Iconic leader

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died battling cancer on Tuesday, will be remembered for giving a new voice to his small country and Latin America.

The Chavez effect was felt outside the continent also as he succeeded in projecting a politics which had relevance in other parts of the world too. He championed socialism when the idea was losing currency and believed that his idea of 21st century socialism would be a reality in his country in the coming decades.

His politics was a mixture of quintessential Latin American nationalism and socialism interpreted in terms of his times and the needs of the people of his country. He led the pink revolt of the region and inspired others in the fight against economic inequality and against the domination of the US in the continent.

Chavez showed that his model of socialism worked in his country. He implemented welfare strategies which greatly benefitted the poor and the underprivileged and helped to raise their living standards, and health and literacy levels. Chavez’ iconic status in the country was derived from his pro-poor policies.

He himself was from a poor background and rose fighting adversities. He also reinforced his image of a fighter with his strident opposition to the US which has tended to consider Latin America as its backyard. It helped him to acquire the halo of a David fighting superpower Goliath.

Venezuela is rich in resources, especially oil. The nationalisation of the oil industry, in which American companies had major stakes, alienated the US but it provided Chavez enough resources to be deployed in social welfare programmes. Chavez reportedly survived several attempts on his life, including those plotted by the CIA.
Chavez has been criticised as authoritarian, and has faced charges of harassment of political opponents and suppression of media freedom. He has also been accused of weakening institutions and undermining democratic processes in devious ways. There are contradictions in his image.

While he was a leader elected four times with huge popular support, he had once been involved in a failed military coup also. But he evolved in his eventful political career into a charismatic leader of the people and the transformation had everything to do with his ideas, defiance and rhetoric and above all with his sense of social justice. His legacy will be a source of inspiration for many.

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