I want to speak a bit about [Hugo] Chávez the man. He was born into a family of very modest means in 1954 in Sabaneta de Barinas. A small town in the Venezuelan plains: a town that had only three streets, none of them paved.
Hugo was the second of 6 brothers and sisters. He was so poor that his family couldn’t afford to buy him shoes. His grandmother Rosa Inés took him to his first ever day of classes. Hugo wore a pair of alpargatas that she had made out of soft cloth and rope. But the kindergarten teacher would not allow the little boy into the class, until the family could find a way to buy him some shoes.
President Chávez remembers he had no toys as a boy and said that he made do by playing with his brother, Adán, imaginary games using imaginary toys: imagen that.
When Americans ask me why there is such an outpouring of emotion among Venezuelans over the death of this man, I point out that the ordinary people of Venezuela saw themselves in President Chávez. The President was a compendium of the very fabric of the country: part black, part indigenous and part white: a man who came from poverty and whose every decision as President was marked by his humble origins. President Chávez never forgot where he came from, and he always remembered who he was.
He dedicated himself to giving a voice to the voiceless: to bringing dignity to a people who had been humiliated for centuries by those in power. To those ends, he empowered the Venezuelan people through the People´s Assemblies he forged throughout the land. Thanks to President Chávez, everything is open to debate in Venezuela. Everything. For the first time in their history, Venezuelans know how to govern themselves.
President Chávez always called Venezuelans hermano, camarada or ciudadano: brother, comrade or citizen. And soon the people began to use those terms when addressing their compatriots. A workingwoman in Caracas summed up how much this meant to her and indeed to the people of Venezuela, when she said: “Citizens? Before Chávez, we didn´t even know we were human beings.”
That, my brothers and sisters, is the President´s legacy.
~ from Chávez: The Man and His Dream by Jose Pertierra ~
Was Hugo Chávez perfect? Far from it. Like every other person, he had his flaws and foibles. But when was the last time you can remember a US political figure engendering this level of adoration and mourning at his or her death? The last people that come to my mind are Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the two Kennedy brothers assassinated 5 years apart. Yeh, nearly 50 years ago!
The rest of the political figures who have died over the last half century have sparked some partisan remembrances and little more. Their deaths occupy the news cycle for no more than a week and then it's back to the usual fare. We simply have not had charismatic leaders who inspire the common people like Chávez did in Venezuela.
Our political leaders curry favor among the rich and powerful unlike Chávez who worked to raise the boats of all of his people. And that is why our elites so despised the man. He did not play by the rules of American-style capitalism. He did not obey the cardinal principle that leaders should pander to the masses rhetorically, while trying to undermine them in actuality.
Chávez was not a saint, but I long for the day when we can have a leader who is even half the humanitarian that he was.