Hugo Chavez: Global reactions to the Venezuelan leader's death

While he was alive, Hugo Chávez – the longest ruling democratically elected leader in Latin America – inspired people who loved him as often as he inflamed those who didn’t. That polarization seemed to follow him in death.

Canada and the United States

Robert Sullivan/Reuters
A crowd sings and waves the Venezuelan flag at a local restaurant following the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, in Doral, Florida, March 5.

In Canada, the Globe and Mail published a column by Doug Saunders, who says "Hugo Chavez wasn’t a dictator, but he crushed democracy."

True, elections in Venezuela were generally fair and well-conducted under Mr. Chavez. He even willingly conceded loss in one referendum designed to consolidate his power. But during his 14 years, every other institution of democracy – the courts, the media, the opposition – was destroyed, in an old-style attempt to create a party-run state and economy....

The authoritarianism extended into the economy. While he didn’t, contrary to popular myth, nationalize the oil industry (it had been government-owned since 1976, and he merely devastated its productivity and output by packing it with cronies and failing to maintain its infrastructure), he did manage to trash most of the non-oil economy. In a country that should be one of the great agricultural exporters of the Americas, he turned farming into a non-viable business by subsidizing consumption and controlling prices, and converted large swathes of commercial-agriculture land back into subsistence-level peasant farms. As a result, his country became heavily reliant on food imports and suffered from serious food shortages.

In the United States, the White House reaffirmed “its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government,” President Obama said in a statement Tuesday.

Still, it could take time for the US to heal more than a decade of fraught relations with Venezuela as uncertainty – and anti-US sentiment – persists. According to The Christian Science Monitor's Howard LaFranchi:

[E]ven if ambassadors are exchanged in the coming weeks or months as a goodwill gesture, no one expects tensions to evaporate from the relationship overnight..... 

Chávez may be gone, but his supporters will still have their hands on the country’s levers of power, Venezuela analysts say – and could keep them there for some time to come.

And the fiery-tongued leader’s anti-American rhetoric won’t lose its influence any faster than will suspicions about US intentions, some regional experts predict.

“Chávez conditioned much of Venezuela to think negatively of the US,” says Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society in Washington. Many Venezuelans won’t forget quickly Chávez’s claims, especially early in his rule, that the Central Intelligence Agency was trying to assassinate him or that the US was behind a 2002 military coup that briefly forced him from office.

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