While I’m sure the above cartoon was meant to be satire, and not of a very kindly sort (edit: I now have confirmation that the artist is, in fact, an escualido), it still underscores one very true thing: Chavecito’s one of the good guys. And even in death, the people who love him are paying him the kind of homage usually reserved for churchly saints:
There’s a line of visitors coming from the Cuartel de la Montaña, the chants and prayers don’t stop until nightfall, and the recently erected chapel to “St. Hugo Chávez” now looks small next to the flood of offerings and flowers for the late Venezuelan president.
“Last night, at 1:30 a.m., we couldn’t close the chapel because there were still people praying,” explained Elisabeth Torres, who is in charge of tending this improvised cult site in the Caracas neighborhood of 23 de Enero, where Chávez’s body lies.
The precarious blue chapel, of wood and with a corrugated tin roof, is full of photographs of the president, who died on March 5, and bouquets of flowers, candles, and pictures of saints. “You were, are, and will be our giant in eternity. We love you always,” reads a bust of Chávez situated below a crucifix.
A few metres from the tomb of the “Supreme Comandante of the Bolivarian Revolution”, the devotion of his followers knows no limits.
“I’ve come to give thanks. Chávez didn’t give me anything material because I didn’t need it, but he filled me with hope. And now I feel such terrible pain and loss,” said Belkys Rivera, a Caracas lawyer, in tears.
“He was almost like a second Simón Bolívar and in time, Chávez could end up on altars, along with María Lionza, El Negro Primero, and the Indian, Guaicaipuro. Although I don’t believe that will be at all good,” admits Felipe Zamora, another visitor, citing the principal figures of Venezuelan santería.
But the mythification of Chávez is in progress. One of the latest examples is the video shown on Vive TV, a state-owned channel, which shows Chávez arriving in paradise, where he is received by Bolívar, Guaicaipuro, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and the late Chilean president, Salvador Allende.
People come from far away to “see Chávez”. In the line which goes on and on just to see the tomb for a few seconds, there are Venezuelans from cities as far away as Maracaibo, Puerto La Cruz or Cumaná, as well as Chinese, Swiss, Colombian and Spanish visitors. “We decided to come see the tomb of this man who did so much for the people, above all for the most forgotten,” says Lesbia Torres, who came from Riohacha, in northern Colombia.
Since it became the final resting place for Chávez, the routine of this humble barrio, traditionally leftist and most recently Chavista, has changed, and so has its face. Its streets are cleaner and safer, the military presence has grown, and there are dozens of pictures of the late president.
In the 23 de Enero neighborhood, from which Chávez launched his attempted uprising in 1992 from the same barracks where he now lies, where he voted in every election and where he was received as a hero every time he went on walkabout, it’s hard to find a resident who openly claims not to support the revolution.
In the presidential elections of October 2012, Chávez got 63% of the votes in 23 de Enero, while his opponent, Henrique Capriles Radonski, got 32%.
“I’m not a Chavista. I don’t say that very loudly because these people wouldn’t understand,” admits Thomas Schmidt, a Swiss resident of Venezuela. “I’ve come here because this devotion of the people, to whom Chávez never died at all, is almost an object of study.”
The speeches of Chávez are faithfully reproduced for those who wait to visit his tomb. Words such as anti-imperialism, struggle against the bourgeoisie, independence or socialism are often repeated during the long wait.
“Chavecito is everything for me. He gave us independence, he gave us back what other governments took away, and made us understand that we all have the same rights,” said Marina Ferreira, a Spaniard living in Caracas, very emotionally.
A few metres away, they are celebrating an open-air mass in tribute to Chávez, as occurs almost every day. Without fail, the loudspeakers fill the air with revolutionary songs, some sung by Chávez himself.
From the doorway of his house, Armando Robles impassively contemplates the hustle and bustle. Born in 23 de Enero 71 years ago, he lives just metres from the most famous barracks in Venezuela and may be one of the few locals who haven’t yet visited the tomb of Chávez.
“I prefer to remember him like this,” he says, showing a framed photo of the late president, in which the latter appears smiling in the doorway of Robles’ house, on one of his visits to the Cuartel de la Montaña.
I won’t bother to translate the pious stupidities from the comments section, which basically accuse these reverent visitors of “idolatry”. In any case, that charge is false, since idolatry is, by definition, the worship of a graven image, not a deity or saint or even an exceptional human being (which Chavecito most assuredly is). And who is silly enough to worship mere pictures? NOBODY. Not even the poorest and least educated Venezuelan. Not even the children. What they are revering, in the Cuartel de la Montaña and the little improvised shrine next door, amid the flowers and candles and saints’ pictures and other offerings, is not a statue or a portrait; it is a popular president who gave them his all, and who got the ball of irrevocable change rolling after decades of stagnation and despair and false “democracy”. In a land which suffered so much oppression for so long, a little saint-like reverence for a leader who actually brought democratic change, rather than merely promising it, is surely not idolatry.
And as a pagan myself, I find it more than appropriate, to be honest, since we pagans worship what is real: the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, Nature and all Her spirits…and occasionally, the odd worthy and memorable human being, too. Chavecito is surely one of those. And so are all his “sainted” friends in this other little cartoon of his imagined afterlife: