Originally published on CounterPunch, March 5, 2021
By Maria Paez Nictor
Today is the 8th anniversary of the untimely death of President Hugo Chávez.
Immediately after, the USA, Canada and allies intensified their attempts to overthrow the Venezuelan government, believing his successor, Nicolás Maduro, would be unable to follow in Chávez’ shoes and would fall easily.
They seriously underestimated Maduro and the resolve of the Venezuelan people!
I have been recalling the year 2003 when I was on a huge, elevated stage that was set up in one of the longest avenues of Caracas. I was standing very close to President Chávez, who was addressing the enormous crowd that extended as far as the eye could see.
It was a sea of happy people, laughing, dancing, singing, shouting slogans, waving at us. I had never seen so many people all at once and having such a fine time! They had been there waiting for hours but nobody seemed to mind or look tired or annoyed. It was a giant celebration.
I was truly moved to the core – this was the power of the people. They were not there under duress – not forced to be there, not paid to be there. They wanted to be there, to be with Hugo Chávez. He really was larger than life. I could not stop staring at him knowing that I was standing next to a man who had entered into History and into the very heart of his people, who changed their destiny and that of the whole region. It was an unforgettable moment.
On the mournful day that he was buried, the massive outpouring of grief and of love for a president is something the country had never seen and is not likely to see again.
In Caracas, on the winding road that leads to the top of the hill where his body lies in the Cuartel de la Montaña, the Fort on the Hill, there is a little painted structure, an old garage. It has been turned into a shrine with these words written on it: CHAPEL OF SAINT HUGO CHAVEZ. It is the people’s own canonization of a man whom they know deeply loved them.
Hugo Chávez always acknowledged the belief in God he shared with so many of his people and always showed his knowledge and respect for the indigenous cosmologies and the ancient traditions of Venezuelan peoples.His Bolivarian Socialism was not a European theory artificially grafted onto Venezuelan politics. It was a living active implementation within the Venezuelan struggle against fascist elites and imperialist warfare, connected to the history, culture, indigenous comunitarianism, and the very identity of the nation. He taught history at the Military Academy and he knew well his nation’s soul.
But for his people, the key to Chávez was love.
Chávez said: “We have been wounded, a cursed rain called capitalism fell on us and soaked our soul; let us cure ourselves of that, the vaccine is called love and socialism: that is the vaccine against hatred, ambition and capitalism.”
I have seen many politicians come and go in Venezuela, some with big followings and large rallies – the leaders of AD, COPEI, MAS, URD. Partisan politics typically being a strident, passionate, furious thing in Venezuela, they may have been backed, supported, even believed in. But love? No, in all my years I have never witnessed that. I cannot think of any president in our living memory that one could say was loved by the Venezuelan people.
The word “populism” is bandied about by elites that have always been terrified of the populace, the very people they purport to represent. What is clear is that “bad” populism is the one the elites don’t like, and “good” populism is the one their spies and agents whip up in demonstrations against governments they want to overthrow.
Hugo Chávez transformed politics in Venezuela from a sham representative democracy into a vibrant participatory democracy with people as the principal protagonists.It was done with a new Constitution, but his legacy was more than about laws. It was about a new concept of Bolivarian democracy and socialism, about the communal infrastructure, about the solid loyal civic-military union and regional integration. When the international political players realized they could not ignore him they worked to malign him.
Today, this horrible pandemic exposes many clay feet; we discover which leaders really love their people, and who are just watching out for business instead of human health. We have a plague-ridden world in which 139 countries still have no vaccines as pharmaceutical corporations use blackmail and patent protection to sell their wares.
Cuba, Russia, China, Iran, have heroically come to the aid of Venezuela with vaccines, medical equipment, gasoline, since the USA and allies have inhumanely barred the nation from selling its own oil or buying anything in the international market. We have witnessed the stark contrast between greed and solidarity, between colonialism and humanitarian dignity.
What would Chávez be thinking if he were here right now?
(1) He would congratulate himself for having favoured as his successor Nicolás Maduro, elected in free and transparent elections. The once bus driver and union leader has not let Chávez down.
Maduro is steering the nation through the worst war Venezuela has experience since the War of Independence. And done so with an exceptionally able political team at his side acting with tremendous creativity and courage. They give public needs the first priority despite the horrendous, economic war waged by the USA and its allies that has dramatically reduced government income by about 90%.
The losses are estimated at $114 billion, equivalent to the cost of 25 years of social services.
Coups, paramilitary incursions, cyberattacks, assassinations, media demonization, stealing Venezuelan assets and gold, creating a fake president, destroying the currency, illegal sanctions, all this is the USA/Canada/Europe hybrid war thrown at Venezuela like at no other nation, perhaps except Cuba.
