Global Ethics Corner: What Will Be Hugo Chávez’s Legacy?

Mar 11, 2013

The world's eyes are on Venezuela as Hugo Chavez's death leaves many questions. Will he be remembered as a champion of the poor or will his legacy be stained by Venezuela's high crime rates? Was he a repressive tyrant or a victim of American propaganda?

Following the death of President Hugo Chávez, many questions remain about his legacy. While some see him as a champion of the poor who helped other Latin American states, others point to the violence that has plagued Venezuela. And though critics see him as a tyrant who repressed all opposition, many others argue that he is a victim of American propaganda.

Chávez’s brand of left-wing populism was followed with an almost-religious fervor by many Venezuelans. After his death was announced on March 5, malls and stores closed abruptly. Caracas, the country’s capital, became a huge traffic jam as people called loved ones and ran through the streets.

Still, Chávez’s legacy in Venezuela is decidedly mixed. Since 1999, poverty and unemployment have decreased drastically, but inflation has gone up and violent crime has skyrocketed. Chávez has also been criticized for suing and harassing reporters for writing critical stories about his administration. The end result being that many important issues have not been covered.

During his 14 years in power, Chávez’s influence also spread beyond Venezuela. He was responsible for founding ALBA, the 9-member Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America. Chávez spent billions on aid projects to member countries, in particular giving them preferential prices on Venezuelan oil. Bolivia and Cuba, both of which have strong left-wing governments, are two notable beneficiaries.

Chávez’s relationship with the United States, though, has been much more complicated. An American-supported coup temporarily removed Chávez from office in 2002 and has had lasting influence on U.S.-Venezuela relations. In a speech after Chávez’s death, the president’s immediate successor, Vice President Nicolás Maduro, accused the U.S. of trying to destabilize his country.

What do you think? Will Hugo Chávez be seen as a revolutionary leader who worked for the poor? Will his legacy be stained by the sky-high murder rates in Venezuela? Has Chávez been treated unfairly by the American government and media?

By Alex Woodson

For more information see

Willie Neuman, "Chávez Dies, Leaving Sharp Divisions in Venezuela," The New York Times, March 5, 2013

"Venezuela's private media wither under Chávez assault," Committe to Protect Journalists, August 29, 2012

Ami Sedghi, "How did Venezuela change under Hugo Chávez?," The Guardian, March 6, 2013

Jon Lee Anderson, "Postscript: Hugo Chávez, 1954-2013," The New Yorker, March 5, 2013

Photo Credits in Order of Appearance:
Bernardo Londoy [also for pictures 2, 4, 5, 11, 17, & 21]
Rodrigo Suarez [also for pictures 10 & 20]
David Seaton
Luigino Bracci
Jorge Andres Paparoni Bruzual
David Blumenkrantz
Hugo Chávez [also for pictures 13 & 16]
Presidencia de la Republica del Ecuador
Jumanji Solar
Beverly / Public Domain
Organization of American States

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