It would be interesting to see the statistics of how often statements are revoked by leaders worldwide. Hugo Chavez would probably be in the top ten, although many of the recalls were made by his spokespeople to avoid damaging Venezuela’s international relations in an irreversible way. It must have been hell for his advisers to anticipate his public appearances.
We all know his notorious speech at the United Nations conference, back in 2006, when he described smelling sulfur where the devil, referring to George W. Bush, had stood a day prior. He insulted the Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe, on a regular basis and lashed out at politicians from Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Israel, clerks of the Vatican, the Venezuelan opposition and the media. He compared German chancellor Angela Merkel to a Nazi, and referred to reporters as terrorists, while stating that the FARC were a wrongly accused but very respectable group.
His constant fear of being toppled over, led him to accuse the Netherlands of plotting with the United States to invade Venezuela, and at some point even suggested his cancer was no coincidence either. He managed to annoy the Spanish king to such an extent that he made the old royal mutter, “Why don’t you just shut up!” during a summit back in 2007. He usually described his remarks as mere jests later on, but never really apologized. He was an enfant terrible, and the masses loved him for it.
I have to admit I too feel a strange kind of sorrow for the fact that we have lost Chavez as a public figure. He was a political actor that has left a strong mark on history and as so often occurs, his sudden death will only help raise his legendary status. He was an actor in the theatrical sense as well, and played an incredibly strong role, right up until the end. I admire the ease with which he took the stage. He indulged in public speaking and won the crowds time and again. At the same time, this is what made him a bit frightening to me as well. The power he had over the masses was uncanny and the forces he unleashed with his rise to power were difficult to control.
All though Hugo Chavez would never have admitted it, his attitude was actually quite similar to Bush’s “If you’re not with us, you’re against us”-way of thinking. This stance caused him to alienate Venezuela from more mainstream allies and made some controversial friends, who shared the US as their common enemy. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad , Muammar Khadaffi and Kim Jong-Il were just some of the leaders he had come to refer to as “friends”.
What will remain of the alliances and treaties he formed during his reign, will soon become clear, now that the curtain has fallen in the life of Hugo Chavez. New elections will bring new faces, but it is very unlikely a man like him will take the stage again, unless Silvio Berlusconi decides to apply for a Venezuelan citizenship.
I hope he finds peace in a place that does not smell of sulfur. Perhaps he should have become a Buddhist…