The passing of Hugo Chavez and its repercussions in the region

By Jean H Charles

Hugo Chavez was either loved by many or hated by a lot at the same time. He died at 58, after a two-year fight with cancer, on March 6 at 4.25pm. The news went viral all over the planet immediately. I will remember where I was years later, talking with my father at the dinner table predicting that Chavez was dead at 4.00 pm when heavy chatting was on the media, including CNN, leading to that news.

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Jean Hervé Charles LLB, MSW, JD, former Vice-Dean of Students at City College of the City University of New York, is now responsible for policy and public relations for the political platform in power in Haiti, Répons Peyisan. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol

The president of Venezuela had taken the concept of the manifest destiny of his country to a national and international level that no other president in Latin America has ever done. A disciple of Fidel Castro, he had taken the position that the inequality between the citizens of Venezuela should not remain as wide. He had also taken the position that the wealth of Venezuela, $24 billion drawn mostly from its petroleum reserve, should be shared with the remaining poor nations of the region.

The mantra of Simon Bolivar

He enthroned the mantra of Simon Bolivar who, two centuries earlier, sought to deliver the people of South America from the world order of slavery imposed by the Spanish conquistadors. He was helped in 1812 by Alexander Petion, the second president of Haiti, with the condition that Bolivar delivered each and every country from slavery. Chavez, when death struck in 2013, has been using the wealth of Venezuela to liberate Latin America and the Caribbean from the worst horror of capitalism.

Hugo Chavez was in power for fourteen years and was at the dawn of a new mandate when death happened after battling cancer for two years. He could not be sworn-in in Venezuela because he was in Cuba in chemotherapy treatment. The country was at a standstill for two years during his illness and in mourning for seven days after his death. The entire Latin America and the whole Caribbean was also in mourning from three to five days. Haiti has declared three days of national mourning. The PetroCaribe program, whereby Venezuela sells its petroleum at a reduced price and on long term installments to member countries, is very popular in the region.

ALBA or the Monroe Doctrine

Chavez was a foe of the American government, and he was not afraid of using the pulpit of the United Nations to denounce American imperialism. He commented regularly that the capitalist road was a direct highway to hell, leading to the end of the human species. He initiated measures of nationalization of the banks, electricity, petroleum and other crucial areas that upset the international establishment. Indeed Chavez was the victim of a two-day coup in 2002 that may have received the sanction of the Bush government.

Did Chavez succeed in transforming his country and the immediate environment for the better? The jury will be out for a while deciding whether the Bolivarian revolution is perennial or a passing fad that will end with his demise. Already, the very day of his death, two American diplomats were expelled from the country for agedly fomenting a transition that would be in line with the true American interests.

From my vantage point in Haiti, Hugo Chavez’s economic contribution to the country was unique and exceptional. I have commented before how the Venezuelan contingent in Leogane, the epicenter of the earthquake was more orderly, better organized and more effective than all the other foreign aid after the event. Venezuela under Chavez, with the pretext that the Latin America region in general, Venezuela in particular has an eternal debt to Haiti for incubating its way to independence two centuries ago, has endowed the country with several power plants in the main cities of the republic, rendering electricity available for most.

The Petro-Caribe fund amounting to $834,066, 650.35 (money for gasoline that should be paid now — 60% — but re-loaned for investment purpose) has been utilized depending on the Haitian governments for corruption or political and electoral goals during the Preval regime or social purpose during the Martelly-Lamothe government. It could have been an important tool to lift Haiti from poverty to wealth if the fund was dedicated to investment in the environment, agriculture, education and infrastructure. Could the Chavez government have put those clauses in the Petro-Caribe contract? These are issues that I am wrestling with in evaluating the Chavez international initiatives. I have visited the wholesale market built by Venezuela in the colonial slave site known as the Croix Bossale market in Port au Prince.

Should I blame the Haiti government or Venezuela for not providing a structure for maintaining public hygiene and security in that market? Digicel, by contrast, has rebuilt the iconic Iron Market destroyed by the earthquake. It has taken ownership of the market, ensuring its cleanliness and its security for ever.

These are the issues of the post-Chavez era that the new government will have to address. The petroleum reserves of Venezuela albeit large is not infinite. Results and outcomes that might be a capitalist concept must find its way into the Bolivarian revolution. The United States is losing the credibility wedge in Latin America and in the Caribbean because its foreign aid is either not there or it is not relevant to the true needs of the region. I have said it several times: the last full engagement of the United States in the Caribbean region was during the Reagan government. Albeit it was dubbed gunboat diplomacy, it was nevertheless the largest funding in the region, $3 billion compared to today, thirty years later, $1 billion.

The post-Chavez diatribes against the United States might be less virulent and hopefully the Bolivarian revolution will be more effective at home in lifting more people faster into the road of middle class. The Bolivarian Revolution will have also to request more accountability from the aid given by the Venezuelan government to the Latin and Caribbean nations in the region. The model of assistance from cradle to grave favoured by the Latin American governments will have to be substituted to a model a la Southeast Asia where the emphasis is on education for all, incubation to economic development for each, support to decent housing, in brief putting each citizen on a track towards wealth creation.

Venezuela under Hugo Chavez challenged the American myth of the best model of upward mobility for the wretched of the earth. During his fourteen-year regime, the unemployment rate went from 14.5% in 1999 to 7.6% in 2011, the GDP per capita from $4,105 in 1999 to $10,810 dollars in 2011. In total, poverty has decreased from 23.4% in 1999 to 8.5% in 2011.

Chavez also challenged the Monroe concept of the Americas for the Americans. ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas) that included Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Nicaragua and Haiti only as an observer at the suggestion of Chavez to avoid the ire of the United States against the impoverished nation.

ALBA is a substitute for the FTAA, the Free Trade Area of the Americas created by President Bill Clinton as a free market of goods and services from Canada to Argentina, now led by Nicholas Maduro as president, the natural dauphin of Commandant Hugo Chavez. Maduro will have to demonstrate that Venezuela can go beyond the diatribes against the president of the United States to create a zone of wealth and harmony in Latin America and in the Caribbean, starting with Venezuela.

He may have to take into account the teaching of Prime Minister Lee of Singapore to crush the specter of corruption not only at home but also in the member countries. He will have to develop the concept of harmony between the rich and the poor and, last but not least, get rid of the assistance mode to get into the mode of wealth building. The poor can and must also become a rich man if only he is provided with the education, the acumen to which he adds his creativity and his diligence.

This is my wish for Venezuela, Latin America and the Caribbean, and in particular Cuba and Haiti, the two preferred sons of Venezuela under Hugo Chavez.

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