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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Hugo Chavez, un phare s’est éteint

by Jean Ortiz

Hugo Chavez: a light has gone out

Venezuelan chronicles by Jean Ortiz

Translated Monday 11 March 2013, by Kristina Wischenkamper

Hugo Chavez died on Tuesday at the age of 58 from respiratory complications. Commentator on Venezuelan affairs and academic Jean Ortiz looks back on the life of the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

A light has gone out. Like the twenty-year old Simon Bolivar making his promise in Rome, from the very beginning Chavez pledged to devote his life to the betterment of the Venezuelan people. He came from the people, and was one of the consciences of the people of America. I remember that during his first visit to Cuba in December 1994, he spoke at the university: "One day we hope to come to Cuba with open arms, and together build a revolutionary project in Latin America." He announced a "time of awakenings". The rebel soldier who began the Bolivarian Revolution had a long-term vision to break away from the corrupt and repressive bipartisanship of the Fourth Republic, and its subservience to the United States. Chavez had a vision: that Venezuela would be a real country, a sovereign and independent nation.

Socialism from within

After his first election in 1998, he was "radicalized", and, in turn, he helped to politicize a deeply combative people, advancing an anti-capitalist project, probably the most radical in the world since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Chavism is no personality cult, but rather a collective and constant cooperation to leave neoliberalism behind by means of a democratic electoral process, and peacefully, for a socialism from within, that is, a participatory and popular power of socialist communes and communal councils.

Chavez was the backbone, the motor, the centre of gravity of a popular pluralist movement that embraced many different progressive currents. The people loved him because he had changed the lives of millions of pariahs, because he had courage and charm. From the military rebellion of 1992, which he instigated, he never lost sight of his goal. While imprisoned he developed a strategy to rally the people, one that this time succeeded. It was the people of the "ranchitos" (slums) who descended on Caracas to defeat the coup of 2002, and save the president.

Successful alternative

Chavez made Venezuela into the key country for all the Latin American left, and an example of successful left-wing alternatives for all the world. In 2004 and 2005 he had the audacity to reclaim the word and concept of "socialism". A strong and emotional connection bound Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan poor. He was one of them. The street vendor who became president kept his promises; this "zambo" from Sabaneta, a mixed race Black Indian who proudly sang songs from his "llano" (plains region). In the richer areas I could feel the hatred, the class and race hatred, that the bourgeoisie held for him. If Chavez often referred to Bolivar, it was not by accident. He gave a new meaning to the Bolivarian creed, the political doctrine of the Libertador.


He was often accused of intentionally being "populist", this vicious concept bereft of real meaning that was intended to discredit the Bolivarian revolution. Any serious analysis of the policies carried out by Chavez, from addressing social imbalances, to the concrete political changes he made, put the lie to any such malicious allegation. Chavez was a man of continental integration, he was its standard-bearer. For the first time since independence, South America can claim to live in a truly moral community in this currently multipolar world. Chavez was its principal architect. From 1999 to 2008, he tripled per capita public spending, cut back poverty by 50%, introduced free health and education, created the ALBA agreement as an alternative to free trade, helped found CELAC, which excludes the USA that is now isolated on a continental scale. That is why this great man, this man of deep humanity, was one of the most hated and demonized by the international media, by all the bourgeoisies of the world, and by those who falsely claim to be left-wing.

Marx and Jesus

Chavez wholeheartedly believed in both Marx and Jesus. Because of Chavez, Venezuelans benefited from many "social missions". One such mission, called "the miracle mission", was the surgical removal of cataracts free of charge [1].
Chavez’s miracle was in becoming a collective Chavez, a "Chavez of the people". There are those who die but live on forever.

To watch a documentary on the 2002 coup that was defeated by the people click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElCkAgUx7og

[1Editor’s note: Operación Milagro (Operation Miracle) is a joint Cuban-Venezuelan mission

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