An Imperial Performance

Emperor poster from Scott Holleran

Yeah, yeah, I know. G.I. Joe: Retaliation is now out, and that is going to be gobbling up the movie news as every critic wants to discuss it and it almost certainly gets top dollar at the box office.

But, you know what? Sometimes I want to see a movie that’s about something other than stuff blowing up.

Emperor is a really interesting film for several reasons. First is that it cast Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black, No Country for Old Men) as Gen. Douglas MacArthur – if ever there was an actor and a historical figure that seem like a perfect match, this is it. It also stars Matthew Fox (Lost, Vantage Point) as Gen. Bonner Fellers, the film’s main character. Set immediately after the Japanese surrender, the film follows Gen. Feller as he is given ten days to decide what should be done with the Emperor Hirohito of Japan – should he be arrested and tried as a war criminal? Should he be deposed? Should he be left on the throne? Meanwhile, Gen. Fellers also uses as much spare time as he can trying to figure out what happened to his Japanese ex-girlfriend.

The second reason Emperor is so interesting is that it is a freshman film. Two of the three film-making companies that made this movie, Japan-based United Performers Studio and Hollywood-based Fellers Film, both run by Yoko Narahashi, have never made any movies before. While Narahashi has experience working on other films for bigger studios, this is her first attempt at her own film. The third production company, Krasnoff Foster Productions, is also very new at this, having only made two other films: The Soloist and When in Rome. Yeah, we are swimming in some seriously indie waters here.

My verdict? For a freshman film, it’s a really good one.

The acting is excellent in this film. You really feel for Fox’s Gen. Fellers, and can sympathize with him. Masayoshi Haneda (The Last Samurai, The Ramen Girl) does a brilliant turn as Gen. Fellers’s translator and assistant, Takahashi, turning what could easily have been a bit part that nobody cared about into a full-bodied, compelling character in his own right. And of course, Tommy Lee Jones’s Gen. MacArthur is a joy to watch. Jones makes MacArthur into a lovable, charismatic, yet potty-mouthed jerk, just the sort of role Jones excels at. And I would be doing Eriko Hatsune (Norwegian Wood, Girls for Keeps) a disservice if I didn’t mention her brilliantly understated performance as Aya, Gen. Fellers’s past love interest.

The film is also stunningly beautiful. Director Peter Webber (Girl With a Pearl Earring, Hannibal Rising) must be applauded for making a film as visually enticing as this. The beautiful images alone are enough to recommend this movie.  Even the establishing shots – those shots that tell us where we are or what building we’re in, and are the most easy shots to put in a shoddy, shortcut effort on – are carefully framed to convey not only location, but time of day, mood, and the mental state of the characters. This is eye candy at its best.

Huh? Oh, sorry, I was distracted by the pretty screenshot. What were we talking about?

Huh? Oh, sorry, I was distracted by the pretty screenshot. What were we talking about?

Not that the film is perfect by any stretch. In fact, the film’s screenplay is its biggest weakness. Based on Shiro Okamoto’s book His Majesty’s Salvation (which, to be fair, I haven’t read), the screenplay by Vera Blasi (Tortilla Soup, Woman on Top) and David Klass (Walking Tall, Kiss the Girls) is a bit of a mess. The film time-skips so much, it’s sometimes hard to keep track of when things are supposedly happening. For a large part of the middle of the film, it seems everyone’s forgotten about the main plot – figuring out whether the Emperor ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor – and we spend all our time watching Gen. Fellers reminisce about Aya. It gets rather dull in spots, and then before we know it we’re suddenly told we only have hours to meet the deadline on deciding what to do with the Emperor.

The screenplay is also formulaic to a fault. If you have seen lots of historical drama films, as I have, the plot feels like every other historical drama film put together. Maybe it’s because it is a freshman film, and so the filmmakers didn’t want to take too many risks, but the end result is that the plot just feels like unoriginal, well-worn territory.

One thing I do appreciate about the screenplay, though, is its portrayal of Japan immediately before the war. Here in America, we know so much about the rise of the Nazis in Germany and what was going on in Europe just before World War II broke out, but we almost never hear about what was going on in Japan at the same time that led them to war.

Still, it feels like the actors and director were handed an inferior screenplay and just decided to make the most out of it. Luckily, they brought their A-game and the result is a well-performed visual feast. A very good movie for those who just want to take a break from action-y explosion-fests.

