News Release

Chavez Beyond the Caricatures


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died yesterday. His funeral is scheduled for Friday. Huffington Post reports “Foreign Minister Elias Jaua affirmed … [Vice President Nicolas] Maduro would be interim president and then be the ruling party’s candidate to carry on Chavez’s populist ‘revolution’ in elections to be called within 30 days.”

Tinker Salas is a professor of history and Latin American studies at Pomona College and author of The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture, and Society in Venezuela. He said today: “In death, Chavez will become a powerful symbol for the social policies he advocated to help the poor and for the goal of a united Latín America. His presence will continue to be felt in Venezuela, Latín America and the global south.”

Ciccariello-Maher is a professor in the history and politics department at Drexel University and author of We Created Him: A People’s History of the Bolivarian Revolution.

Wilpert is co-founder of and author of Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government. He recently wrote the piece “Democracy, Elections and Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution.” In it, he documents successive electoral victories by Chavez in the last dozen years, noting that “Concern with electoral fraud was the main reason Chavez did not consider an electoral route to power in 1992, when he launched his coup attempt.” The piece also documents how rigorous Venezuela’s electoral process is now. Wilpert also stresses the rise of communal councils and cooperatives. See from The Real News: “Chavez Democratized Venezuela Making it the Most Equal Country in Latin America.”

Wilpert lived in Venezuela from 2000 and 2008, moving back to the U.S. in 2008 because his wife was named Consul General of Venezuela in New York. Since returning to the U.S. he has been working as an adjunct professor of political science at Brooklyn College.

Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research; Beeton is the group’s international communications director. Weisbrot just wrote the article “Chavez’s Legacy,” which states: “Bertrand Russell once wrote about the American revolutionary Thomas Paine, ‘He had faults, like other men; but it was for his virtues that he was hated and successfully calumniated.’ This was certainly true of Hugo Chavez Frias, who was probably more demonized than any democratically elected president in world history. But he was repeatedly re-elected by wide margins, and will be mourned not only by Venezuelans but by many Latin Americans who appreciate what he did for the region.

“Chavez 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.”

Beeton just wrote the piece “Will the U.S. Government, Media Seek to Improve Relations with Venezuela?” The article notes that “Maduro mentioned the April 2002 coup d’etat in his press conference today. Declassified CIA and other government documents reveal the U.S. role in that coup against Hugo Chavez. As Scott Wilson, former foreign editor at the Washington Post has explained: ‘Yes, the United States was hosting people involved in the coup before it happened.’ …” The piece documents how the U.S., IMF and major media backed the 2002 coup and examines the future of Maduro.