Death Of Hugo Chavez: The Legacy And Void Left In Latin America

Chavez' absence will not be easy to hide
Chavez' absence will not be easy to hide
Ricardo Kirschbaum

BUENOS AIRES - Whatever your view is regarding the Hugo Chávez’ era in Venezuela, it is impossible to ignore two central facts:

1) Chávez was a product of the deep failure of the Venezuelan political system;

2) The deceased president had a strong influence on Latin America, during a historic moment when many countries in the region – Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina – were just beginning to emerge from near-fatal economic crises, with high foreign debt caused by economic policies that affected their internal markets. Chávez’ leadership, then, appeared as a natural expression of this process.

Chávez wound up using oil power to consolidate his profile as national and regional leader, with bold and indepedent policies that had a deep appeal to the working class that tended to forgive his autocratic tendencies as so often happens in such bonapartist movements.

Chávez declared war against the media that did not align with his politics, a strategy that was later replicated in Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia -- and he didn’t stop until he took control over information in his country.

Chavez between Argentina's Cristina Kirchner and Bolivia's Evo Morales - Photo: Presidencia de la Nación Argentina

He also provoked, in somewhat of a mirror effect, a direct rejection of the middle class and other sectors of Venezuelan society.

The Venezuelan leader turned into Cuba’s primary ally, supplying the Castrista government with subsidized oil, sealing the relationship with strong presence of Cuban missions – medical and military – in Venezuela.

Argentina and Brazil

Argentina's then President Néstor Kirchner quickly understood the benefits of opening a special channel in the Caracas-Buenos Aires relationship. A former Argentinian ambassador denounced the existence of a “parallel embassy” that administered (and perhaps still does) the economic links with Chávez.

Ex-president Kirchner presented himself as a “moderator” of Chavista politics, and thus, his spokespeople categorized Argentinian politics at the time as moderate. This mediation also affected the Venezuelan Jewish community, which had a negative relationship with Chávez, and of course with Washington.

With Kirchner gone, this “moderation” disappeared little by little until his widow Cristina Kirchner increasingly identified herself with Chávez. The agreement between Argentina and Iran was produced in tune with the excellent relationship that Chávez had with the Tehran regime.

On the contrary, Brazil, had an important influence on Chávez, playing their positions in such a way that Brasilia could reap the benefits without having to pay the extra costs of an open alliance.

Across Latin America, Chávez" absence will not be easy to hide. The political vacancy, beyond the emotional impact, will test the strength of the Chavista regime and the unity of leaders throughout the region.

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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