Lessons from Hugo Chavez

The worldwide outpouring of grief over the death of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, who can best be described as ‘a friend of the poor’, has sharply brought into focus the stature and legacy of the man.

The West and Europe made him out to be a dictator and a monster. He in turn hit the world’s media headlines, when he described former American president George W Bush as a ‘devil’ during a speech to the United Nations in 2006.

On that day Chavez announced to the world: "The devil came here yesterday and it smells of sulphur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of."

During a 14-year reign as his country’s president, the 58-year-old Chavez survived a military coup backed by Washington and oil strikes that all but crippled the economy.

But what happened next brought a sense of hope and achievement to poor people all over the world, especially for us in Africa.

Once Chavez’s government took control of the country’s oil industry, the State reduced poverty by half and extreme poverty by 70%. The nationalisation of the country’s oil reserves was certainly not intended to enrich a small ruling class elite. The revenue was used to better the lives of Venezuela’s 30 million people.

Under Chavez’s rule, millions of his country’s citizens - formerly suffering under the yoke of poverty - received access to health care for the first time.

The enrollment of children at schools increased dramatically, as life became better for their parents.
College enrollment doubled and most students received free tuition. Eligibility for public pensions tripled.

But Chavez did not stop there.

Cuba and other Latin American countries have hailed him for helping to prop up their economies with cheap fuel and cash transfers.

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff hailed Chavez as a "great Latin American" and "a friend of the Brazilian people".

Call it socialism, anti-imperialism or whatever other political theory you want to, but in the end Chavez showed an intense passion and drive to see his own country and others in the developing world escape the shackles of their poverty and misery.

He did this while being hammered by the established economic world order led by America.

There are many lessons we can learn from his life and the legacy he has left for his country and the world. But perhaps the most important is that in a mineral rich country like ours, generated wealth must lift our people out of their poverty, despair and pain. It is not meant for lining the pockets of tenderpreneurs and corrupt officials.

RIP ‘El Comandante’!

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