Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias, foot soldier and commander-in-chief, military man and the most successful democratically elected president of Venezuela, ‘televangelist’ and gifted orator, statesman and visionary, fearless engineer and the undisputed boss of the Latin American Left, has died. With his death, on Tuesday, 5 March 2013, an era has come to its end, that of the fourteen years within which he, single-handedly, changed the face of the oil-rich Venezuela, and led the left-wing Bolivarian movement to change the face of South America. In the end, the communist mentor, Fidel Castro, whom Chavez loved and respected as his father, tragically outlived this maverick and spirited protégé, thus dropping curtain on a long, cherished friendship that withstood the trials of time. Chavez, inspired by Castro as well as the 19th century pro-poor aristocrat Simon Bolivar, brought about a socialist revival in a region that had been under the thumbs of an exploitative class, that preferred pretentious consumption over social welfare, for several decades. Ever since he assumed power in 1998 after winning an election in a landslide victory, Chavez stood up to American diktats and brought the oil industry under direct governmental control, despite strong protestation from the US investors. As Chavez gained a reputation for being a oil price hawk, he also reinvigorated other sagging industries and reduced their dependence on oil.
Chavez also breathed life into the embargo-stricken Cuba as he exported oil at a massively subsidised rate to the only communist country in the region in exchange for doctors and teachers to serve in Venezuela. Chavez’s advocacy of ‘Bolivarianism’ and ‘Socialism for the 21st Century’ was translated into tackling the Latin American economics when the Venezuelan leader formed the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas and the Bank of the South, as a counterpoint to the US-dominated International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, so to forge South-South cooperation. While he emerged as a modern-day messiah for the Venezuelan have-nots and an icon for the international leftist movements, he also braved attempts on his life, growing American frustration and incessant impediments from his political opponents, including a failed coup d’etat covertly sponsored by the Bush-era US government. Yet, time and again, he was re-elected and voted into power by massive mandates, attesting to his monumental influence on the life and minds of not his own people, but also on the world at large, which shared a love-hate relationship with him, depending on the geopolitical point of location. Even in his death, he has emerged as a true fighter, despite his protracted battle with cancer, he has changed the course of Venezuelan politics for good. It now remains to be seen if his successors can live up to the legacy and sustain the ‘pink tsunami’ that was the gift from the hitherto unstoppable Hurricane Hugo.