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Hugo Chavez: the man and the myth

I’ve been reading a lot lately about what Hugo Chavez’s legacy will be. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria stated that the international population will remember the myth of Chavez rather his overall accomplishments.

A Venezuelan reporter wrote an essay about the 10 reasons why he won’t miss the late leader of his country.

But as with all polarizing political figures, it is often difficult to separate fact from fiction and opinion from attitude.

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that she wanted to become more informed about Chavez.

Was he 'evil'? Or not?

She wanted to ‘learn something new’.

I wrote in reply that he wasn't considered like Castro or Ahmedinajad... but the US still was not a big fan (unless you're Sean Penn).

However, he was relatively popular in Venezuela, having done a lot to alleviate poverty in that country. However, many people also believe that he subverted his own constitution and became more dictatorial as his reign went on. The crime rate also grew while he was in power. Like most politicians, he had some high points, some low.

There is no denying that Chavez was a vocal and strong personality on the international stage (can you even name another South American leader). Like many leaders of foreign countries, what was reported by English-language media on him may not have 100 per cent accurate. So how good or bad a leader was he?

One of the positive policies during Chavez’ reign, was how he tackled the issue of poverty. He was instrumental in providing care for thousands of his citizens and worked closely with Cuba in this regard. A common criticism is that crime rate tripled under Chavez. While this is true, he does not mean he is fully responsible for this statistic. (For example: gun ownership has also increased under Barack Obama – mainly due to fear that he is going to take away all the guns, rather than any specific policy) .

Many accused Chavez of being authoritarian – dismissing anybody who didn’t agree with his policies and putting restrictions on freedom of speech and access to information. Chavez is by no means the first world leader to be accused of this. Here in Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been accused of muzzling scientists, being biased towards conservative and right-leaning organizations, and dismissing funding for groups that do not politically support him. Even Obama has been accused of being overly-controlling in some situations by a certain segment of the population (drone attacks anybody?)

Going back to what Zakaria said, that the myth of Chavez will outlive his accomplishments. Much like the right’s obsession with a mythical Obama, I think many people didn’t like or at least didn’t agree with the myth of Chavez and the cult figure that he had self-created rather than the real politician or any of his specific policies (At least here in English-speaking North America).

But Chavez did have allies as well. He was very close with former Cuban President Fidel Castro, and spent a lot of time in Cuba during his treatment for cancer. He was also friends with Oscar-winner Sean Penn, and the have been photographed together on several occasions. The citizens of his home country also seemed to support him, as there has been a huge outcry of support following his death, not to mention three elections of winning the popular vote.

I think the criticism, and even hatred of Chavez, boils down to one or words (or ideologies): socialism. Yes, Hugo Chavez was unabashedly socialist, and in the US at least, socialism is a dirty word. It goes back to fear and myth. It’s not that we are categorically against socialism, it’s that many don’t know what socialism truly is and are rather against the myth of what some have made socialism and socialists out to be. The fact the Chavez was also buddies with Castro – supreme ruler of Hell on earth in some people's view – certainly could not have helped his relations with the United States.

Only time will tell whether Chavez was a good or bad influence in the spectrum of Venezuelan politics. History will be the judge. Reports show that a majority of Venezuelans want a continuation of his policies. I guess in the grand scheme of things, that is the most important thing. The world may want different things for a post-Chavez Venezuela (and indeed, many theories have already started popping up on social media), but it is not our business to decide that. The people of Venezuela have spoken, and their decision should stand.

The best way to remember somebody? In song of course – The Ballad Of Hugo Chavez by Canadian Band Arkells.

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