Awesome People In History: Fred Rogers

Most of the people I have picked as Awesome People in History were notable for being physically tough, often fighting in wars or overcoming some kind of major challenge. However, there are many, many ways to be awesome, and not all of them involve fighting or struggle. In fact, sometimes being awesome is a simple matter of being the nicest guy ever.

Fred Rogers image from Gratefulness

Fred McFeely Rogers – yes, that was his actual middle name – was born in 1928 and grew up with his sister and parents in a fairly typical American family. Who he really took after, though, was his grandfather. As a boy, Rogers spent as much of his spare time as possible with his grandfather, who taught him how to play the piano and encouraged him to learn how to express himself with puppets. Rogers attended Dartmouth College and Rollins College, studying music and meeting his wife, Sara Joanne Byrd. Rogers decided to go into the ministry, studying at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and becoming a Presbyterian minister in 1963.

The day that would change his life, though, was the day he saw television for the first time. He HATED it. Television was such an amazing invention, he thought to himself, and it was being wasted on showing people throwing pies in each others’ faces. He decided right then and there to make television better.

To that end, he went to work for NBC, starting at the bottom of the totem pole and working his way up. Concluding that commercial advertising was the culprit for how bad television was in America, he quit NBC and returned to Pittsburgh to help start America’s first community-supported TV station, WQED, which would later be one of the main PBS stations. At the time, people thought Rogers had made a major career blunder, but he stuck with the new station for seven years, helping out its educational programming and putting his puppet skills to use on a show called The Children’s Corner.

Rogers eventually did leave the station, spending a few years in Canada making a children’s show called Misterrogers. Buying the rights to the show, he brought it back to the states, renamed it Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and aired it on WQED. The station soon realized just how big this quirky, homegrown show could get, and began distributing it to other stations, and by the time PBS was started, it was one of the network’s biggest children’s programs.

One of the reasons for the show’s success was due to Rogers himself. He was one of those rare adults who remembered what it was like to be a child. Many episodes took children on behind-the-scenes field trips to factories, stores, or construction sites to spark children’s sense of wonder, or would feature frank, if gentle, discussions on things that might worry children, such as moving, divorcing parents, disasters, or war, in order to reassure the audience that everything would be all right. The show, of course, also featured Rogers playing piano and entertaining children with puppets.

In our cynical age, we like to imagine that celebrities are really someone different than we see on the TV screen, and that is often true, but not with Mister Rogers. Persistent rumors that Rogers was a sniper in the military are false. And while there is a widely-circulated image where it seems like a frustrated and angry Mister Rogers is flipping the bird, it turns out it was all a misunderstanding, as he was just singing a song with children where he was counting on each finger, and the middle finger just happened to come up in the rotation.

No, the real Mister Rogers was a vegetarian who never drank or smoked, who prayed and swam every morning, and who read and answered every single piece of fan mail. He wore sneakers because they made less sound on the air, and he wore his trademark cardigan sweaters because they were knit by his mother. He was fascinated by people, and would take time out of his day to talk to total strangers. Some of his most memorable stories come from this habit:

  • He approached one boy on a train playing with a toy gun and told him, “You are strong inside, too.” This reportedly made the little boy feel much better.
  • He would often frustrate his staff by giving children visiting the set his undivided attention, even as they fell behind schedule in filming.
  • He was a hard man to interview, because he would ask the reporters questions about their lives and their families, and then take photos of them and call them back a few days later to ask how they were doing.
  • When visiting a big PBS executive’s house, he heard that the limo driver would have to wait outside. Rogers invited the limo driver inside to have dinner with them. Not only that, but on the way back, he sat up front with the driver to learn more about him, and asked if they could all stop by the limo driver’s house and visit his family.
  • On Halloween, his house was the most generous candy-giver in his neighborhood.
  • He reportedly loved a satire of his show made by Eddy Murphy for Saturday Night Live. Rogers and Murphy gave each other a big hug when they first met in person.
  • One of Rogers’s biggest fans was Koko the gorilla, whose zookeepers put the show on for her. She was eventually able to meet him face-to-face – and immediately took off his shoes.

