House Speaker Wade Mark yesterday said it was tragic when a nation loses a strong leader as one who has left a large footprint on the landscape of his great nation.
Mark was paying tribute—in the House of Representatives at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain—to Venezuela's late President, Hugo Chavez, who died of a massive heart attack on Tuesday.
"Hugo Chavez, whether loved or not, always made an impression and by implementing social reforms, which included the nationalisation of several key industries, increased government funding of health care and education, he improved the quality of life of Venezuelans at the third-fastest pace in the world, according to a United Nations Index."
Leader of Government Business Roodal Moonilal recalled that Trinidad and Tobago assisted Chavez during a strike by the national oil company by supplying 500,000 barrels of oil which he (Chavez) described as "oxygen" when he visited in August 2003. He said Chavez returned to this country in 2009 for the Summit of the Americas.
He said Chavez placed great emphasis on equality in Venezuela and brought dramatic changes in the lives of many in Venezuela. "He has left a legacy of a people-centred approach to governance," Moonilal said, adding that according to UN ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), Venezuela has the third lowest poverty rate and the lowest inequality in the region.
Following the increase in oil prices by OPEC one year after he took office, Moonilal said Chavez used the fillip in oil revenues to launch numerous new social programmes with the establishment of the Bolivaran missions focusing on the fight against illiteracy, providing primary, secondary and university education for the country's poor, giving financial support to poor single mothers, expanding and increasing retirement benefits, providing neighbourhood doctors to all communities, introducing a comprehensive land reform programme and more recently launching a massive public housing construction programme among many other social programmes.
"The improvement in the lives of ordinary people brought about by these programmes are a major highlight of his tenure," he said.
Moonilal said Chavez was also concerned with the well-being of the people of Latin America and provided a new impetus for regional integration movements and was formalising recognition for these efforts at CLAC in 2011. At that meeting, he interacted with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who spoke of his warmth and charisma. His contribution and role have been indelibly written in the history of Latin America and the Caribbean region and "he will not be forgotten", he said.
Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said it was an historic moment when any leader passes, and when one has been so influential one way or the other, as Chavez was, one could not help but take notice of the effect of his passing.
Rowley said whatever one thought of his tenure, it was undeniable he joined a very select club of world citizens who intervened and at the time of their intervention might have been described as revolutionary, in some instances dictatorial, or in some instances as criminal. He cited people like Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya. He said at the end of the day, these interventions of such leaders made similar changes to the status quo they sought to challenge. He said Chavez had passed on at age 58, at the height of his efforts to change Venezuela and the region, and history would continue to assess his impact.
It was noteworthy that no tribute was paid to former senator John Spence, who died on Wednesday night.