Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Death Of Hugo Chavez

This was a day that I knew I would come some time in my life. It was a day that I figured would mean great change for Venezuela and that it would pave the way towards progress. Now that it's here, that glimmer seems to have faded away along with the fervency of my hatred I had for the ex-president. It has been a weird 17 years slowly understanding how exactly to shape my opinion on this man. I've chirped here and there about how I don't favor him, but I've always seemed to talk about him in a light that has been more passionate and emotional. It's no surprise that this would happen though as it certainly is something that greatly impacts me as a person. Just because I no longer live there doesn't mean that I don't worry about what happens to close friends and family members. At the same time, I have learned more about what exactly it is that the man has done, and while I can't lean towards neutrality let alone like him, I can at least understand why others would. So, I'd like to tell you from all that I've read about, endured and understood, the impact that Chavez has had in his years.

Chavez was born in 1954 and joined the Military Academy in 1971. He participated in the 1992 coup d'état to overthrow Carlos Andrés Pérez. While it did not succeed and he did end up being in prison for his involvement in the coup, he had gotten vast amounts of attention for the act. Eventually, he was released and then managed to enter into the 1998 elections. As fate would have it, Chavez won. For the next 14 or so years, Chavez did much to not only stir the nation that he ruled over, but also the world itself. The man was not a quiet creature, when he made speeches, he made them loud. They were filled with intensity and ardor, drawing many people into what he had to say. Not only that, but he always spoke about a revolution that would come by and swoop them off their feet. That's what probably what made him so appealing to the poor. 

Due to the spiritualism in the nation, he's been glorified to nearly a god. Not necessarily because of his speeches, but he has somehow managed to decrease the poverty of the nation substantially from 60% in 1998 to less that 30% in 2008. This has allowed the poor to afford the bare necessities that they require, and as such, has strengthened the bond between the people and the president. Naturally, this bond that he had with the most common of folk allowed him to have more control over the country itself. It basically was the pivotal reason as to why he lasted for so long. He was a powerful televangelist, giving people enough of what they needed and barking better than his bite. This would become very apparent once he finally stood on the world stage. 

In 2006, Chavez stood in front of the UN and vehemently preached about how we must avoid American imperialism. He was a devout critic of George W. Bush, calling him the devil. Some saw him as showing himself as the true revolutionary that he was, standing up to his enemies. Others figured that he was merely a pompous, arrogant hypocrite. As time went on, it became clear that he wanted to establish himself as someone who greatly opposed the ideologies and policies that were being established in the US. He constantly shook hands with America's rivals such as Castro, Gaddafi and Ahmadinejad, strengthening the ties between their countries. Many people seemed to adore Chavez for being vocal against Bush, and various people such as Barbara Walters, Oliver Stone and Sean Penn have gone to subvert this idea that Chavez is not this nasty caricature that is portrayed in the media. I can't be so certain if it was because Chavez had made a great first impression on them or if they simply enjoy someone with an equally adamant dislike for a president that everyone and their mothers wasn't pleased with. Either way, this truly did have an impact on how others viewed Chavez. It wasn't the proper view that one should have, in my opinion, but in some fairness America still had both sides. I will say that it still is weird that I could say that I might have agreed with the right concerning the subject.

One thing that is for certain is that he has made an effort to eliminate opposing voices. Due to the 2002 coup d'état that failed to completely overthrow Chavez, he cracked down powerfully to remove any of this opposition on him. As such, he has gotten a stronger control of the judicial system so that it favors his wishes and has arrested a deal of people in political positions which he has deemed "traitors". The most prominent of his efforts to remove the other side was stopping RCTV from broadcasting. RCTV was a television channel that had been very critical of Chavez, with the occasional mockery here and there done for the sake of political satire. It had also supported the coup, mainly because they believed it was leading towards a more democratic Venezuela. Because of this, Chavez considered them fascists and had made efforts to remove them and put in their place something more appealing to his presidency. As such, on May 28th, 2007, RCTV no longer became a lingering threat, dealing a critical blow to the opposition. That in turn, doesn't signify that liberty of free speech. Without that liberty, it could be safe to say that it was turning into a dictatorship. 

While Venezuela's poverty has managed to lower, the crime rate has continued to soar, with Caracas being one of the most dangerous cities to go to. Even though I've lived there and have not had close encounters with gangs, I do recall hearing gunfire one night outside of my house and an object being hurled at one of my classrooms from afar (most likely a bullet). Not only that, but when passing through the slums in the core of the capital, one could faintly hear the sound of guns flaring off. This has shown how incompetent, corrupt and/or overwhelmed the police are, which does not shine so well to the man who has shown to be a grand change in the nation. Power outages have also reared their ugly heads, making matters even worse to strengthen his case. Perhaps the most peculiar of the problems that Venezuela does face is that the economy has not shown significant improvement with inflation nearing 30%. 

It's sad to say that some of these larger economic problems are not completely at the fault of Chavez. The country's economy is heavily petroleum-centric, as very little else is exported from such. Thus, the price of oil is what controls the economy for the most part. So when the 70s brought the price up due to a siege of OPEC ministers, prosperity arose. With all the money came in, Venezuelans managed to live the good life, being able to buy various objects of desire with veritable ease. The government was equally as frivolous with the money, spreading the wealth to the nation, but not in a way that would benefit it in the future. Arturo Uslar Pietri, a Venezuelan intellect, stated that we should "sembrar el petroleo" which basically meant that the money that we gained from petroleum should be used in investments to break from our oil dependency. Needless to say that did not happen and when the 80s brought the price down, so went Venezuela, which ultimately led to riots. Chavez could at least reference the leaders of before to make himself better suited when compared, yet his more "socialist" policies have not helped lure outside investors that could turn the economy for the better.  

To this day, I still did not like seeing the change that has come about from Chavez's reign. He may have had the key to rouse people to follow his ideas, done some effort to aid those who are struggling in the slums and  shown signs of a revolution that would turn the world around, but his faults do enough to outweigh the hope that he seemed to have promised so much. At the same time, the rage that he had brought me from his decisions has cooled down, now knowing that even before him, issues such as corruption and a failing economy were evident. I do not hold that much hope that the elections will bring forth the president that will at least make a decent effort to fix the glaring problems that face the nation, but I can only wait and see what will happen. Chavez has done a great deal to divide not only the nation that he ruled over, but those outside of Venezuela, which has served nothing more than an annoyance to have to cope with. The only word that I can think of that describes everything the president has done is polarizing. I bid you farewell, Hugo Chavez, so that a new chapter can begin in Venezuelan politics. 


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