FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Chavez: the Man and His Dream

I want to speak a bit about Chávez the man.  He was born into a family of very modest means in 1954 in Sabaneta de Barinas.  A small town in the Venezuelan plains: a town that had only three streets, none of them paved.

Hugo was the second of 6 brothers and sisters.   He was so poor that his family couldn’t afford to buy him shoes. His grandmother Rosa Inés took him to his first ever day of classes. Hugo wore a pair of alpargatas that she had made out of soft cloth and rope.  But the kindergarten teacher would not allow the little boy into the class, until the family could find a way to buy him some shoes.

President Chávez remembers he had no toys as a boy and said that he made do by playing with his brother, Adán, imaginary games using imaginary toys: imagen that.

When Americans ask me why there is such an outpouring of emotion among Venezuelans over the death of this man, I point out that the ordinary people of Venezuela saw themselves in President Chávez.  The President was a compendium of the very fabric of the country: part black, part indigenous and part white: a man who came from poverty and whose every decision as President was marked by his humble origins.  President Chávez never forgot where he came from, and he always remembered who he was.

He dedicated himself to giving a voice to the voiceless: to bringing dignity to a people who had been humiliated for centuries by those in power.  To those ends, he empowered the Venezuelan people through the People´s Assemblies he forged throughout the land.  Thanks to President Chávez, everything is open to debate in Venezuela.  Everything. For the first time in their history, Venezuelans know how to govern themselves.

President Chávez always called Venezuelans hermano, camarada or ciudadano: brother, comrade or citizen.  And soon the people began to use those terms when addressing their compatriots.  A workingwoman in Caracas summed up how much this meant to her and indeed to the people of Venezuela, when she said: “Citizens?  Before Chávez, we didn´t even know we were human beings.”

That, my brothers and sisters, is the President´s legacy.

The Bolivarian Revolution has dramatically reduced poverty in Venezuela, virtually eliminated misery and totally eliminated illiteracy.  The wealth generated by its oil company, PDVSA, now goes to people in need, rather than to the foreign oil companies that made billions of dollars from Venezuela´s natural resources—yet managed before Chávez to pay only a 1% tariff on their profits.

The Revolution created Health Missions throughout the country to give free medical care to millions of needy citizens.  I once rode in a plane from Havana to Caracas with over a hundred Venezuelans of humble means who were returning home after receiving medical treatment in Cuba, paid for by the Revolution. Many had arrived in Cuba blind in both eyes and they were now cured, thanks to President Chavez’ Operation Miracle.

I will never forget that plane ride. Once they were blind and now they see.  Those passengers savored the sight of white clouds against the backdrop of a bright blue sky and marveled at the sight of the aquamarine waters of the Caribbean Sea. They sang during the entire trip.  And as the plane was landing, they broke out into a stirring rendition of “Gloria al Bravo Pueblo”, the Venezuelan national anthem, and finished it with choruses of: “Gracias Chávez, Gracias Fidel, Gracias Cuba, Gracias Venezuela.”  That, my friends, is what the Revolution is all about.

Yes, it´s true: President Chávez rubbed some the wrong way.  The government of the USA, the Venezuelan oligarchy and the media it controls hated him.  But the President used to say that unless there is opposition, there is no Revolution. And President Chávez was very much engaged in the business of making Revolution.

He could have been just another Latin American politician: crass and commonplace.  But he transcended mediocrity.  The President was a leader, a revolutionary, the Simón Bolivar of our time.  He fought for a united Latin America, free of the domination long exercised by Spain and the United States.

He was a very unconventional President.  He cried with us, sang with us, ate arepas with us, laughed with us and bucked every known rule of diplomatic protocol.  He was in a word human.   Some talking heads, academicians, businessmen and bankers could never stomach a leader like that, but the people felt his sincerity, his humanity, his brilliance, and his joy of living.  He would interrupt his speeches with personal greetings to workers and farmers he had met during his many trips among the people.  “Hola Pepe.  Un saludo para Pepe en Barquisimeto”. Or, “Gladys en Petare.  We are going to finish that project we discussed”. 

Or he would break out in English and exclaim with his booming voice.  Fidel: How are you Fidel?  Or he would send a special message to President Bush in English.  Mr. Danger, if you decide to invade Venezuela, I´ll be waiting for you in the Sabana.  Come on here, Mr. Danger.”  And who can ever forget his exclamation at the UN podium where Bush Jr. had spoken only a few hours earlier:  “Azufre.  It still smells like sulfur here.”

