U.S. media coverage of the passing of President Hugo Chávez has focused a great deal on the tributes and condolences of leaders of so-called “axis of evil” countries like Iran and Belarus. It has mostly ignored the eulogies coming from the governments of nearly every country of the Western Hemisphere, with the notable exceptions of the U.S. and Canada that didn’t even bother offering condolences. And there’s been hardly any mention of Western European governments’ reactions to Chavez’s death, though they’ve tended to be warmer than those of their North American partners. For instance, Spain’s rightwing government offered “sincere condolences” to Chávez’s family, noted that the Venezuelan leader had had “a great influence in IberoAmerica” and sent the country’s crown prince to the funeral in Caracas last Friday.
French president François Hollande went a step further in his statement on March 6th, offering his “saddest condolences to the Venezuelan people” on the passing of a leader who “profoundly marked the history of his country.”
The statement went on to say that “the late President expressed, beyond his temperament and orientations that not everyone shared, an undeniable will to struggle for justice and development.”
The French government sent its Minister of Overseas France (Outre-mers), Victorin Lurel, to Caracas for the funeral. Following the funeral, Lurel, who is from the French Caribbean island Guadeloupe, made a powerful statement to the press:
the people [of Venezuela] are proud of what's been accomplished during the 14 years of [Chávez’s] presidency. All things being equal, Chávez is de Gaulle plus Léon Blum. De Gaulle because he fundamentally changed the institutions and Léon Blum, that is the (1930s) Popular Front, because he struggled against injustices.
Charles de Gaulle, who led the French Resistance during World War II and later founded France’s 5th Republic, and Léon Blum, France’s first socialist prime minister and leader of the 1930s Popular Front, are national icons in France, comparable to Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy in the U.S.
Lurel went on to say “the world would win if there were more dictators like Hugo Chavez, since it is claimed that he's a dictator. During his 14 years (in power) he respected human rights."
Lurel’s statements set off an uproar in rightwing circles in France. The president of the MEDEF, France’s chamber of commerce, said that the minister’s words had “dishonored” France. Many French media outlets, which – like their U.S. counterparts – are overwhelmingly negative and unbalanced in their reporting on Venezuela, also heaped criticism on Lurel and the French government.
But Julien Dray, a key figure within the ruling socialist party, defended Lurel’s statements and said that “one could sense the class hatred” of the critics, who “don’t understand what [Chávez] did for his people.”
It will be interesting to see whether the U.S. media eventually reports the Lurel statements (so far they haven’t) and whether, like much of the French major media, they’ll publish misleading headlines that read “Lurel Wants More Dictators Like Chávez.”