SDSU reacts to life and death of Hugo Chavez

by Staff

By David Hernandez and Alicia Chavez


Hugo Chavez in Uruguay 2011The death of Hugo Chávez has evoked mixed emotions around the world. On Tuesday, the International Youth and Students for Social Equality at San Diego State discussed the nature and significance of Chávez’s politics.

During his 14 years of presidency, which ended on March 5 because of cancer, many considered Chávez a socialist, yet some argued his power in Venezuela was not a socialist movement.

“You either loved him or hated him,” SDSU political science graduate Justin Jones said about the divided country Chávez left behind.

Jones, who led the forum, began by stating that SDSU’s IYSSE does not consider Chávez’s practices during his presidency to be socialist.

“The notion that socialism can be handed down to the masses by one personality, even one as dynamic as Chávez’s, is a flaw,” Jones added. “In socialism, the working class needs to have a voice of its own, they cannot be rallied through strong personalities.”

Chávez forced many oil companies to nationalize, but Jones said equating nationalism with socialism is incorrect.

Jones then discussed how support for Chávez was divided among classes, stating that most of the working class supported Chávez, while the middle class adopted more of a right-wing opinion.

Chávez never advocated for the abolition of classes, as much as he seemed to have favored the poor. As Chávez began to lose support, especially toward the end of his life, he did cater to the right-winged and rich, Jones added.

Chávez improved the lives of the poor by implementing programs that provided food, housing and health care to the impoverished population. Cuba provided free health care in exchange for the subsidized oil Chávez gave the country.

In 2003, Venezuela recorded a 62 percent poverty rate, which declined to 29 percent in 2009, according to World Bank.

While Chávez was praised for implementing programs that diminished poverty, many criticized him for paying for these programs with income Venezuela received from oil sales.

In the discussion, political science professor and faculty adviser for SDSU’s IYSSE Emanuele Saccarelli added that Chávez shouldn’t be classified as a socialist, because his aid to the poor was not a sustained solution to the social problems affecting the working class in Venezuela.

“The economy remained vastly dependent on oil; that’s not the basis in which you can really restructure society,” Saccarelli said.

Mechanical engineering senior Daniel Cavero, who was born in Venezuela but has lived in the U.S. for four years, attended the forum. He believes the U.S. and Chávez viewed each other in similar ways.

The U.S. media portrayed Chávez as “the devil,” but Chávez portrayed the U.S. likewise, Cavero said, alluding to Chávez’s speech at the U.N. General Assembly in 2006, when he called former President George W. Bush “the devil.”

“I think more than being a socialist, he represented something that a lot of the world didn’t see,” international security and conflict resolution sophomore Marna Shorack, who came to the U.S. from Venezuela a year and a half ago, said. “He represented a side that was very anti-Western, anti-U.S., anti-imperialistic powers, and I think that’s something that attracted a lot of people toward him.”

“There’s definitely a lot of grieving,” Cavero added. “He was such a figure. He was a father figure. He was a religious figure, even, to some people.”

Venezuela, which ended seven days of mourning Chávez’s death on Tuesday, will elect a new president on April 14. Vice president Nicolás Maduro, who holds office until then, will run for president.