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UWI panel: Chavez a champion of the people
The University of the West Indies yesterday held a panel discussion in an attempt to counter what was described as the demonising of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez by the international media in the wake of his death last Tuesday.
Hosted by the Institute of International Relations, the discussion was titled The Chavez Legacy and several speakers portrayed the former president as a heroic political leader, one of the few who kept his promises to the people, and as a defender of the rights of women and the poor. Prof W Andy Knight, director of the institute, told the audience: “If the panel came across as somewhat pro-Chavez, it is to correct the demonising of him by the mainstream media.”
“There is a lot of anti-Chavez sentiment in the media right now,” he later told the T&T Guardian. “I think it’s important to have a panel like this. What you are getting from this is deeper than what you are getting in the media. “Our attempt is to say, let’s look at the legacy of the man, and to correct the falsehoods being propagated about him.”
Norman Girvan, professor emeritus and the United Nations Secretary General’s personal representative on the Guyana-Venezuela Border Controversy, was a key speaker on the panel. Girvan said there has been a huge change from the sabre-rattling of former Venezuelan administrations in the border controversy and he believes Chavez’ efforts towards a peaceful resolution have something to do with it.
“There is a great deal of bilateral talks taking place now between the two countries,” he said. “Chavez used to say the controversy between Venezuela and Guyana was a relic of the colonial past.” Girvan, telling about the “Chavez I knew,” referred to the “Chavista phenomenon” and said what was different about Chavez was that he actually kept his promises to the people. “He used the State to benefit the masses. He did not break his faith with the people.”
Girvan said Venezuela is now the country with the lowest inequality rate and with significant reductions in poverty and child malnutrition. Responding to questions from the floor on whether there was another side to Chavez, the dictator/authoritarian, he disclosed that Chavez had got more votes in various elections than any other democratically elected leader in the hemisphere. He said there was no evidence to support the charge that Chavez was a dictator.
Other members of the audience said thousands of workers were retrenched after anti-Chavez protests and claimed the former president controlled Venezuela’s media and gave out “freebies” to the people for their support. Knight said Chavez’ political rivals were financed to the tunes of millions of dollars by the US in the last general election and warned external interference might play a part in the next election.
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