AS Venezuelans continue to celebrate the life and times of Hugo Chavez, who died last Tuesday, governments across our region have been paying warm tribute to his meaningful "friendship" for the Caribbean Community (Caricom).
Chavez, who never lost any known political battles of significance during some 14 years as President of Venezuela, finally succumbed on Tuesday to the very punishing cancerous condition that had compelled his many visits to Cuba for treatment while millions of loyal Venezuelan supporters prayed and kept hope alive for his recovery.
At 58, the very charismatic left-wing revolutionary had succeeded, during his first three-terms as President, in transforming the socioeconomic landscape of Venezuela with heavy financial allocations drawn from the oil revenue of a nation long recognised as a major producer of the "black gold".
His leadership is being recalled for its consistent, relentless pursuit of a foreign policy that increasingly won friends across Latin America and the Caribbean, while keeping Washington administrations and the US Central Intelligence Agency at bay.
Chavez, who laid claim to being the "heir" of the 19th century "Independence" liberator, Simon Bolivar, had also changed the country's name to what's now officially known as the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
While anxious to have mutually constructive relations with the USA—the superpower that has traditionally dominated the economies of this hemisphere and bears a heavy burden for the poverty in which millions of Venezuelans existed—Chavez was methodically reaching out to build bridges of friendship with Latin American and Caribbean states.
Sign posts of the better-known initiatives he pursued, even in the face of relentless interference from US political, intelligence and corporate interests, would certainly include—for Caricom partners—the PetroCaribe project; the wider Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas (ALBA), as well as the more recently established Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) that pointedly excludes the USA and Canada.
For Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar of Trinidad and Tobago—Caricom's sole energy-based economy and exporter of natural gas to the USA, and President Donald Ramotar of Guyana—which is heavily dependent on imported fuel, Chavez was being hailed for his visionary initiatives at national reconstruction as well for his "friendship" demonstrated toward the Caribbean Community.
Secretary General of the Community Irwin LaRocque, in paying tribute to the late Venezuelan head of state, declared in an official statement: "It is with deep sadness that the Caribbean Community has learnt of the passing of a true friend... President Chavez demonstrated solidarity with the governments and people of Caricom throughout his tenure and created avenues for cooperation and strengthening relations with governments and improving the lives of the people..."
In sharp contrast, a one-paragraph statement released by the White House quoted US President Barack Obama as saying: "At this challenging time, the US reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship. As Venezuela begins a new chapter of its history, the USA remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles; the rule of law and respect for human rights."
It would seem that second-term President Obama is still to recover from being upstaged at the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, when he was surprised by a flamboyant Chavez moving across the conference floor to present him with Eduardo Galeano's famous book, Open Veins of Latin America—Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent.
Now, we look to the road ahead for Venezuela without the visionary and committed friendship of Hugo Chavez in sustaining good relations with Latin America and the Caribbean.