The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s larger than life image is continuing even in death.
The fact alone that his body will be embalmed to be perpetually displayed inside a glass tomb at a military museum is a testament to that populist image which seemed to have mesmerized the Venezuelan masses.
But, was Chavez the best thing that ever happened to Venezuela?
When you think that Venezuela has the world’s biggest oil reserve and yet it has failed to develop into a progressive and respectable nation as it should have been after more than 14 years under Chavez, a self-styled socialist leader and classic Latin American military dictator, then something was awfully wrong with the man himself.
But Chavez was smart and he knew where to get his power from. He used the country’s wealth to ‘oil’ his way into the hearts of the Venezuelan masses by establishing welfare programs called missions, which set up medical clinics and schools, operated a chain of cut-rate grocery stores, and nationalized farms and ranches to be divvied up as cooperatives of the impoverished.
In return Chavez got the votes he needed badly to stay in power despite rising crime, persistent scarcities of basic food items, double-digit inflation and unpopular foreign aid programs. His reelection was a testament to the near-religious devotion of Venezuela’s impoverished to their comandante.
This is how Chavez became a hero to the ordinary Venezuelan, not to mention that Chavez’s anti-American rhetoric added to the listening pleasure of the impoverished sector.
For the US, however, a known Chavez nemesis, whose intelligence knew the real score in Venezuela in terms of corruption, human rights violation and stifling of press freedom, Chavez was an antihero – a heel. What makes it more so was his close association with the world’s pariahs that includes Cuba’s Fidel and Raul Castro, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Libya’s former “liberator” Muammar Gaddafi and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.
Who can forget Chavez’s antic before the United Nations in 2006 where at the podium he described then US President George W. Bush as satan.
“The devil came here yesterday,” Chavez said, while theatrically sniffing the air. “It smells of sulfur still.” He even made the sign of the cross as if trying to shield himself from the devil.
What an arrogant display of power!
But was this seemingly tough stance and demagogic remarks in front of the representatives to the UN, guests and other dignitaries, a mark of a strong and fearless leader that he was trying to project himself to be?
Frankly, to me he was neither a hero nor heel.
To me he was an ultimate coward.
If being tough, fearless and bellicose towards his enemies has defined who Chavez was in life, then, he would have continued being tough, fearless and bellicose against the worst of all his enemies – death.
But, look what happened.
It was reported that tough guy Chavez’s last words were: “Yo no quiero morir, por favor no me dejen morir.” (Translation: “I don’t want to die. Please don’t let me die.”)
According to an officer of Venezuela’s presidential guard, Chavez made that plea “because he loved his country, he sacrificed for his country.”
That’s a lot of bull!
My guess is that Chavez was probably scared to die because of retribution in hell for the crimes he has committed, which instilled fear on his people and made hundreds of thousands flee Venezuela. But, most likely though is, perhaps, that he could no longer be the center of attraction that he enjoyed being and that he could no longer exercise the pomposity brought by power and wealth.
My brother was much tougher when he faced death at 58 also. Sensing that he was losing the fight against kidney failure, he finally gave up having dialysis and declared he was ready to go. Never did he make the same plea as Chavez did.
The difference between them is that my brother died with a clear conscience and Chavez died with guilt in his conscience.