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'More Alive Than Ever': World Reacts to Loss of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez

- Common Dreams staff

Following the death of Hugo Chávez Frías on Tuesday, world leaders and supporters of the Venezuelan leftist leader were sharing their condolences and commenting on the legacy left on his country, Latin America, and the world.

The late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez cheers while holding up a parrot wearing one of his trademark red berets, in Caracas on 13 October 2002. (Photograph: Kimberly White/Reuters) The following is just a sample of some of those reactions.

Bolivian President Evo Morales made a tearful televised address in which he stated:

It hurts, but we must stand united in this process of liberation, not only of Venezuela but of the whole region... Chavez is now more alive than ever.

Chavez will continue to be an inspiration for all peoples who fight for their liberation [...] Chavez will always be present in all the regions of the world and all social sectors. Hugo Chavez will always be with us, accompanying us.

Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, Latin American scholar who wrote this piece,"Hugo Chávez Kept His Promise to the People of Venezuela":

The facts speak for themselves: the percentage of households in poverty fell from 55% in 1995 to 26.4% in 2009. When Chávez was sworn into office unemployment was 15%, in June 2009 it was 7.8%. Compare that to current unemployment figures in Europe. In that period Chávez won 56% of the vote in 1998, 60% in 2000, survived a coup d'état in 2002, got over 7m votes in 2006 and secured 54.4% of the vote last October. He was a rare thing, almost incomprehensible to those in the US and Europe who continue to see the world through the Manichean prism of the cold war: an avowed Marxist who was also an avowed democrat. To those who think the expression of the masses should have limited or no place in the serious business of politics all the talking and goings on in Chávez's meetings were anathema, proof that he was both fake and a populist. But to the people who tuned in and participated en masse, it was politics and true democracy not only for the sophisticated, the propertied or the lettered.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff remarked:

Chávez was a great Latin American.

We recognize a great leader, an irreparable loss and above all a friend of Brazil, a friend of the Brazilian people.

Mark Weisbrot, Center for Economic & Policy Research, who has long studied and frequently reported on Chavez's Venezuela, said:

Chávez survived a military coup backed by Washington and oil strikes that crippled the economy but once he got control of the oil industry, his government reduced poverty by half and extreme poverty by 70 percent. Millions of people also got access to health care for the first time, and access to education also increased sharply, with college enrollment doubling and free tuition for many. Eligibility for public pensions tripled. He kept his campaign promise to share the country’s oil wealth with Venezuela’s majority, and that will be part of his legacy.

So, too will be the second independence of Latin America, and especially South America, which is now more independent of the United States than Europe is. Of course this would not have happened without Chávez’s close friends and allies: Lula in Brazil, the Kirchners in Argentina, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and others. But Chávez was the first of the democratically-elected left presidents in the past 15 years, and he played a very important role; look to what these colleagues will say of him and you will find it to be much more important than most of the other obituaries, anti-obituaries, and commentaries.

The Ecuadorian Government of Rafael Correa said in a statement that the loss of Chávez was an "irretrievable loss" and voiced confidence that the Venezuelan people would keep Chávez's legacy alive:

Ecuador feels this is a loss of its own, and wishes the friendly Venezuelan people a successful future, confident that they will manage to preserve and deepen their history, their revolution, development, fraternity, and solidarity that are characteristic of their nature.

Greg Grandin, Latin American expert and historian at New York University, writes in The Nation:

"Chávez emerged from the ruin, first with a failed putsch in 1992, which landed him in jail but turned him into a folk hero. Then in 1998, when he won 56 percent of the vote as a presidential candidate. Inaugurated in 1999, he took office committed to a broad yet vague anti-austerity program, a mild John Kenneth Galbraith–quoting reformer who at first had no power to reform anything. The esteem in which Chávez was held by the majority of Venezuelans, many of them dark-skinned, was matched by the rage he provoked among the country’s mostly white political and economic elites. But their maximalist program of opposition—a US-endorsed coup, an oil strike that destroyed the country’s economy, a recall election and an oligarch-media propaganda campaign that made Fox News seem like PBS—backfired. By 2005, Chávez had weathered the storm and was in control of the nation’s oil, allowing him to embark on an ambitious program of domestic and international transformation: massive social spending at home and “poly-polar equilibrium” abroad, a riff on what Bolívar once called “universal equilibrium,” an effort to break up the US’s historical monopoly of power in Latin America and force Washington to compete for influence."

Former US President Jimmy Carter released a statement which read in part:

President Chávez will be remembered for his bold assertion of autonomy and independence for Latin American governments and for his formidable communication skills and personal connection with supporters in his country and abroad to whom he gave hope and empowerment. During his 14-year tenure, Chávez joined other leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean to create new forms of integration. Venezuelan poverty rates were cut in half, and millions received identification documents for the first time allowing them to participate more effectively in their country's economic and political life.

At the same time, we recognize the divisions created in the drive towards change in Venezuela and the need for national healing. We hope that as Venezuelans mourn the passing of President Chávez and recall his positive legacies — especially the gains made for the poor and vulnerable — the political leaders will move the country forward by building a new consensus that ensures equal opportunities for all Venezuelans to participate in every aspect of national life.

Filmmaker Oliver Stone, who produced a film about Chavez and the Latin American leftist movement, wrote in his Twitter account:

I mourn a great hero to the majority of his people and those who struggle throughout the world ... Hated by the entrenched classes, Hugo Chavez will live forever in history. My friend, rest finally in a peace long earned.

And the Tico Times put together a collection of additional voices from across the world, reporting:

Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica, a leftist and close friend of Chávez, issued a heartfelt tribute.

“You are always saddened by a death,” said the 77-year-old, who confirmed he will travel to Venezuela to pay his respects.

“But when you are talking about someone who has fought on the front line, and about someone who I remember I once called ‘the most generous leader I have met’, well the pain takes on a whole new dimension.”

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, a conservative billionaire, called Chávez a leader who was “deeply committed to Latin America’s integration.”

It was a view shared by Honduras President Porfirio Lobo, who lamented the loss of a “leader who fought for the integration of Latin America.”

El Salvador President Mauricio Funes also offered condolences, expressing “deep regret at the loss of this great leader.”

While Latin America offered many of the most anguished tributes, there was a more measured response from the United States, whom Chávez had delighted in antagonizing during his years in office.

“At this challenging time of President Hugo Chávez’s passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government,” President Barack Obama said.

“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,” Obama said in a short written statement.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon paid tribute Chávez’s work on behalf of his country’s poor and his support of Colombia’s peace process.

“President Chávez spoke to the challenges and aspirations of the most vulnerable Venezuelans,” Ban said.

French President Francois Hollande meanwhile praised Chávez’s determination “to fight for justice,” saying he had “profoundly marked his country’s history.”

In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was “saddened” by the death, saying Chávez had left a “lasting impression” on his people.

In Nicaragua, the Nicaragua Dispatch reports that President Daniel Ortega paid a short farewell to his close ally and friend: “He raised the sword of [South American liberator Simón] Bolívar in Venezuela, in Latin America, the Caribbean and the world to demand justice and peace, liberty and unity.”

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