Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, died today according to CNN breaking news.
Chavez was 58 years old and was re-elected to his third term as president in January. The former paratroop commander kept a tight ruling grip on Venezuela since 1998. Nicolas Maduro is vice-president and Chavez’s anointed successor, provided other factions do not try to make a move on the office.
In January, Chavez was started on a ventilator after he developed respiratory problems related to a severe lung infection. He went into decline sometime in January after contracting an unknown type of pelvic cancer and undergoing four surgeries in 18 months. He remained under a cloak of secrecy, leading to many rumors about his death.
According to a December 13, 2012 article in the UK Guardian, the “Bolívarian revolution presided over by Chávez will be able to soldier on without him. After 14 years of considerable institutional change, huge oil revenues now pour into the alleviation of the acute poverty suffered by a large percentage of the country, and there is a rock-solid base of chavista support that will take decades to erode.”
Beginning with his Bolivarian Revolution, Chavez practiced a kind of new age socialism that reformed the Venezuelan government and enriched and empowered the “Chavistas”, or those who went along with his ideology. He identified Fidel Castro and Jesus Christ as his revolutionary role models. He also revered South American liberation hero Simon Bolivar. His style of socialism gained national support, but his later period of radical anti-Americanism may have stalled his progress.
He cited America’s attempt to briefly depose him and to overthrow his government in 2002 as good cause for his antagonism. While U.S. officials have denied the charges, he remained antagonistic to the Bush regime, but, according to a Feb. 3 CNN article, favored Clinton and wished for a better relationship with President Obama.
This socialist/revolutionary alignment led him to create a cabal of Chavez family members and oil tycoons who will now set out to consolidate power under a new leader.
Chavez’s death may start a battle for oil riches and political power and the political effects could travel throughout the region. He allied Venezuela with Iran, propped up left-wing friends throughout Latin America and was tireless in attacking the US from every possible political angle. His collaboration with Cuba will probably be an ongoing reminder of his animosity toward the U.S. However, such social progress as sharing the wealth with the poor and providing universal health care will keep his momentum going for a while.