OUR CARIBBEAN: Passing of Hugo Chavez, ‘friend’ of our region
Hugo Chavez, who never lost any known political battles of significance during 14 years as President of Venezuela, finally succumbed on Tuesday to the very punishing cancerous condition that had compelled his many visits to Cuba for treatment while millions of loyal Venezuelan supporters prayed and kept hope alive for his recovery.
At 58, the leftwing revolutionary had succeeded, during his first three-terms as President, in transforming the socio-economic landscape of Venezuela with heavy financial allocations drawn from oil revenues.
He was consistent in relentlessy pursuing a foreign policy that increasingly won friends across Latin America and the Caribbean, while keeping the United States administrations and the Central Intelligence Agency at bay. Chavez, who had deemed himself an “heir” of the 19th century independence liberator, Simon Bolivar, had also changed the country’s name to what’s now officially known as the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
While anxious to have mutually constructive relations with the US, the superpower that has traditionally dominated the economies of this hemisphere and bears a heavy burden for the poverty in which millions of Venezuelans existed, Chavez was methodically reaching out to build bridges of friendship with Latin American and Caribbean states.
The better known initiatives he pursued, even in the face of relentless interference from American political, intelligence and corporate interests, include – for CARICOM partners – the PetroCaribe project; the wider Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas known as ALBA, as well as the more recently established Community of Latin American and Caribbean States that pointedly excludes the United States and Canada.
From the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar – CARICOM’s sole energy-based economy and exporter of natural gas to the US – to President Donald Ramotar of Guyana, which is heavily dependent on imported fuel – Venezuela’s Chavez was being hailed for his visionary initiatives at national reconstruction as well for his “friendship” demonstrated towards the Caribbean Community.
Secretary General of the Community, Irwin LaRocque, in paying tribute to the late Venezuelan Head of State, declared in an official statement: “It is with deep sadness that the Caribbean Community has learnt of the passing of a true friend . . . . President Chavez demonstrated solidarity with the governments and people of CARICOM throughout his tenure and created avenues for cooperation and strengthening relations with governments and improving the lives of the people . . . .”
Now, we await new constitutional arrangements for a successor president and the road ahead for Venezuela without the visionary and committed friendship of Hugo Chavez in sustaining good relations with Latin America and the Caribbean.
• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.