From Guardian Weekly letters, 22 March
Your editorial and Tariq Ali’s piece on Hugo Chávez (15 March) had a fairness and balance. To understand Chávez’s significance, it is vital to be aware of the role the US has played in Latin America for well over a century, deposing or assassinating elected leaders and carrying out or financing armed insurrections in numerous countries. While overt military action may be a less useful tool now, the involvement in or acceptance of coups in Venezuela, Honduras and Paraguay in the last decade, and the attempted coup in Ecuador, all point to a continued appetite by the US to put in place the governments it wants.
While many Latin Americans are aware of this, there is an ambivalence. On the one hand, the elites in most of Latin America, especially in Venezuela, identify more closely with Miami than they do with the poorer citizens of their own countries. On the other, those poorer citizens too often see the solution to their problems in heading north to the US, or in profiting from the US consumption of cocaine. The impression of a ‘wonderland’ to the north is fed by a daily diet of overblown soap operas, so that hardly anyone is now unaware of the lifestyles of the rich.
Chávez challenged these attitudes fundamentally, first in Venezuela and then in the rest of Latin America. He showed by example that Venezuelans could be lifted out of poverty if oil revenues were redirected, and then began to redirect them to many other countries in the region. He promoted regional trade, and if his Bolivarian vision was over the top it nevertheless changed people’s attitudes: Latin Americans should look to each other to solve their problems, not the big brother to the north.
While Chávez was being treated in Cuba, I spoke to numerous people in Nicaragua and in Cuba who were worried what would happen if he died, people who before were probably barely aware of Venezuela. Chávez’s legacy will not only be the programmes that have brought houses and schools to millions, but more importantly a change of consciousness that brings Latin America closer towards true independence, with leaders who address the needs of the majority, not just fill the pockets of the already rich.
Original post: Guardian Weekly Letters
[Note: the unedited opening sentence read: “Your editorial and Tariq Ali’s piece on Hugo Chavez had a fairness and balance sadly missing from some of the coverage in the Guardian itself”.