How Is Chavez?
I would like to share with everyone some personal impressions interspersed with some elements of analysis about an unforgettable day. It had been a while since I’d seen President Hugo Chavez, and I was, like everyone, very anxious about seeing him up close, maybe shaking his hand. I was worried about his health, for him as a close friend, and for Our America, for which he has done so much. And further, because Chavez is, as the Bertolt Brecht quote goes, one of the “indispensable” ones, those who like Fidel, struggle every day, 24 hours a day, without a break.
The occasion was the commemoration of 5 July, of the 201st anniversary of Venezuela’s declaration of independence, and it took place in the National Assembly. It all started with the president entering the premises. He already looked in good shape; cheerful, and with very good countenance. After greeting many of those present, with the warmth that he always has, he took his place at the presidium, and legislator Earle Herrera, of the PSUV, proceeded to read the Act of the Declaration of Independence, signed by the colossal figure that was Francisco de Miranda, amongst others.
I confess that I wasn’t familiar with the details of this text, a very extensive one, in which the signing of the congressmen who proclaimed it is proceeded by a notable theoretical and doctrinaire foundation, which, according to my memory, I haven’t seen in any other document of this type. Listening to its profound content I could understand that the great figure – political, philosophical, and military- of Simon Bolivar, wasn’t some biographical whim. This notable General Captain of Venezuela had a cultural tradition and an enviably dense and theoretical philosophy, personified in the brilliant figures of Miranda and Bolivar’s teacher and friend, Simon Rodriguez. A tradition which, as I said above, was stamped for posterity in the Act of 5 July 1811.
This venerable document which surprised me so much has some paragraphs which ooze anti-imperialism in a way that is amazingly relevant for today. I’ll limit myself to annotating the following:
“Despite our protests, our moderation, our generosity, and the inviolability of our principles, against the will of our European brothers, we declare ourselves in a state of rebellion. We’re blocked, we’re harassed, agents are sent to set ourselves against each other, and they try to discredit us among the nations of Europe, imploring their help to oppress us”.
Replace Europe with the United States and you can see that this thing of declaring ourselves in rebellion, of suffering blockades, of receiving hostilities, of being invaded by agents who provoke division between the popular governments (police or some minority sectors of the original peoples of Ecuador and Bolivia, or “institutional” coups such as in Honduras and Paraguay) is nothing new. They are the classic policies that empires carry out in their phase of decadence. That’s how the Venezuelans who declared independence two centuries ago understood it, and that’s how we should understand it today as well. Many, if not all, of these protests against the left wing governments have the sinister hand of imperialism behind them. Two hundred years ago and today.
Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro then spoke brilliantly on the evolution of relations between Latin America and the Caribbean and the United States. He highlighted the key milestones that ratified the invariable continuity of the policies of the United States towards Our America over two centuries, synthesised in the Monroe Doctrine (1823): to foment the disunity of our countries, to destabilise governments that oppose the empire’s interests, to provoke and carry out coups, to kill anti-imperialist leaders and militants, to attract, using all types of manoeuvres and devices, the dominant sectors to the region. Just as I argued on Facebook,Twitter, and my own blog, Maduro’s speech was, because of its exhaustiveness and substance, one of the best that I’ve heard from the lips of a Latin American or Caribbean foreign minister in a long time.
Next, Chavez spoke, along the same lines as Maduro. He announced that his speech would be brief, and despite the scepticism of those in the auditorium, he did it. He was as sharp as always, his eyes shining and full of life, his prose flowed neatly and at the same time his argument was polished. He denounced the empire and its allies, the local bourgeoisie and oligarchy as irreconcilable enemies of the people, whose struggle can’t help but provoke the fierce opposition of Washington and its pawns.
Capitalism condemns humanity; he went on to say, and it is unreformable. It’s already terminally ill and it doesn’t have a future. Only socialism can save the human species from the irreparable destruction that capitalism’s metabolism imposes on nature and society. There’s no true democracy except in socialism he said, repeating the classic quote by Rosa Luxemburg. He attacked the coup in Paraguay and compared it to what happened to him in 2002. He said that in that country, just like what happened in Venezuela, they are accusing Lugo of encouraging a coup against the man who usurped his position, Federico Franco. He narrated how they had accused him of the same thing. Chavez displayed his sharp sense of humour by commenting that those who go against the republic’s constitution and break the law turn themselves into victims, and at the same time, turn their victims into sinister villains.
It was a brief speech, to the point, clear, profound, appropriate to a statesperson and revolutionary. The words ‘revolution’, ‘socialism’, and ‘democracy’ sprouted from his lips continuously, and his detailed and permanent rereading of Bolivar texts would always offer him an analogy or a pertinent idea. This allowed him to link- as Fidel did brilliantly with Marti when he conceived of him as the “intellectual author of the assault on the Moncada barracks” – the problems and challenges of the present with the anti-imperialist struggle of Bolivar and of course Marti and other great Latin America national heroes, insisting repeatedly on the urgent need to culminate the integration project for which they sacrificed their lives.
