Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s death on March 5 sparked both celebration and mourning throughout the world. During his tenure, Chávez influenced the lives of millions of people, both Venezuelan citizens and those living around the world. His actions as President have reached so far as to even affect the lives of students and teachers who walk the halls of ASL.
Chávez can only be described as a polarizing leader. His socialist views and aversion to capitalism generated both enormous public love and hatred. Through his socialist reforms of welfare for the poor and his usage of mass media, specifically his weekly show Aló Presidente, Chávez gained the adoration of the impoverished Venezuelan majority who kept him in power for the last 14 years despite pressure from countries, such as the United States, who opposed Chávez because of his socialist views and relationships with leaders such as Bashar Al-Assad of Syria and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.
Julian Nebreda (’13), a Venezuelan citizen who has lived there for six years, is a supporter of the Venezuelan opposition party. Like a growing number of citizens, Nebreda sees Chávez and his administration as extremely harmful to the nation as a whole. “The country is out of control and we need someone to regain control. Houses are being taken over by [squatters]. Corruption is high, and the government, although not sponsoring it, doesn’t attack it,” he said.
Director of Curriculum and Instruction Roberto d’Erizans lived in Venezuela for 11 years and still has family living in the capital, Caracas. d’Erizans sees Venezuela under Chávez as a country wasting all of its potential. “Venezuela has an incredible amount of potential, the beaches are beautiful there and the country has huge amounts of oil. We should be at the top of Latin America,” he said.
During Chávez’s presidency, the city of Caracas deteriorated from being a safe and tourist-friendly city into having one of the highest murder and crime rates on the entire continent. “Venezuela used to be much safer than it is now, as a child I never felt that I was in danger. Now when you visit Venezuela you can barely take a taxi for fear that they will rob you,” d’Erizans said.
Chávez instituted many programs that were designed to relieve poverty and provide care for the impoverished lower class during his presidency. Nebreda understands the support given to Chávez by the lower class and acknowledges that many of these social welfare programs that Chávez instituted have been at least, in part, effective. “A lot of projects that Chávez has done have worked well and a lot of the poor people align themselves with Chávez because they see him as hope,”he said. “However, countries like Brazil and Chile are growing so fast and Venezuela hasn’t grown at all.”
Just as many of his followers, Chávez rose from humble beginnings. He was born in the village of Sabenta in the state of Barinas to a working lower class family. From the age of 17, Chávez studied at the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences. During his time at the Academy, Chávez and a number of his fellow students became highly interested in the life of Venezuelan revolutionary Simón Bolívar who fought to free Latin America from Spanish rule. Bolivar inspired their attempted military coup in 1992 and many of Chávez’s policies since he was elected president in 1999.
For Nebreda, Chávez’s presidency has taken on personal overtures as well as political ones. “My father worked in the Caracas electricity company and when it was taken over by the government he refused to work with them. If it wasn’t for [Chávez] we would still be in [Venezuela],” said Nebreda. “When he [Chávez] passed it was just weird. He had imposed himself in my life in a really concrete way and now he is gone.”