Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody," said Mother Teresa, "is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat."
The people of Venezuela were virtually in that unhappy state - inflation and unemployment were high, 80 per cent of the population was abjectly poor, the foreign debt was staggering, and corruption among government officials was the norm - when intervention came in the shape of a former baseball player-turned-soldier and revolutionary politician named Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias.
The charismatic failed-coup leader and ex-prisoner became Venezuelan president on December 6, 1998. After his victory, he famously declared: "People voted for a profound transformation, and they will have one."
The people's leader - El Comandanté (the commander), as he was fondly called - thereafter embarked on massive political engineering which saw the amendment of the constitution.
The country's name was changed to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela; the presidential tenure was extended from five to six years; the Congress was replaced by a unicameral National Assembly; and the power of political parties was reduced; social reforms were introduced, including free education up to university level; new health clinics and paved roads were provided in rural areas.
Conversely, the elite of the country and their foreign collaborators never had it so bad. In 2001 Chavez passed a set of 49 economic laws, including the Hydrocarbons Law, which nationalised the Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company. Venezuela is the fifth largest oil exporter in the world.
A land reform law was introduced, redressing the anomalous situation where 70 per cent of arable land was owned by less than 3 per cent of the population but only 4 per cent of such land was being farmed. The new law gave all unused land to poor landless farmers.
While consolidating his socialist revolution at home, Chavez was a defiant anti-West campaigner abroad. He despised "imperialism" and its many variants and had nothing but scorn for those he perceived as imperialist agents. Many age-long enemies of the West numbered among his political, if not ideological, soul mates. While the political opposition called him Diablo or devil, most Venezuelans loved him to distraction.
His death at the age of 58 after a two-year battle with cancer marks the end of a remarkable chapter in the history of Venezuela and leaves a void in Leftist leadership in Latin America. Whatever his faults, it must be conceded that he affected his country so fundamentally that a return to the iniquitous days of yore when the rich fed fat at the expense of the larger population is unthinkable. May his soul rest in peace.