Some who call themselves “progressive” or “democratic” believe these illegal sanctions are OK because it is not military invasion. But it is economic imperialism that kills just as much as a bullet or a bomb. In 2017-18 alone 40,000 Venezuelans died directly due to the illegal sanctions, and surely many more since then. To no avail has Pope Francis urged that sanctions be stopped during the pandemic.
40 international banks in 17 countries have stolen Venezuelan assets worth $6 billion.
This February, Alena Douhan visited Venezuela, the third UN Human Rights Rapporteur to do so and to condemn the sanctions. She chastised those banks for refusing to return Venezuela’s funds and gold and denounced serious violation of the human rights of Venezuelans that prevent them from accessing food and medicines.
Chávez most certainly would have vigorously denounced all this as sheer piracy.
Yesterday, March 4, at the UN Human Rights meeting, the USA was denounced for issuing decrees – which Biden issued just like Obama did – alleging Venezuela a security threat to the USA, so that it can continue to violate international law with arbitrary sanctions.
(2) Secondly, it would gladden Chávez to see initiatives to diversify the Venezuelan economy. During his presidency economic diversification was an important objective, but in the Maduro government, it is now a question of survival.Today Venezuela’s self-sufficiency in seed production is such that it is on the way to being a seed exporting nation and it is producing 88% of its own food. And Venezuela has manufactured its own laptops, commercial aeroplanes and drones.
Chávez would agree to Maduro’s negotiations to get the private sector to play its part because, after all, one does not negotiate with those who already agree with you, but with those who oppose you and Maduro is negotiating from a position of much strength as his party PSUV won the majority in the National Assembly and destroyed any influence of the US puppet Guaidó
Working with the private sector is not the same as surrendering to them as Chávez himself said: “We are willing to work together with local, national entrepreneurs who… want to work to satisfy the needs of the Venezuelan people.”
(3) Chávez would be proud of diplomatic achievements such as obtaining solid support from the UN Non-Aligned Nations, of leaving the corrupt OAS, of ignoring Canada’s pitiful Group of Lima, of not tolerating colonialist interference by the EU, and the continued efforts for regional integration. México, Argentina, and Bolivia are returning to the project of integration soon to be followed by Brazil, Ecuador, and Chile. The Patria Grande (Great Homeland) that Fidel and Chávez promoted is on the rise again.
(4) Chávez would see that the demonization of Maduro, like his beforehand, is due to imperialist corporations coveting our abundant oil and gold, but also because they are terrified of our rebellion, our participatory democracy and home-grown socialist policies, in short, they tremble before the communal councils, the communes, the collectives, the + 3 million civic militia, the loyal Armed Forces, all that make up the political body of a well-organized people around a government that fully backs them against the economic war.
All these thousands of people’s organizations are the backbone for surviving the onslaught of the sanctions and coping with the pandemic.
Despite appalling threats, Venezuela has not budged in its confidence that it is a sovereign nation that makes its own decisions how to govern itself. The deciding power is not Washington, Ottawa or Brussels, but its free citizens.
So, why hasn’t the Venezuelan government been overthrown?
It has to do with Chávez.
It has to do with love and also with rebellion.
We have a saying: “Obras son amores no buenas razones”, it means that love is actions not words. And the Bolivarian Revolution is about actions.
Whatever meager funds are available, are funneled to public needs: food, schools, houses, medical care, grassroots collectives, the environment, women, indigenous peoples, all the vulnerable; especially, to guard the peace against the power hungry, white supremist elite allied to imperialists interests.
The social and medical programs and grassroots contributions have done an excellent job handling the pandemic that rages across the region, Venezuela having outperformed most of the other countries.
With a population of 28.5 m., the nation has
+ only 140,960 cases: that is less than 5.000 cases per million and
+ only 48 deaths per million, while
+ Peru has 1,421 deaths/million
+ Colombia has 1,174 deaths/million
Today there is a new horizon with the clear electoral victory of Chavista deputies to the National Assembly and the election of deputies from the democratically minded section of the opposition that has separated itself from the Guaidos, López, and their ilk who, allied to the country’s enemies, are nothing but vulgar thieves, political corpses.
Venezuela today, just like our brave ancestors who overthrew the Spanish Empire, is a nation of rebels that refuses to bow down to another empire.
For Venezuela, to rebel is the only freedom.
Lately Chris Hedges wrote:
“Rebellion… sustains the embers of empathy and compassion, as well as justice. These embers are not insignificant. They keep alive the capacity to be human.” (The Age of Social Murder)
If Hugo Chávez were here he would see that the love for his people bore fruit in Venezuela’s rebellion against injustice, inequality and imperialism, defiantly proclaiming its sovereignty.
He would cheer and repeat:
!Aqui no se rinde nadie!” (Here, nobody surrenders!).
At his 2007 inaugural speech he said:
“…we will triumph on the road of revolution – and by no other.”
Sanctions or no sanctions, VENEZUELA will prevail.
María Páez Victor, Ph.D. is a Venezuelan born sociologist living in Canada.