Local voices in Hamilton are reacting with mixed feelings to the death of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
Chavez, who died Tuesday at the age of 58, was a controversial figure in Venezuelan politics during his 14-years in office.
Chavez was seen as a hero by some for his socialist programs, his anti-U.S. rhetoric and gifts of cut-rate oil. Others considered him a bully who repressed his opponents.
Former McMaster professor George Sorger explained how Venezuelans have extremely varied opinions about Chavez’s leadership.
"There’s been a cultural change among the poor and marginalized, who were the majority for a long time," said Sorger. "When I left Venezuela, people were very cynical about everything, about the government, and particularly the very poor who had never really received much attention from the government."
'People actually have seen that they can participate and should participate in government. I think that’s the biggest legacy of Chavez and I hope it doesn’t go away.' —George Sorger, McMaster professor
Sorger said Chavez influenced Venezuela in two significant ways. He said Chavez was instrumental in improving economic and social development, and he encouraged the poor and marginalized citizens of the country to participate in government.
"People actually have seen that they can participate and should participate in government," said Sorger. "I think that’s the biggest legacy of Chavez and I hope it doesn’t go away."
Andres Krisch, a McMaster student and marketing director for the Organization of Latin American Students, said he moved to Canada from Venezuela when he was 12. Although he is now living in Canada, Krisch said he is paying close attention to what is happening in his native country.
"We actually had a birthday party yesterday and it was all people from Venezuela," said Krisch. "There’s a lot of uncertainty. Everyone’s kind of asking themselves, ‘Okay, now that Hugo Chavez is gone, what is going to happen?’"
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Krisch added that people are polarized when it comes to Chavez’s leadership and his influence on the country. He said some positive aspects of life in Venezuela flourished under Chavez, but others, such as the crime rate and corruption, seemed to increase.
Chavez’s influence went beyond Venezuela, according to Ken Stone, treasurer for the Hamilton Coalition To Stop The War. Stone said Chavez’s death is devastating for the anti-war movement.
"We always found him to be an inspirational person," said Stone.
He added in a press release that people around the world would mourn Chavez’s death.
Professor Sorger echoed Stone’s sentiments. "I feel very very sad that Chavez has died."
Chavez had been battling cancer for for almost two years. His death has triggered a constitutional requirement that a presidential election be held within 30 days.
In the meantime, Venezuelan vice president Nicolás Maduro will serve as interim president.