Well, all right…his finest 48 hours:
Honestly, I never get tired of watching this. It really is endlessly inspiring AND informative. Anyone who seriously thinks that the Bolivarian Revolution was all about Chávez, and ONLY Chávez, is delusional. The revolution is the PEOPLE of Venezuela; they elected him, they shaped his thought, they MADE him. And when he was in danger of being killed, they saved him.
There are so many things I could say about Chavecito in this, but really, his conduct throughout is remarkable. He is calm, cool, charming, peaceful…anything but a mentally unstable dictator, as he has so often been painted. His relationship with the young soldiers of the palace guard is unmistakably fatherly, his personal gestures instilling great love and trust. When abducted and held prisoner, he goes quietly, reassuring everyone who reaches out to him while his supporters sing the national anthem in defiance of the act of treason taking place even as the cameras roll. Many honestly fear it will be the end; one minister even says, “It’s the victory of Death”. There is a threat from the military wing of the putschists to bomb Miraflores Palace, just as the fascists who killed Salvador Allende did to La Moneda in Chile nearly 30 years earlier. This is what they would have done had Chavecito not gone. Rather than sacrifice Miraflores and all the people in it, Chavecito goes.
And then, when he does go, he is clever enough not to sign the pre-written “resignation” letter they handed him. (“Buffoon”, eh. Yeah, RIGHT. Crazy like a fox!) So the media lie when they claim that he stepped down voluntarily. The ministers present at the arrest make sure to tell the cameras of the Irish film crew that this was a coup d’état. Soon after that, the public channel VTV’s signal is cut, and the lies begin to spread.
Now it is up to the citizens to spread the truth of the matter through the street. Which they do. The major media, collaborators in the coup, are defeated by simple word of mouth, which travels by motorcycle through the barrio streets, and by shouted slogans around flaming barricades. It is very much a citizens’ rescue effort; the palace guard bide their time, then make their move when they see that the coupmongers are getting antsy hearing all the chanting from the crowd outside the palace gates. Some of the lesser players are arrested and held in the basement, but the big fish all get away. No matter; the ministers are able to regroup, vice-president Diosdado Cabello (who today is president of the National Assembly) is sworn in as temporary president, and he gives the order to the soldiers to bring Chávez back from the island of La Orchila. The rest is history.
And if you’re still wondering what the secret of Chavecito’s success was, here you go. It’s all in the sauce…that is, the people:
A woman in La Vega, a poor neighborhood in Caracas, told me six years ago: “This here is irreversible.” I asked her what would happen if Chávez were to die. Despite some media and multinational companies, I believe that she was not wrong. For the majority of Venezuelan society, life will never again be fated to suffer from exploitation and misery. The “process” has been going on long enough to strike roots in the ground. Back then, this woman told me that she had just learned that black people, like herself, once came as slaves from Africa. At 50 years of age, she had believed until then that there was a different kind of poverty, one darker than the others. But this woman had learned that injustice has origins, and ignorance has consequences.
In the same barrio, I met a hip-hop group, Familia Negra (Black Family). Although their fate might have been to die in a shooting, the changes in their environment had also changed them, so that they became social workers. A short time later, in Madrid, I got to know another “social worker”, one opposed to Hugo Chávez, who not long ago had studied at the University of Central Venezuela, favored by the privileged. He told me that he had been promised a job in La Vega, but out of fear, he had never set foot in the neighborhood. He was frightened of it. Those who had always ruled, suddenly found themselves ruled over. The poor can be scary, so it was better to live off the interest of his bank account in Madrid.
In Venezuela, something had changed since the elections of 1998, when Hugo Chávez won out over a candidate who was Miss Universe 1981 — Irene Sáez, the mayor of the exclusive Chacao district of Caracas, who had forbidden couples from kissing in public. Botox politics: what’s important is how things look, not what’s behind it all. In their final campaign stops before the election, the parties that had for years divided the power and corruption money amongst themselves tried to put on new makeup. But it was too late, they weren’t coming back again. In 1998, 63 percent of qualified voters went to the polls, whereas in the last election it had only been 30 percent. In the last elections, this past October, 80 percent went to the polls. And Chávez won again, as with all elections since 1998, and those were many.
