Hugo Chavez led a process within Venezuela that saved the country from neoliberal failure, but the impact of his reforms was felt internationally. Hugo Chavez was at the heart of processes that forged new unity in South America, which began to overturn decades of U.S. domination in the region. Globally he became an international beacon for social justice, peace and a multipolar world seeking to counterbalance U.S global domination. Below we review important of Chavez’s legacy in Latin America and beyond.
A NEW LATIN AMERICA
Defeating free trade in America
One of Chavez’s most important regional achievements was defeating the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA); a continental agreement that would have created a free-trade zone between the United States and Latin America.
From the moment he was elected, President Chavez began forging good relations with all the countries of Latin America in the same vein as independence leader Simon Bolivar’s dream of regional unity. In this spirit, Chavez found reliable friends and allies in Brazilian President Lula da Silva and Argentine President Nestor Kirchner. In 2005, the Common Southern Market (Mercosur) bloc of nations was set to vote whether or not it would join the U.S.-led FTAA.
The FTAA was opposed by hundreds of regional social movements and organizations, which led campaigns against the treaty warning that it would destroy small farmers, local industry and further lower environmental and labor standards. Due to the alliance forged by Chavez, Kirchner and Lula, on November 5, 2005, Mercosur rejected the FTAA, burying the project.
Building regional unity
After rejecting the FTAA, Chavez worked together with Latin America’s leaders to create new regional bodies, free of U.S. interference, to overcome centuries of foreign exploitation and build new agreements and solutions in the face of common issues.
President Chavez played a key role in building new regional institutions such as the ALBA group of nations, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which today are widely regarded as milestones in regional integration.
Chavez sought to build regional unity in order to better the lives of the country’s people. Perhaps the clearest example was Mission Miracle; a joint Venezuelan-Cuban program aimed at restoring the sight of poor people with treatable eye conditions throughout Latin America.
Within its 10 years of existence, Mission Miracle has already treated 6 million Latin Americans, curing them of visual diseases such as cataracts; an unaffordable operation for many low-income people.
Reaching out to U.S. citizens
In 2005 President Chavez launched a program to provide subsidized oil to the United States for heating as show of solidarity with the people affected by the damage by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Through the CITGO Petroleum Corporation – a subsidiary of Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA – hundreds of thousands of low-income homes in the U.S. have received access to cheap oil for heating, and low-income families can access up to 100 free gallons of oil if they are struggling to pay for their home heating. The program continues and has helped up to 1.8 million people since 2005. CITGO has also been providing free energy-saving lightbulbs to the poorest families in the U.S. since 2009 in an effort to reduce electricity spending.
Promoting global justice: The Salvador Allende Medical School
With the help of Cuba, and in an effort to improve health worldwide, the Venezuelan government opened the Salvador Allende Latin American School of Medicine in Caracas. Through different cooperation agreements, over 500 students from more than 15 African countries were granted scholarships to study in there. In total, 1600 students from 42 different countries around the world are currently studying medicine in the school.
In 2014, following the Israeli war on Gaza, the school granted scholarships to over 100 Palestinian students. That was the latest example of solidarity with the people of the Middle East, and follows strong statements and actions by Hugo Chavez in defense of the Palestinian people and against war the 2006 war on Lebanon.
Chavez was a fierce advocate for a more just world, and he sought to transform the way in which countries related to each other. By promoting respectful and cooperative relationships with all nations, Chavez made Venezuela stand out in the international arena. With the United States conspiring against his government, Chavez soon understood the world should not be ruled by one superpower, but through a balance in which different powerful nations play their part and cooperate with others: A multipolar world.
Inspired by this guiding idea, Chavez built strategic alliances with Russia and China, and struggled to promote the ideal. “We will continue … promoting our international project of a multipolar world, where equality among states will prevail,” he said in 2006.
Venezuela has strengthened its relationship with China and Russia signing tens of joint projects with them. Venezuela also supports those countries as part of the BRICS bloc and their determination to create a development bank.
Venezuela and a united Africa
In line with his support for the BRICS group was Chavez’s advancement of South-South solidarity worldwide. To do this, the Venezuelan president established greater bonds with the African Union in an effort to bring Latin America and Africa closer together. By the year 2011, various African countries had signed over 200 agreements with Venezuela, ranging from cooperation in energy and finance to sharing technical and social knowledge. Venezuela became the only country in the world to have diplomatic relations with every African nation.
Opening of the 2nd Africa – South America Summit (ASA),
Venezuela, 26-27 September 2009. Picture: Unati Ngamntwini
In 2014, the Venezuelan government, together with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, launched a joint program to help African countries cultivate rice crops, as rice represents over a third of sub-Saharan Africa’s food consumption. The US$62 million program will provide training and input to thousands of African farmers, and it is based on Venezuela’s successful efforts to eradicate hunger.
Source: Chavez’s Legacy Around the World TeleSUR