By John Millington
“Chavez had not stolen an election. He didn’t have to. And now he is gone, we will never know if he ever would have done.”
One of the more bizarre and unintentionally funny comments by otherwise respected C4 journalist Jonathan Rugman sums up the absurdity of the anti-Chavez rhetoric currently being dumped across the media highways.
For the last 3 hours, I have submerged myself in the full spectrum of opinion on offer over the premature death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
For supporters and admirers which I happily admit to being one, the message largely is one of sadness, defiance and retelling of the achievements so far of the Bolivarian revolution.
Detractors on the other hand have cruelly taken to social media networks to either openly gloat at the President’s death or to rubbish his economic record with the usual barrage of pro-free market solutions which have clearly worked out so well in the Western “democratic” world.
No doubt these people are of the same ilk as the private media owners in Venezuela who repeatedly had “journalists” and broadcasters calling the elected president a “monkey” on live shows and calling on people to launch another coup de tat.
Of course they say there are two sides to every story.
But following Chavez’s death, there seems to be a strange “middle” of the road commentator who plays the role of moral arbiter, a kind of liberal compass that lets us know that: “Chavez did some good things but at the end of the day he was really deep down a despot.”
I can imagine this moral arbiter writing “Rest In Peace Chavez” on Twitter but deep down thinking: “Glad you are gone and oh – here is my chance to have a dig so no one follows your practical example again.”
Well known “liberal” critics of Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution, talk about his “dark side” and of human rights abuses quoting organisations like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch who have never had a good word to say any country taking a “socialist” path.
When you look at the detail of the claims, if indeed that is the unvarnished truth, they pale into practical insignificance next to well-known Western backed Latin American dictatorships of the past and the forced disappearance of tens of thousands under those regimes.
Reading between the lines of some of the comments, there is even a perverse pleasure being showcased around Chavez’s difficult death, with anti-Chavez commentator Rory Carroll saying: “No one imagined it would end like this. A ravaged body, a hospital bed, a shroud of silence, invisible.”
“Hugo Chavez’s life blazed drama, a command performance, and friend and foe alike always envisaged an operatic finale.”
There is of course nothing wrong with reasoned criticism and President Chavez like any public figure is not immune to this.
But what is the context of this criticism?
Where is it meant to lead?
And what narrative does it hope to inspire?
In short whose class interests does it serve?
Given the political and economic pressure on Venezuela from the US, Chavez’s measures to protect the revolution and his constitutional duty to those who elected him were mild by historical standards.
He made alliances with many leaders of many countries some of whom have a totally opposed view on social justice.
This was for trade, geo-political defence and a mutually respectful foreign policy based on diplomacy rather than military might.
It doesn’t matter to this liberal “moral arbiter” that the Bolivarian revolution wiped out illiteracy in Venezuela, gave women increased participation and rights, new labour laws and vast improvements in living standards.
All these things he can take for granted because he has never struggled, never fallen on hard times, believes he never will and likes things just as they are.
But beyond Chavez’s real identifiable achievements, regardless of any short term economic problems in Venezuela as a result of the global downturn, the legacy of Hugo Chavez is immeasurable.
He is and will be remembered by millions in Latin America and millions of other poor and dispossessed peoples throughout the world as their class warrior, someone who wasn’t afraid to offend the King of Spain, to make a fool of George W Bush and to laugh sing and joke with people.
More than likely he will achieve iconic status in the years to come and be mentioned in the same breath as Lenin, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara when people are struggling for better living conditions, and revolutionary change.
None of this will matter to the “liberal” commentator of course who will continue to watch the world go by, supping on his Starbucks, denouncing the worst excesses of neo-liberalism but always ready to lend a hand to keep uppity workers and their allies in check if they dare one day present a real challenge to it.
As the ironic song, “Love me, I’m a liberal” by folk singer Phil Ochs goes: “I attend civil rights meetings but don’t talk about revolution. That’s going a little too far.”