Love him or hate him there was no denying that Hugo Chavez was an icon. Upon the announcement of his death from cancer yesterday the internet was abuzz with opinion, most of it unflattering, a large minority of it sycophantic, and a smattering of real, critical dialogue. I suppose it should not be so surprising. Larger than life figures illicit larger than life responses and Hugo was nothing if not larger than life.
His most vociferous detractors painted him as a tyrant. He certainly could play the part, having political dissidents jailed. You could find a few accusations of out-and-out murder made their way into the chatter the past two days, but no credible source even brought up such claims. He was blustering and full of himself and certainly suffered from a messianic complex. I wonder how many “leaders” do not though. He started his career as an armed rebel and that is something any peace-loving liberal or revolutionary is going to have to square with themselves. Maybe he was justified, but he was not a man of peace. His first reaction was to take arms to make change, and to my way of thinking that is just laziness and maybe more than a bit of ego.
There is, however, also no doubt that he wanted to make at least his corner of the world more fair. The people of Venezuela were destitute, many not even having shacks to live in before he took power. While his country may not be the wealthiest in Latin America, it definitely improved under his rule. Some will complain about his lack of respect for “property rights” especially in regards to his nationalization of key industries. There is a much longer argument there, and one I won’t get into just yet, but I will say that the rights to good health care, affordable energy and safe housing far outweigh a wealthy minority’s right to profit from those.
He was neither a hero nor a demon, he was simply a man in power who sometimes abused and sometimes used it to affect positive change for his people. Which is not to say we should ignore his wrongdoing. Simply pointing a finger at the failings of our own leaders does not dismiss his. Indeed, if anything bot the left and the right here in the U.S. should look at Hugo Chavez and ask what it is they didn’t like about him and ask themselves, “are my chosen elected officials doing the same?” What about Hugo Chavez worked? Because I have to tell you, some things did work.
We have an opportunity in discussing this man to figure out a path for ourselves. We have a chance to learn from his mistakes and to follow the example of his triumphs. We need only the courage to set aside our hero-worship, witch hunting, and self-importance. Despite my angry ranting earlier today I do have hope that we can do that. If we did, we could reach the heights I know we are capable of as a society.