Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

The Essential Lesson of Chavez

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

The Essential Lesson of Chavez

Article excerpt

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is not an angel. Neither is he the tyrant and dictator that some have tried to paint him. The most recent event in his tumultuous political career--an overwhelming victory over opponents who tried to oust him in a recall vote--certainly validates the view that he has won the hearts of a majority of Venezuelans.

As writer Bart Jones said in a personal assessment after reporting on the election for NCR, "Poor people have risen up and taken power in Venezuela. That's the essential lesson of Chavez, whether he's a good president or a bad president."

Serious questions remain, not least among them whether Venezuela can overcome the deep divisions resulting from the battles around Chavez and whether the elite in Venezuelan society will be able to accept the new political power of the poor in that society.

Some detractors of Chavez and they are many, ranging across the spectrum of thinkers and observers--claim that his dispersal of oil revenues for education and health care is a short-term solution to long-standing and deep problems. If the oil money dries up or if Chavez decides to do an about-face on his commitment to helping the poor, that criticism may prove correct. But even if it is short-lived, what is wrong with poor people becoming literate and gaining access to health care? How could they not be better off, in even some minimal way, in the long run?

As Venezuelan political scientist Edgardo Lander remarked to NCR about Chavez's use of oil revenues to improve conditions of the poorest sectors of the country: "Why is that populist? …

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