CARACAS: Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders have lauded the late Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, who died on Tuesday at age 58 after a prolonged battle with cancer.
Chavez died less than a month after returning to Caracas from Cuba, where he had been receiving treatment for the disease. Venezuela Vice President Nicolas Maduro has been named interim president until an election to determine a successor is held.
Chavez had sought to develop close relationships with the English-speaking Caribbean through the formation of the PetroCaribe oil initiative and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America (ALBA), an international cooperation organization based on the idea of the social, political and economic integration of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
St. Lucia Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony said the significance of Chavez’s death “looms very large” for several Caribbean states, especially those that shared a close working relationship with his administration.
“He will be remembered for a long time, he accomplished so much in the short 14 years he was in office and all of us have reason to celebrate the friendship and memory of his accomplishments,” said Dr. Anthony. “We had several conversations about the future and he was very anxious to assist St. Lucia through the PetroCaribe oil agreement and through our joining ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America (ALBA), if we chose to exercise that option.”
Antigua & Barbuda Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer said Chavez was a champion of not only the working-class people of Venezuela, but the entire Caribbean.
“His contributions to the development of Antigua & Barbuda and the Caribbean in general will always be remembered,” said Spencer. “The Caribbean owes a debt of gratitude to Venezuela for sharing with us a son of the soil, whose imposing physical presence was equalled only by his exceptional intellect and compassion.”
CARICOM Secretary-General Irwin LaRocque said Chavez demonstrated solidarity with the Caribbean throughout his tenure and created avenues for cooperation and strengthening relations with Caribbean nations improving the lives of people.
“His vision of bringing together the people of Latin America and the Caribbean was driven by his deep sense of concern for the well-being of the disadvantaged in society, not only in his own country but in the wider region,” said LaRocque. “His struggle with the disease that finally claimed his life epitomized the heart and spirit which he brought to bear in his attempts to raise the standard of living of the less fortunate in his homeland, in the Caribbean and the wider region.”
President of Guyana, Donald Ramotar, said Chavez’ death is a “big loss” for Venezuela and CARICOM will miss him.
“It’s a big loss for our region because Chavez was a real regionalist, an integrationist and a man who helped a lot in developing good relationships with South America and the Caribbean,” said Ramotar.
In her tribute, Jamaica Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller said: “Although it was well known that President Chavez was battling very serious health issues, I was always of the view that the brave and courageous fighter that he was, would have led him to overcome the challenge with which he was afflicted.
“This was not to be and we will have to live with the reality of him not being with us anymore. In the last few years, I came to know President Chavez personally and found him to be a sincere, jovial and a very vociferous and committed leader in the defence of the rights and welfare of the most marginalized and vulnerable in the society and a fighter to correct inequalities in his country, the Americas and the Caribbean region.”
In paying homage to Chavez, Trinidad & Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said Chavez broke new ground in his country.
“I do feel his loss and I am sure the people of Venezuela mourn him as well as praise the work that he has done there,” she said.
In an emotional address to the nation, Dominica Prime Minster Roosevelt Skerrit described Chavez as a personal friend and declared a National State of Mourning for the late Venezuelan leader.
“I have lost a colleague, a father, a brother and a friend,” said Skerrit. “For many of us here in Dominica, he was not just another head of government or a head of state…Hugo Chavez was…a good friend of Dominica. Indeed he was Dominican in many respects.”
Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) José Miguel Insulza said: “It is a time of great sorrow for Venezuelans and we stand with them, together with all the peoples of the region.
“We are certain that Venezuelans will know to come together in difficult times like these, and move in peace and democracy toward the future,” he said, adding that the flags of the OAS have been placed at half-mast and a special meeting of the OAS Permanent Council will be convened in memory of Chávez.
Born into a working-class family in Sabaneta, Barinas, Chávez became a career military officer, and after becoming dissatisfied with the Venezuelan political system, he founded the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 (MBR-200) in the early 1980s. Chávez led the MBR-200 in an unsuccessful coup d’état against the Democratic Action government of President Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1992, for which he was imprisoned for two years.
After his release, Chavez founded a social democratic political party, the Fifth Republic Movement, and was elected president of Venezuela in 1998. He survived a coup against his own presidency in 2002 and won re-election twice.
Chavez underwent surgery in Cuba in June 2011 to remove what he said was a baseball-size tumour from his pelvic region and the cancer returned repeatedly over the next 18 months despite more surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Chavez was divorced twice and is survived by four children. A state funeral will be held for him in Caracas tomorrow.