18 Feb 2015 19:28 IST

Red light at the end of the tunnel?

A mercurial hero and saviour for his loyalists, a firebrand and iron-fisted adversary for his political foes, an intractable bugbear for the US. Both loved and loathed in equal measure, Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias gave and took in equal measure too. His death after a prolonged, in the headstrong leader’s own words, “battle for life” against cancer at the age of 58 comes as a body blow to left-leaning congregations the world over for whom Chavez is a shining symbol of resistance to capitalism and rebellion against imperialism.

With his rabble-rousing charisma and sublime oratorical skills, Chavez created a strong personality cult, commonly called ‘Chavismo’, and carved out a special place in the hearts of myriad people and in the history of Venezuela. He followed the political ideology of Bolivarianism, shaped after the political philosophy of the early 19th century South American radical Simon Bolivar and Chavez’s own set of theories that he called “Socialism for the 21st century”.

Since storming to power in 1992 with a popular mandate, he ushered in policies and reforms that have made remarkable strides in healthcare services, education and agriculture and has done much to alleviate poverty in his country. Chavez was the mainstay of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the largest left-wing party in Latin America, that he formed in 2007 and his demise comes at a crucial juncture in Latin American politics which is bound to set off a ripple effect in the northern hemisphere.

He vehemently opposed the imperialist, interventionist and hegemonic tendencies of the US in so far as that he called the former US President George W. Bush “a devil” in a speech delivered in the United Nations in 2006 and “a donkey” on another occasion. “I hereby accuse the North American empire of being the biggest menace to our planet,” Chavez said in 2005.

Notwithstanding the laudable changes he supervised, the man often found himself in the eye of several storms. While the majority in Venezuela looked up to him as a democratic and pro-people leader capable of leading the nation to greater heights in the global scenario, some considered his one-man show despotic and even narcissistic. He held carte blanche over the state media and punished those who opposed him openly. He was even dethroned after a failed coup attempt in 2002 but blustered back to power in just two days. Facts remain strangely mixed.

(Harikumar did his BA in Kerala, MA at Hyderabad Central University, and then came to ACJ, Chennai.)