Sunday, March 10, 2013

Hugo Chávez

A friend of mine years ago pointed out that obituaries can be some of the most interesting reading in a newspaper. These days when I don't look at a hardcopy newspaper very often, I don't often find myself browsing by the obituaries. But news services do keep obituary drafts about famous people in the can. And when a prominent world figure like Venezuela's Hugo Chávez Frías passes, it gives readers a chance to get a more substantial summary of history than we get in typical daily news stories.

But unless you happen to have a full day or two to looking through them, you may miss a lot of the obituary pieces. So I'm including several of them here.

David Sirota's Hugo Chavez's economic miracle Salon 03/06/2013 reminds us that that although the American press and politicians tended to use his name as a synonym for tin-horn dictator, he legacy is much more complex than that. Calling him a dictator is just inaccurate in any case. The Carter Center has monitored the four elections in which Chávez was elected; see reports on their Venezuela page.

Sirota writes:

... Chavez became the bugaboo of American politics because his full-throated advocacy of socialism and redistributionism at once represented a fundamental critique of neoliberal economics, and also delivered some indisputably positive results. Indeed, as shown by some of the most significant indicators, Chavez racked up an economic record that a legacy-obsessed American president could only dream of achieving.

For instance, according to data compiled by the UK Guardian, Chavez’s first decade in office saw Venezuelan GDP more than double and both infant mortality and unemployment almost halved. Then there is a remarkable graph from the World Bank that shows that under Chavez’s brand of socialism, poverty in Venezuela plummeted (the Guardian reports that its “extreme poverty” rate fell from 23.4 percent in 1999 to 8.5 percent just a decade later). In all, that left the country with the third lowest poverty rate in Latin America. Additionally, as Weisbrot points out, “college enrollment has more than doubled, millions of people have access to health care for the first time and the number of people eligible for public pensions has quadrupled.”
The UN' ECLAC report 2012 Social Panorama of Latin America (Nov 2012) on poverty rates indicates that Venezuela had the eighth lowest poverty rate (29.5%) in 2011 among 18 countries; the 2011 figures aren't included for all 18 countries, but the earlier figures in the table strongly suggests that Venezuela's ranking won't be changed when they are available. The countries will lower poverty rates: Argentina 5.7%; Uruguay 6.7%; Chile 11.0%; Costa Rica 18.8%; Brazil 20.9; Panama 25.3%; Peru 27.8%.

Ana Kasparian leads a good, succinct discussion about Chávez and his legacy in Hugo Chavez Dead at 58 - What Will Happen Worldwide? The Young Turks 03/06/2013

Ana's colleague and boss from The Young Turks, gives this take on Chávez in Hugo Chavez - What Success Can We Actually Learn From? 03/06/2013:

Here are two English-language video reports:

Chavez dies: "Divisive" Chavez unites people in tribute Euronews 03/05/2013:

Tributes pour in for Chavez from neighbours Euronews 03/06/2013

Hugo Chávez, Líder de la Revolución Bolivariana 03/06/2013. 8:15ff amusing moments

I'vbe created a YouTube group of videos on Hugo Chávez, with most of the videos in Spanish.

Additional articles:

Mark Weisbrot, Why Chávez Was Re-elected New York Times 10/09/2012

Mercedes López San Miguel, El líder que encarnó la Revolución Bolivariana Página 12 06.03.2013

Robert Dreyfuss, R.I.P. Hugo Chavez (1954–2013) The Nation 03/06/2013:

But now is the time for thinking about Hugo Chávez’s legacy. It’s a controversial one, because Chávez made mistakes and missteps along the way. But there’s no disputing the fact that the late Venezuelan leader did a lot to make life better for many, many Venezuelans. It’s rare, very rare, to find a leader of a developing country who cares passionately and deeply about the underprivileged, the poor, the downtrodden and the underserved, while simultaneously taking on the often selfish and self-interested elite, the wealthy and the privileged, who in turn make common cause with US and Western elites and the vaunted “private sector” abroad. And those Western elites find it easy to mobilize the institutions of the states in which they live, including military and intelligence agencies, to do their bidding.

During the administration of George W. Bush, Chávez himself found out how it works, when Venezuelan reactionaries—with support in the United States—made a short-lived coup d'état against Chávez’s elected government.
The Miami Herald presents a reprehensible version of a hostile evaluation of Chávez' career and politics in an editorial, Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and his legacy of plunder 03/05/2013:

... as a national leader, he was an abject failure who plunged Venezuela into a political and economic abyss.

Dead at 58, Hugo Chávez leaves behind a country in far worse condition than it was when he became president, its future clouded by rivals for succession in a constitutional crisis of his Bolivarian party’s making and an economy in chaos.

A former paratrooper, Mr. Chávez had a radical vision for “21st Century Socialism,” which was never fully explained. His skillful rhetoric, which filled supporters with utopian dreams, was used to justify the methodical destruction of Venezuela's democratic institutions and the free market.
The reader wouldn't know from that about Chávez' four democratic elections as President in free and competitive elections with real opposition. Or that the Venezuelan state oil company, PDvSA (Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A.) was nationalized in 1976, the year Chávez turned 22 and long before he came to power. [Clarification 03/10/2013: Chávez re-nationalized the oil industry after it had gone through a period of privatization.] Nor about the decline in poverty rate as reported by ECLAC from 48.6% circa 2000 to in 29.5% in 2011; although perhaps that's what the Herald editorial board means by "the downward spiral of Venezuela that began the day Hugo Chávez was elected." And that Bush Administration-backed coup attempt against Chávez in 2002 after his first election? I guess they couldn't squeeze that in. Because it was that bad Chávez, you see, who was the one aiming for "the methodical destruction of Venezuela's democratic institutions."


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