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The people of Venezuela have been through a public journey of mourning following the death and funeral of their long-time president, Hugo Chávez.
The only thing close to the public spectacle of grief for a leader like it in this country might have been the aftermath of the death of FDR, or the assassination of President Kennedy.
Whatever anyone thought of Chávez, it’s clear that a great many of his people loved him and supported his policies.
He was a Christian and a socialist, a devout Catholic who believed that only democratic socialism could ease the perennial poverty of his otherwise oil-rich country.
Through three presidential elections, great majorities of his people voted for those policies and embraced the socialism he proclaimed.
This was not the socialism of a coup, or a bloodly revolution. This was socialism operating through a democratic political system. He was elected president several times, all in elections that were monitored by international observers and judged as fair.
Of course, for American conservatives, Chávez was a bogeyman, as is anyone anywhere in the world who openly proclaims socialism.
Most right-wingers here can’t grasp politics around the world outside of a purely American context. But that’s what it takes to understand political realities in other countries.
Even our mainstream media, supposedly so “liberal,” had written off Chávez as “anti-American,” and once it adopts such a label, inquiries for the truth stop.
Yes, he opposed U.S. foreign policies and mistrusted America’s intentions. But for any Latin American leader familiar with the history of American political interventions in Central and South Amerca, and with our support for right-wing dictatorships, that’s a perfectly understandable position.
Another thing conservatives never confront is the crimes this country committed around the world in the name of “fighting communism.” In Latin America, this is no secret.
For example, the date of Sept. 11 meant something profound in Chile long before it ever did here. That was the date in 1973 when the U.S. helped the Chilean military overthrow a democraticlly-elected president, Salvador Allende.
That move led to decades of oppression and torture by a right-wing dictatorship that did much of its work with U.S. money. Again, these facts aren’t secrets in Latin America. There’s no wonder those nations often don’t trust their collosal neighbor to the north.
And, yes, Chávez certainly despised George W. Bush and the war in Iraq, but then again, so did many other nations and leaders. Ultimately, most of the American people turned against Bush and the war he chose.
Like many in the world, Chávez had better hopes for Barack Obama. If anything, he should have been more understanding of what a mess the new president inherited. For his part, Obama was mostly too restrained by domestic political sensitivities to reach out much to Chávez. And that’s a shame.
So, a fair assessment of what the late leader actually did for his people cannot be trusted from either the media or conservative Republicans, many of whom are still fighting the Cold War.
If you research the truth, you’ll see that Chávez used a lot of the country’s oil money to build and make available housing to the country’s poor. There are many thousands of Venezuelans now living in affordable homes who were once homeless or lived in the slums.
In at least one area, though, the nation’s crime rate, he was very much a failure, never being able to make a dent.
Since Chávez first took office, other prominent Latin nations, including Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and Ecuador, have also selected leftist presidents who make the same commitment to the poor. If they get results, they are elected again.
American conservatives don’t understand it. But the people who live in those countries certainly do.
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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at RickDem117@gmail.com.