The motto “Now the oil belongs to everyone” has been heard throughout Venezuela for the past 15 years, over and over again. For some, oil money was just a campaign tool for Chavismo. Strange perception: I live in a society, this society generates collective wealth. This wealth creates social welfare. But the distribution of this welfare is oppression. For the “international community”, the majority of the world press, and, when necessary, the Socialist International, something else would have been normal: I live in a society, this society generates collective wealth. The wealth goes to foreign interests and three or four people from here, who divide the pie among themselves.
So the virus took hold. And the sickness spread. It infected other countries in the region, crossing rivers and seas. It raised questions and started debates. But most of all, it struck fear in the hearts of those who had never been afraid from the day they were born. But suddenly, they could no longer trust the hands that rocked their cradles. In one amateur video that circulated before the coup of 2002, a group of anti-Chavistas from the upper class were seen warning one another about the dangers of their household servants: “Chavismo is spreading among them.” That must be a perverse and antidemocratic system, pure communism, populistic dictatorship, pure hate.
That was the Telesur correspondent in Madrid, Jacobo Rivero. Telesur is another of Chavecito’s great achievements: a public TV channel of international scope, the first of its kind in Latin America. Its purpose: to counteract the lies and propaganda of private media, including the US channels who helped to foment the coup and shape public opinion in its favor throughout North America. The local private media, after all, were co-authors of the Venezuelan putsch. Hence the documentary’s title!
And even now, even on the day of Chavecito’s funeral, the lamestream media up here are still blatting about what an evil “populist” he was, what a “dictator”, what a “strongman”. When the truth is that he was popular (not “populist”), the people dictated the constitutional order to him (and he obeyed!), and he was a strong man, two words, not a “strongman”. What IS a strongman? That putschist figure so beloved of US imperialism that they never hesitate to install their own wherever there are resources to be plundered by their corporations…and then get upset when he invariably goes off script. See Saddam Hussein, Augusto Pinochet, the Argentine Junta, etc., etc. THOSE were dictators. But as one young man points out shortly after the coup as the putschist police of Caracas are terrorizing the streets and gunning down Chavistas, in the three years that Chávez had then been in power, there had never been any repression. What the hell kind of dictatorial strongman doesn’t repress?
By the way, today is International Working Women’s Day. (Yes, this day has socialist origins. Surprise!) Do the women of Venezuela rejoice because a nasty, oppressive, wife-beating tyrant is dead? No…they mourn because they lost their greatest presidential ally of all time. Chavecito was a proud, self-proclaimed feminist. It was no empty vote-getting statement; he really did give them the political tools they needed to carve out rooms of their own. And the women adored him for that. He consulted with them, along with other social movements, in the writing of the Bolivarian Constitution itself. Previous presidents either pointedly ignored them, or only made the rounds to shake hands and kiss babies when it was time to divvy up the votes again between AD and COPEI. Voter apathy, as noted in the translation above, was huge before Chávez, and greatly diminished after.
Because of Chávez, being Venezuelan is now a matter of pride. Participatory democracy grew thanks to his efforts, social inequality shrank, poverty dwindled and the GDP rose. An impoverished country that used to import 80% of its food is now becoming self-sufficient again, as it was before the oil boom. And dreams were not only made, they came true. It’s not surprising, then, that the people have turned out in droves today, not only in Venezuela but all over the world, to pay homage once more to the man who turned the accepted order of things on its ear…and succeeded.
Little wonder, too, that everybody, from bloggers like me to the President of Bolivia himself, are saying the same thing: Chávez is immortal. The vilification campaign against him may go on, but it can’t go on forever. Sooner or later, it will drown in its own toxic waste. And when it dies, you’ll see me there, along with millions of others, dancing and stomping with glee on its grave.
¡Chávez vive, la revolución sigue!