Soon after news broke Tuesday of the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, liberals across America were falling over each other in a race to heap praise on the dictator. Some of that praise is coming from some surprising sources, including one sitting U.S. congressman, and comes even as Venezuela has suffered under his rule. The Heritage Foundation ranked Venezuela 28 out of 29 South American countries in terms of economic freedom.
The country's vast oil resources were under Chavez's control, and the profits are spent on pet projects while over 31% of Venezuelans live in poverty. Oil company Citgo is owned by the Venezuelan government, and supplies gasoline to 7-11 stores in America. After Chavez's death, American flags at Citgo headquarters in Houston were lowered to half staff in his honor. That move met with some protest, as some Americans have refused to purchase Citgo gasoline because of Chavez's policies.
Human Rights Watch has been critical of the lack of freedom in the country. "The weakening of Venezuela’s democratic system of checks and balances under President Hugo Chávez has contributed to a precarious human rights situation," the organization said in their 2012 World Report. "Without judicial checks on its actions, the government has systematically undermined the right to free expression, workers’ freedom of association, and the ability of human rights groups to protect rights. Police abuses and impunity remain a grave problem."
Even so, many Americans have defended Chavez in life, including actor Sean Penn, who has been an outspoken supporter of Chavez for years. Now, with Chavez's passing, more are coming forward.
Congressman Jose Serrano (D-NY) took to Twitter to speak highly of the dictator. “Hugo Chavez was a leader that understood the needs of the poor,” he said. “He was committed to empowering the powerless. R.I.P. Mr. President.” Serrano also released a statement about Chavez's passing:
I met President Chavez in 2005 when he came to my district at my invitation. His focus on the issues faced by the poor and disenfranchised in his country made him a truly revolutionary leader in the history of Latin America.
Even today, people in North America seem unable to accept that Venezuelans had taken our admonitions to have democracy to heart and elected the leader of their choice. President Chavez was a controversial leader. 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.
Former congressman Joe Kennedy praised the dictator as a man who cared for America's poor even when "some of the wealthiest people on our planet have more money than they can ever reasonably expect to spend." Chavez donated about 200 million gallons of Venezuelan heating oil to Kennedy's organization Citizens Energy, who then distributed it to low-income Americans.
In turn, Chavez used the donation to criticize capitalism and the United States government. Kennedy failed to mention that Chavez used much of Venezuela's oil money to bolster his personal net worth to about $2 billion.
In San Francisco, dozens of self-proclaimed socialists held a candlelight vigil to mark Chavez's passing. The Party for Socialism and Liberation, who describe themselves as “a Marxist-Leninist Party organizing against Capitalism, Imperialism and all forms of oppression,” promoted the vigil on perhaps the most American of capitalistic creations, Twitter.
Actress Maria Conchita Alonso, who grew up in Venezuela, has been a vocal opponent of the Chavez regime and marked his passing by telling the Huffington Post that she preferred to see Chavez alive, but suffering from cancer in prison for his crimes against his country.
Chavez reportedly died of a heart attack Tuesday after an extended battle with cancer. He ruled Venezuela for nearly 14 years.
Victor Medina writes for Yahoo News and his political blog WhenLiberalsAttack.com. His other writing credits include The Dallas Morning News and SportsIllustrated.com. He has served as a Dallas County election judge and on the Board of Directors of The Sixth Floor Museum. You can follow him on his blog, VictorMedina.com or on Twitter at @mrvictormedina. He can be reached by email at email@example.com. To be notified of future stories by Victor Medina, click the SIGN UP or SUBSCRIBE button at the top of this page.