Like most people, to me the name Hugo Chavez means only one thing: Citgo gasoline. I'm not sophisticated enough to know if he was such a bad guy as leader of a nation, but as a J.R. Ewing-style oilman, as far as I'm concerned, he was tops. (Then again, if Robert Kennedy Jr. is to be believed, a better comparison would be with Bobby Ewing but since Larry Hagman died too, I'll stick with J.R.)
Chavez sometimes seemed to hate America, but how much can you hate a country when you own a brand of gas associated in peoples' minds with that most patriotic of institutions -- the 7-11? Every time my nephew and I would drive past a Citgo station, I would ask, "Who owns Citgo?" and he would answer -- quick as a a wink -- "Venezuela!" (Unfortunately, this question was never asked on any of his exams and he flunked world affairs -- something, I suspect, that would never have happened in Venezuela.)
I have a friend who remembers, from his childhood, advertisements saying "Cities Service is Citgo now," from the period when the old-fashioned predecessor was transitioning to the modern, proto-Venezuelan brand. As a matter of fact, on the route to my childhood physician, out in Bensonhurst, there was a Cities Service/Citgo station.
And isn't there a famous Citgo sign near Fenway Park that means just about everything to the denizens of one of our greatest northeastern cities? In a way, Chavez was not only a leader in the more southern Americas, but also a kind of associate El Presidente of Boston and Bensonhurst, a Latin "King of the Bs."
I wonder if he knew the history of his brand -- if he had a DVD filled with vintage Cities Service commercials he would watch in the Cuban hospital for inspiration when he got low. I like to think that he did and would.
That's the behavior of a leader.