After Hugo Chavez, West hopes for better cooperation with Venezuela

Hugo Chavez, the late Venezuelan president. Photo by: Bernando Londoy / CC BY-NC-SA

The death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has garnered mixed reaction from the international development community. Leaders from the country’s neighbors express great loss, while his Western counterparts find hope in improving ties with the Latin American country.

Chavez succumbed to cancer Wednesday after battling the disease for two years. His vice president, Nicholas Maduro, will be taking over as interim president. An election is expected to take place 30 days following his demise.

What changes  if any  will happen in Venezuela remain to be seen. But Western leaders are hopeful this development would lead to a more open relationship with the Latin American country.

“The United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement. “As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.”

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, meanwhile, said: “Canada looks forward to working with (Chavez’s) successor and other leaders in the region to build a hemisphere that is more prosperous, secure and democratic.”

While a challenging partner to the West, Venezuela has been noted for its generosity to its neighbors under Chavez’s rule. He shared the country’s oil wealth to neighbors, supporting government programs and assisting in their development, as many point to Venezuela’s support to Haiti in the aftermath of the 7.0-magnitude quake that shook the country in 2010.

“The world has lost a great leader in President Hugo Chávez. Haiti will forever be grateful to him,” Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told The Miami Herald.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, for her part, underscored Chavez’s efforts in uniting the Latin American region.

“This death should fill all Latin and Central Americans with sadness … Hugo Chavez was without doubt a leader committed to his country and to the development of the people of Latin America,” she said.

Her words were backed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “He provided decisive impetus for new regional integration movements, based on an eminently Latin American vision, while showing solidarity toward other nations in the hemisphere.”

Chavez, in 2009, proposed the creation of a regional development bank for Latin America. He was vocal about his dislike for other financial institutions’ policies, which he found “repressive.” That regional bank remains in limbo, but many Latin American leaders support the idea.

Nobel laureate and former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz is also on board with the proposal, arguing such a bank would “reflect the perspectives of those in the South (while in contrast IMF and World Bank conditions) hinder (regional) development effectiveness.”

Inter-American Development Bank President Luis Alberto Moreno had nice words for the late Venezuelan leader: “President Chávez was known for his deep concern for the poor, his enthusiasm for Latin American and Caribbean unity, and his solidarity with other nations … With his passing, the cause of regional integration loses one of its great champions.”

IDB’s role in Venezuela has mostly been limited to technical assistance. Priority sectors include energy, water and sanitation, natural disaster risk management and social protection.

The country, meanwhile, has no standing lending portfolio with the World Bank, and Chavez ended relations with the International Monetary Fund by paying off the country’s debt early on in his career.

Chavez has been cited by many as a champion for the poor back home, using oil revenue to provide for social programs such as education and free health care. Extreme poverty in Venezuela went down from 32 percent to 19 percent between 1995 and 2005, according to the World Bank.

But his human rights record didn’t fare well in comparison. His presidency “was characterized by a dramatic concentration of power and open disregard for basic human rights guarantees,” Human Rights Watch notes in an article profiling what the organization calls his ”authoritarian legacy.”

It said the deceased leader “rejected international efforts to promote human rights in other countries.”

“Venezuela consistently voted against UN General Assembly resolutions condemning abusive practices in North Korea, Burma, Iran, and Syria. Moreover, Chávez was a vocal supporter of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” the organization noted.

Chavez had been criticized for his policies that undermine human rights groups in the country. Nongovernmental organizations focused on human rights work have been subject to restrictive laws, put at risk of accumulating double fines if they receive foreign funding, according to the NGO Law Monitor. Local donors have also been very cautious in funding human rights-related activities.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.