Mister Rogers was also surprisingly important in shaping the face of America’s media, and not just by the popularity of his show. In 1969, he testified before the Senate to persuade Congress to not cut funding for public television, and his testimony persuaded the senators to not only not cut the funding, but to increase it. Then, in 1979, he gave another powerful testimony, this time in court over the existence if the VCR. Many big media businesses hated the VCR for allowing people to record television shows, and tried to have the technology banned. But Rogers argued that the VCR did his audience a service, by allowing busy parents to watch his show with their children on their own schedule. His testimony was cited by the Supreme Court in their decision Sony vs. Universal City Studios, which ruled in favor of the new device.

In areas not concerned with media, though, Rogers stayed away from political or social controversy and the so-called “culture wars”. When pressed, Rogers said “God loves you exactly the way you are.”

Interesting side-note: Rogers was colorblind; he couldn’t distinguish red from green. Bet you didn’t know that.

Rogers eventually retired from the show in 2001, and died of stomach cancer two years later. More than 2,700 people attended his funeral. The city of Pittsburgh, where he lived and filmed his show, built a statue for him, and he has been honored by Congress and the Presbyterian Church.

No, Rogers was not awesome for being a warrior or a political leader or a fighter against discrimination. He was awesome because he inspired people, he worked to make life better, and he did it with a calm smile.

“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”
― Fred Rogers

Information from Mental Floss, Gratefulness.org, and Wikipedia.

Facts About Irish History I Bet You Didn’t Know

St Patricks Day image from Heidi Tunnell Catering

Do you have any green clothes on right now? If not, you better change before somebody pinches you! Today is the day Americans all pretend to be Irish. Last year, I honored the day with some little-known facts about St. Patrick, and today I’m continuing the tradition with some facts about the history of Ireland that not very many people know. For example, did you know that…

Dublin was originally a Viking colony

Viking image from Michael Dowling School

That’s right, the capital of Ireland wasn’t originally Irish! While there were Irish settlements in the area for centuries before the Vikings came, Dublin proper was founded in 988 A.D. Normans and Danes lived in the colony, building their livelihood off of trade. In particular, they had one of the biggest slave markets on the island. They also were fairly democratic, gathering on a hill called the Thingmote to make their laws. The locals, on the other hand, weren’t always very pleased with their new neighbors, and would periodically attack the colony. Eventually, they would be driven from the city completely in 1171 by the forces of King Dermot MacMurrough of Leinster. And the Irish would never be messed with by any foreign invader ever again. Just kidding.

Information from Dublin Uncovered and Wikipedia.

The Pope gave Ireland to the English

Meet the new pope - Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, was elected by the College of Cardinals after only five rounds of voting. Image from ABC News.

So you probably already know that a major, major chunk of Irish history is basically taken up by the English invading, conquering, and ruling Ireland and brutally suppressing Irish movements for independence. Just who did the English think they were, anyway? Who gave them the right to invade their neighbors?

The Pope, that’s who.

In 1155, Pope Adrian IV, who in a weird coincidence is the only pope to have been an Englishman, wrote to the King of England and gave him papal blessing to invade Ireland. The reason? In Pope Adrian’s own words: “You labour to extend the borders of the Church, to teach the truths of the Christian faith to a rude and unlettered people, and to root out the weeds of vice from the field of the Lord…For the purpose of enlarging the borders of the Church, setting bounds to the progress of wickedness, reforming evil manners, planting virtue, and increasing the Christian religion, you do enter and take possession of that island.”

Wow. Bear in mind, Ireland had already been faithfully Christian for centuries, and far from being “rude and unlettered”, Irish monks and scholars were well-educated preservers of literacy and classical Greek and Roman texts. No, the real issue the Vatican took with Ireland apparently was that the Celtic Church had a separate set of rituals and traditions than the main Roman Catholic Church – celebrating Easter on a different day, for example. One of the key missions of the English king was to make the Irish adhere to the mainstream Catholic traditions. Of course, it might also very well be that  the English were going to invade Ireland anyway and Pope Adrian felt political pressure to give the king of his native country what he wanted. And that’s assuming the whole thing wasn’t a forgery, as some modern scholars argue.

Information from Wikipedia and Library Ireland

One of Ireland’s key independence leaders was technically American

Eamon de Valera image from History in an Hour

If you were to ask an Irishman who was Ireland’s George Washington, you’d probably get different answers from different people, based in part on what political party they belong to. But one top contender for the title is Éamon de Valera, who fought in Ireland’s (at long last successful) war of independence, became the country’s first president, and then after a long political exile returned to power to write the country’s current constitution and guide the country through World War II, before eventually spending 14 years as Ireland’s president from 1959 to 1973. Not bad for a Latino New Yorker.

