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Hugo Chávez: a commanding figure

Hugo Chávez: a commanding figure

Not since Salvador Allende in 1973 has the death of a Latin American leader inspired so much attention worldwide as that, on March 5, of the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chávez Frías.
However, despite the abortive coup attempt of 2002, it was not bullets and traitor generals who attended Chávez’ deathbed. He succumbed to that most democratic of killers, cancer, and perhaps only the Venezuelan poor retained to the end their faith in their champion’s immortality as he fought to recover from the trauma of invasive surgery in Cuba, excruciating therapies and the resulting respiratory infections.

Few world leaders anywhere have merited such posthumous attention, not only in obituaries, but in protracted analyses of their achievements and legacy. In special article for LAB, Pablo Navarrete examines how the international media reacted. (Read more). For some, such as Tariq Ali, Chávez was a hero (Read more). Even critics, such as the Guardian’s Rory Carroll (Read more) have attempted a serious evaluation, and only the most blinkered, such as the same paper’s Phil Gunson (Read more) and the Peruvian Nobel laureate and presidential pretender Mario Vargas Llosa (Read more) have persisted in embittered denigration. The latter provoked an indignant reply from his fellow countryman, LAB Editor Javier Farje (Read more).

Javier had been in Caracas the week before, and his three posts from there to the LAB Editors’ Blog,Chavez Is EverywhereOil Damned Oil and Don’t Mess with Bolivar graphically describe some of the atmosphere and issues in the President’s final hours. Shortly after arriving in Buenos Aires, Javier heard the news and wrote a moving last post: Chávez No More.

Writing in The Independent, LAB contributor Grace Livingstone strikes a lighter tone as she observes the wit, the erudition and the sheer charisma of the man who taught Venezuelans to stand up for their own rights (Read more). LAB Editor Sue Branford recalls interviewing Chávez in 2001 and wondering how any human constitution could withstand the work schedule and caffeine intake habitual to El Comandante (Read more). That same energy is wonderfully captured by New York City hip-hop group Rebel Diaz in their track ‘Work Like Chávez’ (Read more)

History’s eventual verdict on Chávez will depend, or course, not only on what he did in his lifetime, but on whether his achievements can be sustained, as Venezuela expert Julia Buxton discusses in a special article for LAB (Read more). Steve Ellner suggests that if  Chávez’ successors can continue to avoid major crises and the opposition eschews the disruptive strategy it followed in the earlier years of Chávez’s rule, the resultant political environment would enable the movement to advance along the trial-and-error path to change (Read more). Meanwhile, the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) asks what the future will be for ALBA, although the constellation of regional presidents who attended the funeral (see below), suggests that on the foreign policy stage, Chávez’ legacy, in particular his opposition to neo-liberal economics and US hegemony, far transcends the specifics of the fledgling regional organisation he established (Read more).

The funeral was attended by presidents Raúl Castro (Cuba); Evo Morales (Bolivia); Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua); Rafael Correa (Ecuador);  Sebastián Piñera (Chile); Laura Chinchilla (Costa Rica);  Juan Manuel Santos (Colombia); Mauricio Funes (El Salvador); Otto Pérez (Guatemala); Porfirio Lobo (Honduras); Enrique Peña (Mexico); Ricardo Martinelli (Panama), Ollanta Humala (Peru); and José Mujica (Uruguay). Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff also came to Caracas to pay their respects.

Only the Obama administration was out of step, again, sending just two members of the House of Representatives and the Caracas chargé d’affaires. Obama’s own statement was churlishly luke-warm: “The United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government. As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.”

At the World Baseball Classic tournament in Puerto Rico, the Venezuelan team pleaded in vain for their country’s flag to be lowered to half-mast and a minute of silence observed before a warm-up game against the Miami Marlins (Read more). It was a particularly mean-spirited denial, given that Chávez had been a passionate advocate of sport in general and baseball in particular.

LAB publishes two new books
For much of its 30 year life, Latin America Bureau was principally a book publisher. The changing economies of book publication and the loss of much of our funding meant that in recent years we have been unable to sustain this model and have focussed instead upon this newsletter, our website and on developing relationships with partners in the region. This year, however, we have taken the first tentative steps back towards publishing with the launch of a new edition of Faces of Latin America, originally by LAB staff member Duncan Green and now substantially updated by current LAB Editor Sue Branford.

A very different kind of publication, however, is ‘K’, a novel and memoir written by the distinguished Brazilian journalist Bernardo Kucinksi, which describes the agonised search his father made for his daughter (Bernardo’s sister), who was disappeared and murdered by the military dictatorship in 1973. The book was translated into English for LAB by Sue Branford (Read more). Bernardo was in London for the launch and spoke at the Jewish Book Week, at a conference on Brazil’s Truth Commission organised by the Brazil Institute, Kings College, London and at the Centre for Latin American Studies in Cambridge. The book was movingly reviewed for the Israeli newpaper Haaretz by LAB Council member David Lehmann (Read more).

Both books can be ordered from Central Books, but ¡ojo! (beware), to find ‘K’ you must search on the author’s name, Kucinski.

In Other News
Brazil: In three blog posts for LAB, Jan Rocha describes the Greening of the Favelas (Read more); Tom Gatehouse describes the polarised impact of Cuban blogger Joani Sánchez’ visit to the country (Read More); and LAB Editor Nayana Fernandez attended demonstrations in Sâo Paulo at the almost incomprehensible decision of the country’s Chamber of Representatives to appoint a notorious racist and homophobe as Chair of its Commission of Human Rights and Minorities (Read more).

Uruguay: Impunity, once again, rears its ugly head as the courageous judge Mariana Mota is removed from her post (Read more).

Partners
LAB welcomes the International HIV/AIDS Alliance to our list of Partners. Their full profile can be seenhere. If you would like to become  LAB partner, the links to the Profile Questionnaire (in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French) can be found here.