Chavez: Last of the Left outposts falls

Caracas : Venezuela was plunged into uncertainty on Wednesday after the death of President Hugo Chavez, who dominated the oil-rich country for 14 years and came to embody a resurgent Latin American Left.

Chavez: Last of the Left outposts falls

Chavez, who modelled himself on the 19th century independence leader Simon Bolivar and renamed his country the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, will devastate millions of supporters.

They saw Chavez as the latest in a colorful line of revolutionary legends, from Fidel Castro to Argentine-born Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, while he saw himself as a revolutionary.

With a defiant anti-imperialist discourse, he injected energy into a sector of the Latin American left and led a group of nations, including Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia, with leftist governments dedicated to diminishing American influence. Most important, he changed the way Venezuelans think about themselves and their country.

His charismatic style, anti-US rhetoric and oil-financed policies that brought subsidised food and free health clinics to long-neglected slums won him widespread support.

On the flip side, even as Chavez ran Venezuela for more than 14 years as a virtual one-man show, he gradually placed all state institutions under his personal control.

Ideologically, Chávez was something of a turncoat, taking on and shedding policies and programs as they suited him.

He condemned the United States at every turn but depended on it to buy the oil that made his movement possible.

He spoke of a people’s right to self-determination but allied himself with tyrants in Libya, Syria and Iran.

Venezuela has the world’s largest reserves of crude oil, and the economy rises and falls with the oil industry. When Chávez first took office, oil was selling for less than $10 a barrel. This year it has sold for about $100. Those oil riches have fueled his movement.

Oil helped fund his socialist programmes, which have given poor people access to low-cost food and free health care and have knocked down barriers to higher education.

Conditions for the poor have certainly improved over the last decade and a half, and the ranks of the poor have shrunk.

But despite the sustained increase in oil prices, the country has the lowest cumulative rate of economic growth among the seven largest economies in South America since 1999.

Venezuela, still deeply divided after an acrimonious

election in October, has declared a week of national mourning, and a senior minister said a new vote would be called within what are sure to be 30 tense days.

Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said 58-year-old Chavez’s

hand-picked successor Maduro would take over as interim leader pending the next election.

Hundreds of Chavez supporters crowded in front of the military hospital where he died after a long struggle with cancer, weeping and chanting, “We are all Chavez!” and “Chavez

lives!” as soldiers guarded the gate.

Venezuela’s closest ally, communist Cuba, declared its own

mourning period for a leader who helped prop up the island’s

economy with cheap fuel and cash transfers, and dubbed Chavez a “true son” of revolutionary icon Fidel Castro.

But US President Barack Obama — often a target of

Chavez’s anti-American scorn — was circumspect, pledging the

United States would support the “Venezuelan people” and

describing Chavez’s passing as a “challenging time.”

 Compiled from Agencies/NYT/Daily Mail

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