The news of the death of the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez reminds me how ephemeral human life is. Although he was a controversial figure, this fact pales in comparison to the reality that he is now deceased. I extend my condolences to his family and pray God gives them the fortitude to bear the loss of their loved one.
President Chavez’s death has garnered mixed reactions in the United States. According to Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich), the chairman of the House committee on intelligence, President Chavez was a destabilizing force in Latin America, and an obstacle to progress in the region. In an interview with CNN today, Rogers said “I hope his death provides an opportunity for a new chapter in US-Venezuelan relations.”
Although relations between Venezuela and the United States have been somewhat turbulent over the years, not all political leaders share Roger’s sentiment. Former United States President Jimmy Carter said that President Chavez “will be remembered for his bold assertion of autonomy and independence for Latin American governments.” Yet, only the people of Venezuela, who overwhelming supported him, can truly portray the extent of his leadership and impact on their country.
Regardless of the varying opinions of our nation’s political leaders, it is my prayer that there will be diplomatic rapprochement between the two countries. However, countries like Venezuela still remember the great offenses that have been perpetrated against them by the West, namely the United States. The distinguished Latin American writer Gabriel García Márquez in his letter to President George W. Bush in 2001 asked “Do you know that between 1824 and 1994 your country carried out 73 invasions in countries of Latin America? The victims were Puerto Rico, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Haiti, Colombia, Cuba, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, the Virgin Islands, El Salvador, Guatemala and Grenada.”
This historical context gives us insight into the political inclinations of some leaders in this part of the world; for them history is a mirror. The Bolivarian Revolution, championed by President Chavez, has grown in prominence across the continent. Venezuela’s involvement in this revolution shows that the death of President Chavez will not in and of itself bring about diplomatic relations between the United States and Venezuela. In order to improve these relations, we not only need to be intentional about crafting a foreign policy that reflects our values of freedom, prosperity and the common good. We also have to address the injustices of the past and even go so far as to rectify them in the future.