Wait, what? That’s right, he was born in New York City in 1882. His birth name was Edward George de Valera, and his father was a Cuban-American sculptor named Juan Vivion de Valera. His mother, Catherine Coll, was an Irish immigrant, and when her husband died, she sent her son away to live with her family back in Ireland.

As it turned out, young Edward fell in love with this new country, learning to speak Gaelic and adopting the Gaelic name Éamon. He gradually came to support the Irish independence movement, and participated in the famous Easter Rising of 1916.

And here’s where it gets interesting. All the participants in the Easter Rising were captured and sent to be hanged for treason by the British authorities. But de Valera’s family intervened. While de Valera was in Ireland, his mother had remarried  a man named Charles Wheelwright, and they raised two children in Rochester, New York. Upon hearing of their relative’s plight, the family went to the British authorities and begged for clemency. The British, at the time, were busy fighting World War I and trying to get America to join the war on their side. They realized it wouldn’t have helped their case to execute a U.S. citizen. So, they put off the execution until they could figure out what to do with this situation, and before they could come to a decision, a decree was issued pardoning all of the remaining rebels that had not been executed yet. So, de Valera’s citizenship saved his life, and therefore he was able to help lead Ireland to independence.

And speaking of Irish independence…

Information from a biography of Éamon de Valera’s life I read in the Cal Poly library

The Irish military shares its heritage with a terrorist group

IRA terrorists image from the Guardian

All right, this is where things get tricky. I’m going to have to explain, in a nutshell, the history of Irish republicanism, and try to keep it simple – there are few things more complex than the history of Irish republicanism.

Let’s begin with where I just left off, with the Irish war of independence. In 1921, the Irish rebels had successfully forced the British to the negotiating table. In the peace treaty that the negotiators reached, an “Irish Free State” would be created, whereby the country would have the same level of independence as, say, Canada or Australia. This would mean they still had to recognize the British king, but could otherwise basically govern themselves. Another caveat to the treaty was that Northern Ireland could vote to remain British (which they promptly did, since the majority there were Protestants of British, not Irish, descent).

The rebel government of the Irish Republic was divided on the treaty. Michael Collins led the pro-Treaty faction, that was more interested in peace. Éamon de Valera led the anti-Treaty faction, that argued the Irish Republic couldn’t vote to destroy itself or split the island. A brutal civil war broke out between the two factions, with those rebels who supported the treaty forming the Irish Defense Forces and the anti-Treaty rebels keeping the name “Irish Republican Army” that they had been using during the war of independence. The pro-Treaty faction won, and the Irish Defense Forces became the Irish military, while what remained of the Irish Republican Army or IRA became a terrorist group.

Eventually, de Valera split from the IRA and declared he would seek true Irish independence through peaceful means, forming the political party Fianna Fail and running for office. Eventually winning power, de Valera changed Ireland’s constitution, making it a republic, changing its name to “The Republic of Ireland”, and leaving the British Empire completely. The IRA, however, refused to accept this new arrangement, and continued to demand the reunification of the island and restoration of the old Irish Republic. For decades, they waged a terrorist campaign to achieve their goals, and in the meantime splitting even further into more radical factions.

At long last, in 1998 a peace agreement was reached to end the terrorist campaign. Mostly. A handful of terrorists refused to accept the peace agreement, splitting off once again and calling themselves the “Real IRA”, and continuing to stage terrorist attacks. And another terrorist group split off of them, because there weren’t already enough terrorist groups in Ireland.

Information from Wikipedia

The Irish aren’t nearly as Celtic as even they think

Newgrange image from Sacred Destinations

Prehistoric Ireland was first settled by humans about 10,000 years ago. These early inhabitants were hunter-gatherers, who soon learned to take up farming and eventually learned to make bronze. They were not Celtic, however. Celtic people first arose in the Alps, and spread over the centuries across western Europe. So how did Ireland become Celtic? Traditional Irish tales tell of how Celtic invaders and conquerors took the land from the original inhabitants. Great heroic warriors like Nuada or Lugh allegedly fought great battles against mythic enemies to subdue the island.

Except that archaeologists studying ancient Irish artifacts and sites have found no evidence of this whatsoever. Instead, it appears that Celtic traders arrived peacefully on the island, and that the islanders gradually chose to adopt Celtic culture and traditions. In other words, if we are measuring “Celticness” by genetics and descent, the Irish aren’t very Celtic at all.