It was a brief speech but without any distractions, pronounced by a man who talked with passion, with an analytical and reflective component... if he had it before, and he sure as hell had it, then now he has perfected it. His illness has enabled him to take a break from the whirlpool of the daily life of management and to meditate on humane and divine things, enriching himself as a person and as head of a revolution. When he finished his speech he invited those present to accompany him in watching the civic-military parade.
There, Chavez arrived in a convertible to face the delirium of the crowd that was waiting in the wide and comfortable stands of the Paseo de los Proceres. He exuded energy at every step, greeting everyone, showing interest in the little daughter of a public servant who was in the presidential box, waving with unlimited friendliness with his right hand then his left, joking with some friends. To the person writing this, he stopped for an unexpected greeting (proof of his sharp sense of humour, and a symptom of his vitality which remains intact), calling him “General Atilio Boron!” and gesturing dramatically. Laughing his head off and jesting, he did the same to Ignacio Ramonet, who was next to me, calling him ‘marshal’, “because as you’re French, over there the highest rank is marshal”. And with Piedad Cordobo, he told her that the kiss she’d given him a few hours before in the national assembly obliged him to not wash his face for many days, and to the Colombian guerrilla Antonio Navarro Wolf, he surprised him remembering cheerfully that some time ago his superiors obliged him to chase down guerrillas and now they are guests of honour of his government. To the Colombian, and also to Nidia Diaz, the heroic commander of the struggles of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, and to so many others who were gathered there, not even Nuncio Apostolico managed to escape his wit. The man stood there firmly withstanding (and protected by a good hat) the rays of the sun that scorched the presidential box, and so Chavez bestowed it, speaking in a deep voice, with the name “Order of the Sun”, saying that on previous occasions, even revolutionaries with iron clad convictions couldn’t tolerate the fury of the heavenly king [the sun] and had left the president alone. He congratulated Nuncio for his solidarity in the light of such circumstances.
To sum up: Chavez looks very well, much better than my most optimistic expectations. He’s alive, vibrant, and shining, and he presided over the ceremony that I don’t hesitate to describe as impressive, and for two reasons. Firstly, because of the extraordinary presence of the civic and people’s component, that opened the parade. To see doctors and nurses of the different missions, scientists, rural workers, indigenous, workers of all sorts, people of all kinds of professions and from different parts of the country, women and youths, marching proudly and waving with real devotion to their leader, is a healthy anomaly in Our America, where the exclusive protagonists of parades are the armed forces. Not in this case.
And the second reason why it was an impressive parade was because of the extraordinary exhibition of a powerful military that made military attachés from many countries use up all their batteries to film the different forces with their sophisticated weaponry and, above all the intimidating rocket launching, and then after that, the latest generation helicopters and planes that flew swiftly over our heads. A timely message, by the way, for those inside and outside of Venezuela who dream of overthrowing Chavez by military coup. Such people would have to do their sums well, because, fortunately, the Bolivarian revolution isn’t defenceless, as the armed forces’ identification with the socialist project seems to be very solidly entrenched.
It was exciting to see the popular militia march, extremely well equipped and with their socialist and anti-imperialist chants. Only the most naive people can suppose that a revolutionary process oriented towards the construction of socialism – and that is precisely what the Bolivarian revolution is doing in its own way and at its own pace- could defend itself by appealing only to the magic of the word or to the persuasive efficiency of discourse. This may be valued in the little discussions of the isolated academic world, but insignificant when it comes to making history. But imperialism, with its constant conspiring and attacks, isn’t put off by such things because it only understands the language of war. In the framework of the brutal counter-offensive launched by Washington against our peoples, and primarily against the countries of the ALBA, the best way to prevent aggression by the empire- which would indeed come after their media war and their political conspiracies fail- is meticulously preparing for it, increasing the cost that the United States could pay for any military adventure in Bolivarian Venezuela.
It is a misfortune, but neither Chavez, nor Raul (or Fidel, before), nor Evo, nor Correa, have any other options for strengthening their defence apparatus without which, any emancipatory project, as moderate as it may be, would be drowned in blood. If the United States has surrounded all of Latin America and the Caribbean with a rosary of 46 military bases (according to the latest count by MOPASSOL), then left and progressive governments should act as a consequence and be prepared.
This obliges them to invest in higher defence budgets than what they would have liked (resources that could go towards social development) to repel a military aggression, which no doubt Washington will unleash directly or through some proxy in the region on our countries when the hunt for natural resources becomes a question of life or death – something which we don’t have to wait too long for. Unless of course it’s believed that, as some callous government leaders and the incorruptible souls of some social democrats do, that these bases were installed so that their occupants can be delighted by the beautiful plumage of our birds, or to carry out the humanitarian aid which the occupants were incapable of doing concretely when, in 2005, hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans.
Translation by Tamara Pearson for Venezuelanalysis.com. The original article has been slightly abridged.