mass; his strength lay in the mass.
During his time in power, it will be remembered that he achieved commendable feats including introducing a new constitution, changing the name of country to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, taking greater control of the state-run oil company, expanding the country’s armed forces, and instituting government programs to create jobs, housing and services for the poor. I have read that there was a report issued by Center for Economic and Policy Research which found poverty was cut in half during the first decade of Chavez’s rule; child mortality fell by a third; malnutrition deaths were down by 50%; and college enrollment almost doubled. I for one, being a revolutionary believer was one among millions who followed his politics with a keen interest on the Democracy Now!, Cuba Debate portals and his official twitter handle. Chavez was a real person, not the plastic type who avoid the people like plague, he loved the people, he belonged to the people and he was one of the people!
Hugo Chávez Frias with a bludgeoning size of ambition captured the world’s imagination through his fierce opposition to imperialism, he fought for the masses not the multinational corporations, for these acts, he was ostracized by the mainstream media and treated as a good-for-nothing communist undeserving to lead Venezuela, but his people looked at him and saw a leader unto the future where life was comfortable. His critics point out the failures of his Boliviarian Revolution and Chavismo ideology by referring to the grim and glaring inequality that obtains in most parts of Venezuela despite the fact that it is one of the world’s top oil producers. His supporters argue that even the devil must be given his due, and whatever progress that has been made by Chavez must be lauded. In fact, they point out the fact that his election in 1998 and subsequent re-elections, he has dedicated and devoted his life to the lives of his people despite immense pressure from America and its allies.
Chavez was a mixture of Fidel Castro (who first noticed the cancer and personally followed up all the treatments administered to his “son”), Barrack Obama and Nelson Mandela. He was viewed as the panacea for the economic ails in Venezuela, became a force to reckon with in Latin America, a powerhouse in the world, who utilized the power of rhetoric and it paid off handsomely. He tried with Brazil’s former president Lila da Silva to unite Latin America economically, socially and politically to keep America at a distance when decisions affecting the region had to be made. His buddies were what were what the west views as pariah, Iraq’s deposed former strongman Saddam Hussein, Iran’s acerbic Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Belarus’ Lukashenko. He was held in high regard by his people who believed that he held the secret to a united and successful economic and social Venezuela. In 2002 when America tried through select Venezuelans to stage a coup d’etat against him, (ousted him for two days) the result was akin to the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 by America to Cuba which left America humiliated and saw the statures of Castro and Chavez rose to the skies.
All humans are to err, and Chavez was no angel or saint but he fought and worked tooth and nail for the downtrodden of the world, not just Venezuelans. In revolutionary history, it is obvious that Chavez will be remembered for having the trod on the revolutionary well-worn ground whose high priest is Fidel Castro and the prophet was Che Guevara. As the world mourns him, Venezuelans who saw Chavez as Moses must have to wait and see whether Chavez’s preferred successor and current acting president “Joshua” Nicholas Maduro a populist former bus driver will steer their country to a prosperous path, take them beyond River Jordan to the Promised Land where there is social, political and economic equity where . Meanwhile, George W. Bush may not even be mourning, not after the 2006 United Nations General Assembly encounter where the following words were immortalized:
“Yesterday, the devil came here. Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of.
Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly. As the owner of the world. “