Shocked face from Richie the Rapper

Information from In Search of Ancient Ireland

First Pope from the New World elected

Meet the new pope - Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, was elected by the College of Cardinals after only five rounds of voting. Image from ABC News.

Meet the new pope – Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, was elected by the College of Cardinals after only five rounds of voting. Image from ABC News.

For the first time in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, the pope is a man from the New World. After only two days, the College of Cardinals chose an Argentinian as the new supreme leader of a billion Catholic faithful worldwide. When asked what he is to be called, Jorge Bergoglio decided on another papal first – he is to be Pope Francis I. The last pope to use an original papal name was Pope Lando in 914 AD (unless you count Pope John Paul I, who combined two papal names with long traditional histories). Pope Francis I chose the name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, a famous church reformer and helper of the poor.

Pope Francis I is also the first Jesuit to be elected Pope. The Jesuits, aka “The Society of Jesus”, are a religious order within the Catholic Church that are considered the most well-educated and well-respected priests, monks, and missionaries. Not just anyone can be a Jesuit – candidates must go through a long and arduous admission period that can last as long as two years. Founded in 1534, in its early days it set itself to education, missionary work among non-Christians around the world, and trying to contain the spread of Protestantism. Over its history, it has generated plenty of controversy, even being suppressed and persecuted at one point, but it remains widely-respected for its work.

If that wasn’t enough firsts for you, Pope Francis I broke with a long-standing tradition when he addressed the crowds in St. Peter’s Square. Instead of blessing the crowd, as popes have usually done on their accession, he asked the crowd to pray for him. Oh, and he also refused to get on a traditional platform to stand above the cardinals. “He said I’ll stay down here,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, told CNN.

Not pictured: platform.

Not pictured: platform.

Speculation already abounds that he may become a major reformer – though other voices are more cautious. He does now assume responsibility for the Church’s many, many problems: including the sex abuse scandal that it just can’t seem to get past, and declining membership in many countries, particularly in Europe. That is a tall order for a man with only one lung. The new pope had one of his lungs removed as a teenager due to an infection.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1936, the future pope was one of five children born to Italian immigrant parents. He trained as a chemist for a time before switching careers and entering the priesthood. He became a Jesuit in 1958 and a bishop in 1992, eventually being promoted to Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998. He was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2001. During his long career in Argentina, he used his position to help protect people who were wanted by the dictatorial governments that ruled the country from 1976 to 1983. He has spoken out against inequality and in support of the poor; as archbishop, he lived in an apartment instead of the designated palace provided for him, took public transportation from place to place, and cooked his own meals. He has also taken strong stances against child abuse. However, he has also taken conservative stances regarding abortion, contraceptives, and homosexuality – he adamantly opposes all of them. The new pope allegedly loves tango and is a soccer fan. According to CNN, he was the runner-up in the election that brought Benedict XVI to the papacy in 2005.

Pope Francis St Peter's Square Catholic reaction

Crowds cheer on the new Pope in St. Peter’s Square. Image from AFP/Getty Images

The new pope starts his first full day in office today taking Mass with the College of Cardinals. He will wait to be formally installed until Tuesday, the Feast of St. Joseph.

Information from CNN and Wikipedia.

 

Hugo Chavez, Controversial Venezuelan Leader, Dies at 58

Hugo Chavez image by Jose Cruz of Agencia Brasil

The announcement was made, very slowly, by the tearful Vice-President, Nicholas Maduro. Venezuela’s leader for 14 years, Hugo Chavez, had died. The man who polarized opinions at home and around the world lost his two-year battle with cancer.

President Obama made a brief statement in response to the news: “At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez’s passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government. As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.”

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina, President Evo Morales of Bolivia, and President Jose Mujica of Uruguay have all arrived in Venezuela to offer their condolences. However, not everyone is mourning the man’s passing.  Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said “Hugo Chavez was a tyrant who forced the people of Venezuela to live in fear. His death dents the alliance of anti-U.S. leftist leaders in South America. Good riddance to this dictator.”

Venezuela has announced a seven-day period of mourning, with all schools to be closed. The country’s armed forces fired a 21-gun salute in Chavez’s honor, and will continue to fire one shot per hour until the president’s burial. Chavez’s body will be brought to Venezuela’s Military Academy in a procession today, where it will lie in state through Friday. While it hasn’t been decided where Chavez is to be buried, some officials have suggested burying him next to Simon Bolivar, the leader of Venezuela’s independence.

