In a joint message to Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro both Jose Manuel Barroso and and Herman Van Rompuy said:
Venezuela has stood out for its social development and for its contribution to South America's regional integration
Barroso and Rompuy were not the only European politicians to express their admiration for Chavez. Socialist French president Francois Hollande praised Chavez’s "undeniable will to fight for justice and development," while German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called Chavez’s death “a heavy blow.”
Venezuelans have taken to the streets to mourn Chavez while Venezuelans living in the U.S. have cheered his death in the hope that reform might now be possible.
Of course cringe-worthy statements like those issued by European politicians are not only coming from across the Atlantic. As Nick mentioned yesterday, Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) was quick to offer his own thoughts on Chavez:
President Chavez was a controversial leader. But at his core he was a man who came from very little and used his unique talents and gifts to try to lift up the people and the communities that reflected his impoverished roots.
It is interesting that Barroso and Rompuy decided to praise Venezuela’s “social development,” especially when one reflects on the fact that Venezuela is the one of the most violent countries in South America despite not waging the war on drugs that Mexico is fighting, and that Chavez was no fan of free speech. Venezuelan government officials assumed during Chavez's presidency that inequality was fueling violence in Venezuela. However, despite managing to make Venezuela a more equal country (which is presumably one of the social developments Barroso and Rompuy were referring to) the crime rate increased. Al Jazeera spoke to a professor of criminology about Venezuela’s crime rate back in October 2012:
"The Venezuelan numbers are surprising," Andromachi Tseloni, professor of criminology at Nottingham Trent University in the UK, told Al Jazeera. "Inequality is [normally] highly correlated to murder rates. I haven't seen another country where inequality has dropped sharply and homicides have risen sharply."
Venezuela is now described as "upper middle income" by the World Bank, but it has a far worse murder rate than Haiti -the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
More from Reason on Chavez here.