Monday, March 11, 2013

Hugo Chavez celebrated in the Mission

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San Francisco's left gathered at 24th and Mission on Sunday afternoon to mourn and honor deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

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Old and young were there, including many from the Latino immigrant left.

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I never knew quite what I thought of Hugo Chavez. I loved it when he jerked pretentious Northamericans around, accused George W. of being a sulpher-emitting "Satan," presented Obama with a copy of Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America. Much of Latin America has finally thrown off U.S. economic and political domination in the last decade -- Chavez led the way. Majorities of Venezuelans elected him repeatedly. How was I to evaluate what he was doing?

I'll let the right -- Bloomberg Businessweek -- describe his accomplishments.

Chávez’s most enduring and positive legacy is his shattering of Venezuela’s peaceful coexistence with poverty, inequality, and social exclusion. He was not the first political leader who placed the poor at the center of the national conversation. Nor was he the first to use a spike in oil revenue to help the poor. But none of his predecessors did it so aggressively and with such a passionate sense of urgency as Chávez did. And no one was more successful in planting this priority into the nation’s psyche and even exporting it to neighboring countries and beyond. Moreover, his ability to make the poor feel that one of them was in charge has no precedent.

Another positive aspect of his legacy is that he ended the widespread political indifference and apathy nurtured over decades by a system dominated by decaying and out-of-touch political parties. The political awakening of the nation sparked by Chávez has engulfed people in the barrios, workers, university students, the middle class, and, unfortunately, even the military.

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But charismatic leaders, leaders whose proud bluster seems too often to lead back to their personal vision and central importance, undermine genuine participatory democracy. I have friends who know Venezuela well who lament the violent crime and chronic corruption in Caracas. Chavez's Venezuela is a very hard place to live and work for most everyone, despite all the oil wealth and the political excitement.

I'll let the left -- Greg Grandin in the Nation -- recite some of Chavez' faults.

Chávez was a strongman. He packed the courts, hounded the corporate media, legislated by decree and pretty much did away with any effective system of institutional checks or balances.

But Grandin still assesses Hugo Chavez as a uniquely inspiring figure for all his faults. Millions of Venezuelans and their friends around the world agree. This is not something to quarrel with or to discount.

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