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French right on the warpath after minister compares Chavez to de Gaulle

Patrice Coppée/AFP

The government minister who represented France at the funeral of Hugo Chavez has caused a storm by comparing Venezuela’s late president to French former president Charles de Gaulle and pre-war Socialist prime minister Léon Blum.

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Chavez, who died on Tuesday, was “de Gaulle plus Léon Blum”, Overseas Territories Minister Victorin Lurel said, referring to the wartime Free French leader who was president from 1959-1969 and to the leader of the left-wing Popular Front government in the 1930s.

“De Gaulle because he changed the [country’s] institutions fundamentally and Léon Blum, that is the Popular Front, because he fought against injustice,” he said.

Speaking to the press after the ceremony, the minister declared that Chavez’s body, which has been embalmed with a view to being put on permanent display, looked “sweet” even if the practise was “of another era”.

And, responding to charges that Chavez’s rule was authoritarian, Lurel declared that “the world would do well to have many dictators like Hugo Chavez, since they claim he was a dictator. He respected human rights for 14 years.”

Right-wing MPs responded angrily to the statements.

  • UMP MP, Hervé Mariton, who occupied Lurel’s post in 2007, demanded an apology from President François Hollande and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
  • Another former minister, New Centre MP Hervé Morin, declared that he was “ashamed for my country”, while UMP member Christian Estrosi said he was “shocked”.
  • On Sunday the leader of the bosses’ union Medef, Laurence Parisot, joined the fray, accusing Lurel of “dishonouring our country”. “How can you say of a man who was a dictator, a demagogue, who incarnates populism in all its horror, could have the qualities claimed by our minister?” she stormed on France 3 television.

Some of Lurel’s Socialist colleagues were less than stalwart in his defence.

  • Paris deputy mayor Anne Hidalgo described his remarks as a “bit excessive”, pointing out that Chavez “greatly reduced poverty” but condemning his stance on Iran and Israel.
  • Former Socialist MP Julien Dray said he understood that some might judge the comparisons “excessive” but added that “one could feel class hatred” in some of the criticisms of Chavez that have followed his death.

Vast crowds turned out to pay tribute to Chavez at his funeral on Friday, although some of his opponents danced in the streets on hearing the news of his death.

While Latin American countries were mostly represented by heads of state or government, the US and many European states did not have high-level representatives there.

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