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Chavez’ Legacy & How His Death Could Affect the Caribbean

The death of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez on Tuesday has elicited a wide range of reactions throughout the blogosphere – in Latin America, to be certain – but now across the Caribbean as well.

Naturally, the Spanish-speaking regional territories were swift in blogging about the news. From Cuba, Imagen.cu, who writes in Spanish, tried to turn reality on its head with a headline that read:

¡Chávez no ha muerto!

Chavez is not dead!

The post continued:

¡El mundo no te olvidará…CHÁVEZ ES EL PUEBLO!

The world will not forget you…Chavez is the PEOPLE!

Proposiciones echoed this view:

Chávez estará por siempre en el corazón de todos, el compromiso de vida se ensancha porque él indicó el camino a un pueblo, que en su inmensa mayoría siempre lo apoyó.

La Revolución Bolivariana llevará su impronta eternamente. Fuerza Venezuela, Chávez vivirá mientras sigamos su ejemplo…

Chavez will be forever in the hearts of all, the commitment to life broadens because he pointed the way to a people, the vast majority always supported him.

The Bolivarian Revolution will forever bear his imprint. Strength Venezuela, Chavez will live as long as we follow his example…

"Memorial for Hugo Chavez at 24th & Mission in San Francisco", by Steve Rhodes, used under a Creative Commons license

“Memorial for Hugo Chavez at 24th & Mission in San Francisco”, by Steve Rhodes, used under a Creative Commons license

The Cuban Triangle thought that:

Hugo Chavez had a pretty good run, governing Venezuela since 1999, winning four elections, and having lots of time to put in place and to develop his brand of socialism.

He made quite a mark. At a time when the hemisphere, acting through the OAS, had joined together in a commitment to reject coups d’etat and similar usurpations of democracy, he governed by winning elections and then eroding elements of Venezuela’s democracy, never quite touching a tripwire that would bring an international response. He benefited from opposition parties that had had excluded Venezuela’s poor during their decades in power, and that never found unity or balance in opposition.

Chavez cared about the poor and had an odd way of showing it. He put social programs in place – health, education, income assistance – and at the same time implemented policies that have gone a long way toward wrecking the economy in which poor Venezuelans and all others live. He drove away foreign investment, eroded property rights, imposed foreign exchange controls that distort the entire economy and lead to corruption, and created food shortages. All this, in an economy that is more than capable of maintaining both a strong private sector and a large financial commitment to fighting poverty.

The post examined the effect that Chavez’ passing could have on Cuba and took a look at the possible scenarios that could emerge from Venezuela's upcoming election:

For Cuba, the risk in Chavez’ passing is that the economic relationship with Venezuela may change or end, raising the cost of Cuba’s energy supplies and damaging the entire economy. Chavez’ socialist party, having won the presidency last October and 20 of 23 state governorships last December, has to be counted as a favorite in Venezuela’s 30-day snap election scenario. If the socialists win, the Bolivarian project would seem safe, including its international aspects. If the opposition wins, the relationship with Cuba would likely be scaled back and new prices would be attached to the doctors-for-oil swap that so benefits Cuba today.

The bottom line is that post-Chavez politics is new in Venezuela, and that brings a note of uncertainty for Cuba, the last thing el comandante Chavez would have wanted to leave behind.

Havana Times reported that Cuba was mourning Chavez, with the government declaring two days of mourning upon news of his death:

‘Chavez is also Cuban,’ said a note from the Havana government read on state television, hours after Chavez died in Caracas at age 58 due to cancer, which he had fought since mid-2011.

The Cuban government ordered that the flag be flown at half-mast Wednesday in government buildings and military installations for the official mourning.

In another post, the blog referred to Chavez as Fidel Castro's lost heir:

With the death of Hugo Chavez, Cuba also lost the longed for great political leader after the slow public demise of Fidel Castro.

An admirer and close friend of the Cuban revolutionary, the Venezuelan president was the person who best embodied the ideas of Castro in recent decades throughout Latin America.

Chavez took on the responsibility not only helping the economically troubled Cuba with oil, but to also breathe fresh air into Fidel’s political ideas.

If Castro was for Chavez the great role model to follow, Chavez was for Castro his ideal heir at the forums throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

"Memorial for Hugo Chavez at 24th & Mission in San Francisco", by Steve Rhodes, used under a Creative Commons license.

“Memorial for Hugo Chavez at 24th & Mission in San Francisco”, by Steve Rhodes, used under a Creative Commons license.

