Hugo Chavez died Tuesday at the age of 58. The flamboyant president of Venezuela was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and had undergone four operations in Cuba. After his last Cuban treatment was unsuccessful he turned to doctors in Brazil, but it was too late. Venezuela's Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced Chavez's passing, calling his death "a moment of deep pain." What does it mean for the U.S. and for Christians?
Since Mr. Chavez took office in 1999, he worked to advance anti-American interests around the world. He supported the Assad region in Syria, rejected sanctions against Iran, and supported Cuba's communist government. However, the U.S. remained Venezuela's most important trading partner, buying nearly half its oil exports. Caracas is the fourth largest supplier of oil to America today, which imports more oil from Mexico and Venezuela than from the Persian Gulf. Clearly, the future of Venezuela is important to America's economy and global interests.
Mr. Chavez's death is notable for spiritual reasons as well. In 2010, he denounced Catholic leaders, accusing them of siding with the country's wealthy rather than the poor. After Cardinal Jorge Urosa warned that Chavez was a threat to democracy and freedom, the president claimed that Christ would whip some church leaders for lying. He called Christian missionaries "part of a broader conspiracy in Washington to topple" him. After accusing one group of "imperialist infiltration," he evicted them from the country. When the pope met with him, Benedict raised concerns that religious education was being removed from Venezuelan schools.
However, when Mr. Chavez returned home after his last cancer treatment in Cuba, he made an impassioned plea to God for help. Standing in front of an image of Jesus with the Crucifix, he prayed on national television, "Give me your crown, Jesus. Give me your cross, your thorns so that I may bleed. But give me life, because I have more to do for this country and these people. Do not take me yet."
Perhaps President Chavez's decision to seek medical help from Brazil will lessen future tensions between Venezuela and the Western world. Perhaps his public turn to God will raise the stature and influence of Christians in his country. At the very least, we can hope for his sake that his end-of-life faith commitment was sincere.
God deals with us as gently as he can or as harshly as he must. I'm not claiming that the Lord caused Hugo Chavez's cancer, but he at least allowed it and is working to redeem it. What hardship in your life is he waiting to redeem for his glory and your good today?