Just four months into his fourth term, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, died Tuesday from complications related to cancer. He was 58 years old.
Chávez had been battling cancer for two years and “had undergone four operations in Cuba for a cancer that was first detected in his pelvic region in mid-2011” – his last surgery was in December according to Reuters.
“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 Chávez Frias, who was probably more demonized than any democratically elected president in world history,” said Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. in a release following the president’s passing. “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.”
Chávez’s checkered history as president involves surviving a military coup backed by Washington and oil strikes that crippled the economy according to the CEPR release. However, once Chávez was in control of the oil industry, his government reduced poverty by half and extreme poverty by more than three-quarters. Citizens saw improvements in access to health care for the first time; an increase in education with college enrollment doubling as free tuition was offered to many.
“He kept his campaign promise to share the country’s oil wealth with Venezuela’s majority, and that will be part of his legacy,” Weisbrot said.
But not everything was positive under Chávez in Venezuela. As Indian Country Today Media Network reported November 8, the government had been denounced for attacking journalists and protestors critical of the socialist government he led.
“In many ways, Chávez is a walking paradox. On one hand, he’s revered as a stalwart champion of the underdog struggle for indigenous rights. On the other hand, Chávez’s political game borders on an unhealthy dictatorship—one involving a series of alleged human rights violations and a growing track record for kowtowing to multinational greed,” ICTMN reported.
Chávez came into power in 1998 following disgust with the corrupt government that ruled for three decades. He had tried a military coup in 1992 to reach power but was unsuccessful according to the Wall Street Journal. However, once he was in power, it was hard to defeat him.
With the death of the populist politician comes uncertainty on the direction of the country. According to WSJ the Vice President Nicolás Maduro will succeed as interim president, but a new election must be held within 30 days, according to the constitution.
Maduro’s opponent will be opposition governor Henrique Capriles, the Centrist opposition leader, who lost to Chávez in October’s elections according to WSJ. Carpiles maintained his seat as government in a December election. In a recent opinion poll Reuters reports Maduro had a strong lead over Carpiles.
Maduro who has support from many in the working class could also benefit from an emotional surge catapulting him to victory, however there is a chance of in-fighting among the “leftist coalition that ranges from hard-left intellectuals to army officers and businessmen,” according to Reuters. Maduro has stated he’d ensure the future of the late president’s work.
But, if Maduro were defeated major changes could be in story for Venezuela and other Latin American countries that have benefited from the country’s position as having the largest oil reserves.