Mario Silva, host of VTV’s popular media-criticism show La Hojilla (The Razorblade), dissects yet another Venezuelan opposition irony. This time, it’s the use of a deceased poet and journalist to ridicule a recently deceased president. Only, as is so often the case with hysterical VenOpIronía, the poet-journalist with the sharp tongue turns out to be not one of their guys, but…
The family of Venezuelan poet and journalist Aquiles Nazoa indignantly repudiated the opinion piece published last Friday by the newspaper Tal Cual, signed by Laureano Márquez, in which the memory of the author was manipulated with the intent to “ignore and even judge our much-battered reality of today” after the passing of Comandante Hugo Chávez.
In an open letter, signed by nine members of the Nazoa family, headed by Aída and Haydée Nazoa González (sisters of the poet who wrote “Humor and Love”), rejected the use of Aquiles Nazoa’s work to justify the disrespect and ridicule felt on the right toward the Venezuelan people, now mourning the physical departure of Comandante Hugo Chávez Frías.
“We are outraged at the use of Aquiles Nazoa and his work to justify the ill-feelings of those who stubbornly and, to their own misfortune, insist on not being part of this colossal moment of our history in which the infinite love of a man and his infinite struggle has given us our homeland,” reads the letter.
The Nazoa family pointed out that the decontextualized remembrance of Aquiles Nazoa’s humoristic works is not even the intention of the “poor devil who wrote the article, nor the ventriloquist manipulating him from his hiding-place in the shadows, nor even him who directs this periodical from the catacombs of the Fourth Republic.”
For the family of the Venezuelan author, it is evident that this manipulation “is conceived and conducted from way over there, from the same place from whence came the blows and beatings that killed Leoncio Martínez, whom they also used on their front page to cover themselves.”
The family of the writer, who was cited by a right-wing newspaper, recalled that Nazoa was a “card-carrying revolutionary, a communist without fissures, a poet of the people’s struggle for justice and sovereignty, a staunch defender of the heroic Cuban Revolution, an irreducible militant of popular causes, and a profound connoisseur of the works of José Martí and his cause.”
For that reason, they expressed their indignation at the disrespect to his memory and that of the late Comandante Chávez: “An old strategy of cowards is to use a dead man to point the finger at another dead man, both of the people, both adored, both revolutionaries.”
In the letter, they also emphasize that Nazoa was a “portentous representative of our culture and our identity, most profound and a man of transparent, luminous and freedom-loving ideas, who taught them to those of us who were closest to him, and we could see his heart, how his life and his struggle were one and the same, and that in the Revolution, they conjoin with immortality.”
Some background is on order here to help understand the depth and absurdity of this bit of irony. Teodoro Petkoff, the publisher/editor-in-chief of the opposition-aligned right-wing newspaper Tal Cual, is a former Marxist guerrilla. He seems to be one of that sad generation of turncoat opportunists (the late Christopher Hitchens is another) who saw more profit in repudiating their early political allegiances (one can’t really call them convictions, since these guys tend not to have any, beyond “what’s in it for me”) than in sticking with them, going deeper, and making history.
Petkoff started out in the 1960s, shortly after the last Venezuelan dictator was deposed and US-style duopoly “democracy” installed, by taking to the hills with a rifle and a copy of the Communist Manifesto. When the guerrillas disbanded, around the turn of the next decade, he was forced to take up other means of sustenance, and his revolutionary pretensions began to slide. By the late 1990s, he was so far gone in the opposite direction that he was planning minister for the conservative government of Rafael Caldera, and responsible in no small part for their adoption of financially disastrous neoliberal policies, as prescribed by the IMF et al. He who had once been gung-ho for Cuban-style communism, was now equally gung-ho, if not more so, for predatory capitalism.
After Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999, Petkoff began to criticize him from the blatantly absurd angle that Chávez’s revolution was “bourgeois”, even though both the soldiers and the civilians who had spearheaded it all came from the poor and working classes! And he shamelessly used his very own personal newspaper (founded in 2000, and generously financed with help from Washington and Bretton Woods) as a mouthpiece for that. He has repeatedly tried to position himself as an independent thinker, but his actions say otherwise. He who had worked for an old bourgeois himself (at the behest of still other bourgeois behind the scenes) could not, even then, see the irony of his entire body of trenchant social criticism. Washington said “jump”, and Petkoff didn’t even have to ask how high. He just did; never mind that it was in ridiculous directions, and that he was constantly falling on his face like a sad old buffoon while the socialist revolution he had once fought for and then abandoned went on to victory without him.
The old and respected Venezuelan Communist Party, the PCV, is still separate and distinct from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) that Chávez formed out of various other small leftist parties, including his own Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) and a sizeable slice of Petkoff’s own former party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), which had grown disgruntled with Petkoff and disillusioned at the notion of “moving toward socialism” by embracing foreign imperialism. But the PCV does not vote against the PSUV; it supports most of the same positions, and it threw its substantial support squarely behind Chávez all the way. So it is quite reasonable to assume that Aquiles Nazoa, a Communist himself, would have approved of this manner of getting things done. And had he lived long enough, he might well have been an ardent Chavista himself.
That’s why it’s so hilarious to see Petkoff misappropriate the words and image of a real, unretouched Communist like Aquiles Nazoa for the op-ed pages of his rag. True, the article was bylined to one Laureano Márquez, but as editor in chief, Petkoff would have to have signed off on it for publication. Nothing appears in Tal Cual without his express approval. And Petkoff and Nazoa are both of a generation. So he could not have been unaware, unless he’d developed a sudden and very selective case of amnesia, as to who Aquiles Nazoa was.
Is it any wonder, then, that he incurred the wrath of the long-deceased poet’s family? And is it any wonder that they turned out in force, not only to defend Nazoa and his personal legacy, but also to support the late president who embodied in so many ways the ideals that Aquiles Nazoa espoused?
No, it isn’t any wonder at all. The only wonder, for me, is that Teodoro Petkoff hasn’t even got the residual grace left to blush.