Commandant Hugo Chavez has passed. His legacy can be measured in millions pulled out of poverty, children in schools, thousands of housing units for poor families, lives saved by expanded access to healthcare, and a continent unshackling itself from the starvation dictates of neoliberalism.
Chavez leaves behind four children, grandchildren, and millions of supporters worldwide.
In 1998, Chavez was elected President and stunned those who had triumphantly declared the “end of history” in the post-Soviet era. While the early years of his Presidency were marked by instability and economic hardship, by the middle of the last decade the revolution’s political and economic gains appeared irreversible. The last election, which Chavez carried in a landslide, reflected the new reality — opposition candidate Capriles Radonski had to play on revolutionary terrain, vowing not to immediately end the revolution’s social missions or overturn a Constitution which codified grassroots democracy.
The successes of the Chavez government were the catalyst for the “pink tide” in Latin America. Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa are the leaders most directly inspired by Chavez, while Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was a close friend of the Venezuelan President. 21st century leaders in Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, and Honduras have also identified with Chavez. Venezuela is now the most influential country on the continent.
Outside of South America, Chavez stood with the oppressed people of the world. More than any other world leader, he was vocal in his opposition to the 2011 NATO bombing campaign in Libya which destroyed that country and culminated in the murder of Muammar Gaddafi. He backed the Syrian government against foreign-funded terrorists and was unflinching in his support for the Palestinian people. Even in the United States, the center of anti-Chavez sentiment, the President gained a following among the poor and oppressed. New York Representative José Serrano stated that Chavez was “committed to empowering the powerless.”
Former U.S. President Carter said that Chavez “will be remembered for his bold assertion of autonomy and independence for Latin American governments.”
Presidential duties will be assumed by Vice President Nicolas Maduro, a man of strong revolutionary caliber with an inspiring background. A bus driver turned union activist, Maduro is uniquely suited to comforting Venezuela at this difficult time, and has the competence and vision to continue carrying out the socialist transformation of the country. Under his leadership, the bourgeoisies which for so long stifled the aspirations of the Venezuelan people will remain far removed from the halls of power.
With the heaviest of hearts, we watch as the Bolivariana torch — with its inextinguishable flame of hope — is passed on to a new generation of revolutionaries.