After a long struggle with an unspecified cancer, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has died.
He was a man of extraordinary zeal, strength and courage who set out to change The Way Things Are in Venezuela, to shine a light in the darker corners of his country and the global plutocracy in general, and to build up his people, to develop the human potential of Venezuela and Latin America in general and to serve as an inspiration for struggling peoples everywhere. "Si, se puede."
He became a monumental figure to me and many other Americans as well as struggling peoples around the world when he did this at the United Nations in 2006:
""The devil came here yesterday, and it smells of sulfur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of. Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the President of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world." [President Bush] ...came [to the General Assembly] to share his nostrums to try to preserve the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world."
This made him the implacable enemy of the United States' government, which, through various nefarious means, set out to destabilize and destroy him and his quest for social and economic justice.
In this strange war of many unkind words and some bizarre deeds, Hugo always seemed to wind up on top -- at least until he took ill with an initially entirely mysterious malady, eventually acknowledged as cancer which was being treated in Cuba. There are claims, naturally enough, that his malady was induced by some means or secret method of the CIA or one of the other "agencies" Our Government unleashes on its enemies. Cuba is the laboratory.
Castro's Cuba, the other implacable enemy of the United States' government. Forever condemned to perdition, the both of them, Cuba and Venezuela, at least for so long as their "strong-man dictators" hold sway over the unfreedom of the people.
In these cases it is abundantly clear that those who clamor loudest for "liberty" and "freedom" devoutly wish the freedom from responsibility to others, the liberty to exploit and enslave whomever they choose. They wish the "liberty" and "freedom" of the olden days in which a handful of hyper-wealthy owners-plunderers took from the masses without let or hindrance, what they wanted and when they wanted, as if by right, with no obligation toward the masses, or indeed any interest in them beyond how they could be made to serve Their Betters more fully, efficiently and profitably.
Anything and anyone who interferes must be isolated, crushed, destroyed. Viz: Honduras and the coup against democratically elected Manuel Zelaya in 2009, a coup backed by the United States government, operating strictly on the pattern established during the Red Scare 1950's during which any Latin American popular uprising or election to office of People's candidates were ruthlessly subverted, stamped out or overthrown.
Or take the Reagan Era, when the bloodiest reign of terror in hundreds of years was imposed from Washington's nether reaches (the various agencies and their private sector offshoots) through their proxies in Central America as a warning and a lesson to the uppity natives throughout Latin America that their impertinence would not be tolerated. The question was not "submission or death," it was merely a matter of when Death would come and in what hideous manner. Even the Church felt the wrath of Washington.
All of this was prelude.
500 Years of Prelude you might say.
Hugo Chavez was at first dismissed by the Better People of Venezuela (interestingly, Venezuela was conquered and initially settled from Europe by Germans not Spaniards) as a zambo upstart, worthless and meaningless, and simply impossible to consider seriously. His popularity among the People soared.
Latin America has a myth of racial tolerance and indifference to matters of racial superiority or inferiority. It is a comforting myth but hardly accurate. Throughout Latin America, and through its long, tortuous history as colonies and dependencies of Spain, Portugal and the United States, Latin America has been marinating in racial discrimination, much of it derived directly from the patterns and policies instituted during the Reconquest of Iberia -- Andaluz as it were -- from the Moors.
Everyone was classified according to skin color, ethnic heritage, race, and religion, and the darker the skin, the more African and/or Indian the ethnicity, the lower down the social ladder one was. The purer the sangre (the blood) or the race -- ie: the whiter -- the higher one was. Not to be Catholic, of course, was not to be considered at all.
My introduction to Venezuela was through the telenovela Pura Sangre which didn't beat around the bush about these things...
Hugo was considered to be a zambo -- something like a mule in the eyes of los ricos blancos. A cross between an African and an Indian, therefore barely recognizable as human. So they (los ricos) thought they could get away with anything they wanted by insulting and denouncing him, perpetrating coups against him, attempting to assassinate him, subverting elections, and so on. All of this, of course, and much more was backed wholeheartedly by certain high-placed private interests, and not unexpectedly, many of the attempts at subversion and overthrow of Chavez were covertly -- and on occasion overtly -- backed by the United States Government.
The idea -- the very idea -- of using the wealth of the nation to uplift the People, as Hugo set out to do in Venezuela, was and widely is considered daft, crazy, insane, appalling, unjust, and worse. Hugo was hammered for it relentlessly by the press and media in his own country.
The very idea!
We Americans are not far from the very same situation as our own press and media giddily anticipates the next round of granny-starving budget cuts for the masses and tax cuts for the rich. They can't help themselves. They are beside themselves with glee
I've noticed that most of the objections to Chavez have to do with his supposed authoritarianism, but for the most part, these objections are not coming from anti-authoritarians. Oh no. They are coming from other authoritarians who simply don't like the fact that their authority was not the ruling authority -- or even acknowledged -- in Caracas.
In fact, for all the accusations of suppression of opposition in Venezuela under Chavez, the opposition seemed to be quite healthy and openly defiant (and wildly rich to boot) throughout his presidency. Interesting, eh?
Will Hugo's reforms and social reconceptions survive? At this point, it's hard to say. Much the same question is being asked about Cuba after the Castros. Will it revert to the criminal hell-hole it was before the Revolution?
My own view? Yes, probably. Take the Russian example after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Reversion is almost certain.
People will put up with a lot of misery -- far more than they think they can or would -- before they will take control of their fate from their Betters. They will happily let go of their own control if someone stronger and seemingly smarter comes along. Hugo's fundamental reform was to teach the People to hold on and not give up, not give over, not retreat. In other words, his goal was to ensure that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela endures long after his passing.
Whether it will or not remains to be seen.
So long, Hugo. Thanks for the memories, thanks for the laughs. Heaven smiles on you.
"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", a documentary about the 2002 coup in Caracas (enthusiastically supported by the New York Times, do not forget...)