In contrast, Erasmo Calzadilla didn't get the impression that Cubans were overly moved by Chavez’ passing:

When Chavez’s death was announced, I was in the heart of the city and was able to pick up some of the spirit felt by people over the departure of the president.

I don’t know what they felt in the interior of their souls, but people on the street didn’t seem too affected by this new piece of news. It was a day like any other, except that the news was on every TV.

One of the people most moved by Chavez’s death was me.

I suspect that very difficult times will return for Cuba if Maduro is defeated in the next election.

Crises are also times of opportunity. The political earthquake could promote positive change for Cuba: more democracy, more popular empowerment and less dependence on oil.

The crisis could be exploited by the authoritarian state to further clamp down, and it could also open the nation’s doors to neoliberalism, which would be disastrous for the majority and the environment here.

Havana Times also covered a few U.S. celebrities’ reactions to the president's death; El Cafe Cubano referred to them as “dictator lovers”.

Netizen Armando Chaguaceda wrote a guest post that tried to be both respectful and personal:

Tuesday, March 5, at 5:00 pm sharp, the social networks collapsed with the death of Hugo Chavez. This took place between the tears — false and sincere — of his devotees (who seem to believe the world is ending without the physical presence of the Venezuelan leader) and the hatred — clumsy and visceral — of those who blame him for all the woes of this incurable humanity.

The historical dimension of Hugo Chavez is beyond question. His figure is part of a movement of social demands and democratic political conquests of the Venezuelan people that have grown over the last thirty years.

We owe the rise of Chavez and his movement for initiating the breakdown of neoliberal hegemony, which had produced obscene levels of inequality and social exclusion in the countries of Latin America.

Chavez is undoubtedly a person and a symbol. His image and legacy will be taken on by different peoples and perspectives. Psychologists will speak of a being clearly convinced of the need to brandish Bolivar’s sword; historians will point to his admirable ability as a political animal who won successive electoral contests until the edge of death.

Political scientists will ponder his efforts to create participatory democracy on top of the cadavers of old parties, while at the same time reproducing (and amplifying) authoritarian flaws, patronage and praetorians in Venezuelan politics.

Along the Malecon mused:

Chavez was a combative and polarizing figure. His supporters said he defended the poor and disenfranchised in Venezuela. Critics accused him of running a secretive and corrupt government, and celebrated each time new rumors surfaced that Chavez was dead.
Washington will not miss Chavez. Raúl Castro will. The oil-rich Venezuelan government provided Cuba with subsidies worth billions of dollars per year.

Cuban diaspora blog babalu was all over the story, blogging about an altercation between supporters of Chavez and a group of students in Chacao, Venezuela, reporting on what it deemed distasteful tweets from U.S. politicians and accusing Chavistas of “believing in the biggest lie of all: that socialism can really bring about prosperity and social justice.”

Netizens from the Dominican Republic also shared their thoughts about Chavez’ death and the possible implications it could have on the DR.

Interestingly, bloggers from English-speaking Caribbean territories also weighed in. From Jamaica, Tallawah commented that Chavez was “in a league of his own”, while Barbados Underground wondered about the implications “for Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean”:

His legacy will be remembered by Barbadians for an anti-American foreign policy posture and in our backyard the Petrocaribe agreement which many Caribbean islands signed are signatories.

Bermudian blogger Catch a fire was saddened to hear about Chavez’ death:

Mr Chavez, for all his faults, represented an idea, an idea that another, better, world is possible.

He pioneered the idea of a socialism for the 21st Century.

There are criticisms that can be made of his leadership, both as President of Venezuela and as a sort of de facto leader of the Latin American left – which in turn helped to inspire movements throughout the world.

For me, though, it is the idea which he represented which is his enduring legacy.

There will be regional and global consequences of his death, and I fully expect certain factions throughout Latin America, no doubt with the support, active or ‘passive’ of the USA, to try and rollback some of the gains that Chavez’s ‘Bolivarian’ socialist movement had made, be it in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Peru and elsewhere. Cuba, certainly, will be affected.

In a way his death transforms Chavez from a flawed and all-too-human into a pure ‘idea’ of this better world and the movement to build it.

The images used in this post are taken from the flickr photoset “Memorial for Hugo Chavez at 24th & Mission in San Francisco”, here and here, by Steve Rhodes, used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license. Visit Steve Rhodes’ flickr photostream.

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