Making the poor count – a Hugo Chavez legacy

Story highlights

Chavez fashioned himself as provocateur-in-chief in Latin American politics

The poor, usually marginalized by Latin American politicians, became Chavez's main weapon

Support of the poor made Chavez popular in his homeland, leftist circles in Latin America

Chavez ushered in new area of populist leaders in Latin America

CNN  — 

“You won’t believe what just happened!” It’s usually a phrase that precedes gossip, but it takes an entirely different meaning when you hear it from a head of state. That’s what a Central American president told me in February of 2010. I was covering the Summit of Unity in the beach resort of Cancun, Mexico. Latin American and Caribbean presidents were in attendance.

The aforementioned president, whose name I will not publish for obvious reasons, had just walked out of a closed-door meeting attended by several Latin American heads of state. What he told me next was unprecedented, as far as I know, in the realm of Latin American diplomacy.

“We almost had a fistfight,” the president said. At first, he wouldn’t say who was involved, but after persistent questioning by several of us reporters he finally disclosed that then- Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez had an argument that escalated into a shouting match, and were it not for their colleagues present, would have ended up in a fight.

I left it at gossip at first, but Chavez himself later confirmed it. In an interview with CNN en Espanol, the shoot-from-the-hip leftist leader, now relaxed and smiling, told the story. “I think that if the table hadn’t been there as an obstacle and our friends weren’t sitting right there, president Uribe physically would have attacked me,” Chavez said.