Born in 1954 in the small village of Sabaneta, Venezuela, Chavez was raised by his schoolteacher parents alongside six siblings. Because of his family’s poverty, Chavez was sent to live with his grandmother for a time. His family hoped for him to be a Catholic priest, but instead Chavez became a cadet at the Military Academy. It was here that Chavez and his friends came to develop a new political ideology that they called “Bolivarianism”, combining bits and pieces of the political ideas of Simon Bolivar, Communism, and some radical-liberal Christian groups.

During Chavez’s career in Venezuela’s military, he formed a secret radical network within the military in the hopes of one day seizing power. In 1989, Carlos Andres Perez was elected president of Venezuela, and within months his policies had led to street rioting and a major crackdown by the military that left hundreds and possibly thousands dead. Chavez took this as a sign to take action. After some delays, he attempted a military coup in February 1992, but his plans fell apart and he was arrested. He was allowed a brief statement to the press before being carted off, and the speech he gave catapulted him into the national spotlight. Spontaneous protestors began calling for Chavez’s release, and after two years in prison, Perez’s successor, Rafael Cardera, pardoned Chavez.

Over the next few years Chavez built up his political support, and ran for and won election as president in 1998. During his first term he was relatively moderate politically, and remained popular in part due to his aid for the country’s poor and in part for his personal charisma that drew the media into loving him. He set up his own weekly TV and radio talk shows where he would explain his policies and take calls from citizens. He soon called for a new constitution, and a few referendums later he had it.

As time went on, however, Chavez’s policies grew increasingly liberal and increasingly heavy-handed. Middle-class Venezuelans lost ground during Chavez’s presidency, even as the poor were increasingly better off. Human rights monitors began accusing Chavez of trying to set up a dictatorship, and Chavez began openly criticizing and insulting the United States. In 2002, Chavez was overthrown in a coup, but his supporters turned out en masse and within days Chavez was back in power.

The face of a man who fears no coup.

The face of a man who fears no coup.

With each election, Chavez gained more power. He won re-election in 2006 and then won the right to run for re-election indefinitely. He had political opponents arrested and opposition media outlets closed. He also got more radical, nationalizing key industries, redistributing land, and using oil revenues to provide free services to the poor. He set fixed levels for food prices and pushed for Venezuela to be self-sufficient in food production; when food shortages became increasingly common, he blamed hoarders and speculators. He supported the Marxist FARC rebellion in Colombia. He grew more confrontational with the U.S. He praised the leaders of Cuba, Iran, Libya, and Zimbabwe while publicly insulting the leaders of America and its allies. He was also quite rude at international summits, at one point prompting the King of Spain to tell him, “Shut up!”. He began telling his people to celebrate Marxist heroes like Che Guevara while condemning the celebration of Halloween, calling it a “gringo custom” and “terrorism”. Still, his willingness to stand up to Uncle Sam meant he was very popular throughout Latin America, and radical-leftist governments more or less aligned with Chavez were elected in many countries.

In high school, I was able to see the controversy of Hugo Chavez up close and personal. One of my classmates had family that lived in Venezuela at the time. She told me that they were probably going to have to leave because of Chavez’s rule – they feared he would seize their land.

In 2011, Chavez revealed that he had been diagnosed with cancer, and went to Cuba for surgery and treatment. He returned the next year to run for a fourth term, which he won, but he soon fell ill again and wasn’t able to take the oath of office. Instead, he spent the last months of his life either in a hospital in Cuba or a hospital in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, fighting for his life against a recurrence of his cancer and then a post-surgery respiratory infection. In his announcement of Chavez’s death, Maduro claimed that Chavez’s cancer was somehow intentionally caused by the United States – a statement the White House called “absurd”.

So what happens now for Venezuela? According to the country’s constitution, the presidency should fall to the leader of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello. But that’s not what’s happening. Instead, Vice-President Nicholas Maduro has taken over the presidency, pending an upcoming election in 30 days, claiming he was hand-picked by Chavez to take over. It is unclear how Chavez’s death will affect Venezuela’s relationship with the U.S. or the rest of Latin America. For now, it is reasonable to assume that the upcoming election will be what determines that, at least in the short term.

Information from BBC News, Univision, NBC News, Fox News, CNN, and Wikipedia.