Venezuela president Hugo Chavez dead after battle with cancer
Local Latin Americans have differing views over the legacy of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.
The elected left-wing president died today at the age of 58 after a long battle with cancer.
In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Alfonso Osorio, host of the Latin American Report on Co-op Radio, praised Chavez for addressing poverty and developing progressive health-care and housing policies.
"He reminds me of Jack Layton," Osorio said. "Here we have a case of two leaders who won election while having cancer. Modern medicine can cure people to run in an election and win an election, but there is no assurance that after the election, they will stay alive."
Chavez was reelected to a fourth term as president on October 7, 2012, and had run the country since 1999.
Osorio, who was born and raised in Chile, added that Chavez was at the vanguard of a generation of progressive South American leaders—including Bolivia's Evo Morales, Brazil's former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, and Argentina president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner—who changed the continent's political dynamics.
"He challenged the power of the USA in Latin America," Osorio declared.
He added that his wife was in tears upon hearing the news of Chavez's death.
"The writing was on the wall," he said. "It appears to be the case that his cancer had spread over his lungs because he was having respiratory problems."
The owner of Yarina's Coffee Cafe in Burnaby, Yarina Ramos, has a far less less positive view of the deceased Venezuelan president.
Ramos told the Straight by phone that she immigrated to Canada from Venezuela to get away from Chavez's government.
"I can't be happy for anybody who died," she noted.
But she added that many Canadians have no idea of what life was like under his rule, claiming that he jailed many people, including a woman who lived in her building.
Ramos said that she was among those who collected signatures in 2003 and 2004 in an effort to have Chavez recalled.
She alleged that Chavez used to allow people to cross the border from Colombia to vote for him. She also claimed that his housing reforms meant that landlords, including herself and her father, had to turn over buildings to their tenants.
"If you tried to get tenants out, you can be sent to jail," Ramos said, citing a March 2011 law. "I can't recover my place."
She also said that a friend of hers with a Canadian engineering degree cannot get work in Venezuela because she's been identified as an opponent of Chavez.
In addition, Ramos said that if people want to travel out of Venezuela, they have to wait 30 days for the government's approval.
"I am surprised when people are defending him," Ramos said. "He did many injustices to my country."
Osorio pointed out that Chavez was democratically elected and enjoyed huge popular support. This set him apart from Cuba's Fidel Castro, who was an inspiration to Chavez but who came to power in a revolution.
Chavez spent a significant amount of time in Cuba receiving treatment.
Venezuelan vice president Maduro Nicolas made an official announcement on televison, saying that funeral and burial plans will be announced in the coming hours.