Why Democrats Shouldn’t Eulogize Hugo Chavez

Written by Zack Beauchamp

Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-NY) released a statement today praising former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, despite the latter’s record of harsh crackdowns on his political opponents and state-sanctioned persecution against Venezuela’s Jewish population. Serrano tweeted a statement praising Chavez as an a champion of the oppressed, writing that “Hugo Chavez was a leader that understood the needs of the poor. He was committed to empowering the powerless. R.I.P. Mr. President.” Serrano’s office later released a statement expanding on the tweet:

President Chavez was a controversial leader. But at his core he was a man who came from very little and used his unique talents and gifts to try to lift up the people and the communities that reflected his impoverished roots. He believed that the government of the country should be used to empower the masses, not the few. He understood democracy and basic human desires for a dignified life. His legacy in his nation, and in the hemisphere, will be assured as the people he inspired continue to strive for a better life for the poor and downtrodden.

While even Chavez’s critics admit that he did attempt to address the plight of Venezuela’s poorest, the decline in economic inequality in Venezuela reflected a broader egalitarian trend in Latin America, and can’t be fully credited to Chavez’s policies. However, Chavez’ policies harmed Venezuela’s poorest in other ways: the value of the Venezuelan currency dropped while prices soared, making it harder for people to buy basic necessities, and crime skyrocketed.

Moreover, Chavez hurt the vulnerable in Venezuela in other ways. Chavez’s state-run media hounded Venezuela’s small, beleaguered Jewish population — he himself once said “Don’t let yourselves be poisoned by those wandering Jews.” A study released by the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University found that Chavez’s rule “witnessed a rise in antisemitic manifestations, including vandalism, media attacks, caricatures, and physical attacks on Venezuelan Jewish institutions.” Indeed, roughly half of Venezuelan Jews fled the country because of “the social and economic chaos that the president has unleashed and from the uncomfortable feeling that they were being specifically targeted by the regime.”

Chavez also attacked Venezuela’s democratic political system. Human Rights Watch reported in 2012 that “the accumulation of power in the executive and the erosion of human rights protections have allowed the Chávez government to intimidate, censor, and prosecute critics and perceived opponents in a wide range of cases involving the judiciary, the media, and civil society.” Contra Serrano’s implication that Chavez’s elections were generally certified as “free and fair by international monitors,” Chavez had not invited international election monitors to observe Venezuelan elections since 2006 (though a delegation from the Carter Center did conduct a limited audit of the 2012 election).

This post was originally published by ThinkProgress.


Photo: ukberri.net/flickr


Henri DeToi
Henri DeToi5 years ago

@ Sarah H.; Chavez IS American. He IS from America; therefore why would he hate America and Americans?

You mean he hates the US. About digging their own oil; better than digging their own grave which is what is happening in the US right now. About high time they stop sticking their nose in other countries’ business.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill5 years ago

He was an evil dictator who hated America and Americans! I NEVER buy Citgo gas because I know where it is from and don't want to support him or his philosophies. We need to drill our own oil and support ourselves!

Henri DeToi
Henri DeToi5 years ago

Out-of-control capitalism is akin to a game of monopoly; once the ones at the top own and control everything (Boardwalk, Park Place…) keeping everybody down suffocating with no chance of getting ahead, it is a form of slavery not much better than in the days of the sugar canes and cotton fields.

I believe in a market system with fair rules where we take care of our weakest in society. The problem with Chavez is that he was leaning towards the communist systems in the former USSR and Cuba trying to turn the Venezuela into a form of dictatorship and trying to control the judiciary, a most important branch of government whose functionto uphold the rule of law and protect human freedoms and human rights.

A great example of an excellent equilibrium can be found in the Scandinavian countries like Sweden, Finland and Norway. – No wonder these countries are chosen time after time as the best countries to live on the planet.

Sorry to say, but the USA is not a good example to the rest of the world and has zero credibility preaching to others.

Laura Saxon
.5 years ago

Great article.

Anne Marie M.

That is exactly why I buy Citgo and ask all of my friends to do so.


Thomas Bergel
Past Member 5 years ago

All I can say is that when our own government cut fuel assistance to the poor and the Big Oil companies with oil and money to burn all said "no" when we asked for help. All but one. Citgo. Owned by the Venezuelan people, is donating millions of gallons to non-profit Citizens Energy.

Anne Marie M.

I agree that he did a lot for his country - and he has done a lot for the poor and elderly in the USA. Anyone can hate him, if they choose. I honestly am very, very grateful to him for all he has done for his people and those he kept warm with oil here in the US when the damn American Oil companies, would not put up a dime.

claudia tomaso
claudia tomaso5 years ago

please do your homework thinkprogress and make zach beauchamp do his. they say quality journalism is at an all time low and this is a prime example...luckily there are a few left - albeit not in this country. from oscar guardiola-rivera of the guardian uk read it and weep...

The facts speak for themselves: the percentage of households in poverty fell from 55% in 1995 to 26.4% in 2009.

When Chávez was sworn into office unemployment was 15%, in June 2009 it was 7.8%. Compare that to current unemployment figures in Europe.

In that period Chávez won 56% of the vote in 1998, 60% in 2000, survived a coup d'état in 2002, got over 7m votes in 2006 and secured 54.4% of the vote last October.

He was a rare thing, almost incomprehensible to those in the US and Europe who continue to see the world through the Manichean prism of the cold war: an avowed Marxist who was also an avowed democrat.

Benoit W.
Benoit W5 years ago

For me his proximity with Iran was so contreversial so you add what he told about jewish...

g             d c.
g d c5 years ago