He was not an armchair socialist, content to debate the metaphysics of revolution.  He was committed to changing Venezuela and he did.  He was committed to changing Latin America and he did.  He knew that in order for revolutionaries to effect change, they need first of all to seize power and then construct a socialism that is, as Mariátegui said, neither calco ni copia, sino creación heroíca—neither an imitation or a copy, but instead a heroic creation.

President Chávez was a Bolivarian tsunami.  He radically changed Venezuela and indeed all of Latin America. Some have said that he has left a vacuum that can never be filled.  I disagree.  As José Martí said, “Dying is the same as living and even better still, if in life we have done what we ought to.”  President Chávez’ deeds exceeded expectations. In death, he is now greater than ever.  He shines a bright light on the dark wilderness of poverty, repression and exploitation.

Twelve elections he won before his death at the young age of 58: a remarkable record.  Yet his enemies called him a despot.  How many elections did Mr. Danger win? King Juan Carlos of Spain, who so criticized President Chávez, has never stood for elections.  Kings believe that they should not have to stoop to such trivial matters.  They believe they have inherited a God-given right to rule over us mere commoners.

Whenever I arrived in Caracas, turned on the television and saw President Chávez´ face I smiled.  I smiled anticipating what he would say next.  Among the many attributes that we assign to him, let us never forget fun.  Yes.  President Chávez was fun.  He was a fun guy, and that is another reason he appealed to so many.  Another reason he reached even the little children in our society.

A few years ago, I watched a children’s theatre company performing in Caracas.   After their performance, President Chávez went on stage to thank the kids.  They were in their performance costumes. “What are you dressed as?” the President asked a little girl who was wearing a black cape, a pink blouse that glowed in the dark and a top hat.  The little girl responded, “I am a magician.” “Well, don´t make me disappear”, he said to her.  “No Mr. President. You, I would have to multiply”, she responded.

Well ladies and gentleman, President Chávez is now multiplied.  Today, together we are all Chávez.  He is in our hearts and minds. But as President Nicolás Maduro said on Sunday in Caracas, “We are all Chávez, only if we are united. If we are divided, we are nothing.”

Please allow me a variation on the words of one of the most beautiful of national anthems, Cuando el despotismo levanta la voz, seguid el ejemplo que Chávez nos dió.  (When despotism raises its voice, follow the example that Chávez gave us). My brothers and sisters, we can make our dream a reality, but only if we remain united.  As President Chávez sang to us many times, Compatriotas fieles, la fuerza es la unión. (Faithful fellow citizens, our strength is in our unity).

Our north star is the south. It is Bolivar’s dream of a united Latin America, our dream of a better tomorrow for the poor people of this earth, our dream of making possible the seemingly impossible, our dream de tomar el cielo por asalto (to take heaven by storm): President Chávez’ dream to reach the unreachable star.

It’s the same star that the Man of La Mancha also followed.

This was his quest

To follow that star

No matter how hopeless

No matter how far

To fight for the right

Without question or pause

To be willing to march into Hell

For a heavenly cause

And he knew if he would only be true 

To this glorious quest

That his heart would lie peaceful and calm

When he´s laid to his rest

And the world will be better for this

That one man, scorned and covered with scars

Still strove with his last ounce of courage

To reach the unreachable star

Que viva el President Chávez!

Que viva el Presidente Nicolás Maduro!

Que vivan los pobres de la tierra! 

Comandante Presidente Hugo Chávez Frías: te acompañaremos siempre! 

Chávez Vive, Maduro Sigue!

José Pertierra is an attorney in Washington, DC. He represents the government of Venezuela and delivered these remarks at a Memorial Service for President Chávez at St. Stephens Church in Washington on March 12, 2013.

 
More articles by:

José Pertierra is an attorney in Washington, DC.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
September 20, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Unipolar Governance of the Multipolar World
Rob Urie
Strike for the Environment, Strike for Social Justice, Strike!
Miguel Gutierrez
El Desmadre: The Colonial Roots of Anti-Mexican Violence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pompeo and Circumstance
Andrew Levine
Why Democrats Really Should Not All Get Along But Sometimes Must Anyway
Louis Proyect
A Rebellion for the Wild West
T.J. Coles
A Taste of Their Own Medicine: the Politicians Who Robbed Iranians and Libyans Fear the Same for Brexit Britain
H. Bruce Franklin
How We Launched Our Forever War in the Middle East
Lee Hall
Mayor Obedience Training, From the Pet Products Industry
Louis Yako
Working in America: Paychecks for Silence
Michael D. Yates
Radical Education
Jonathan Cook
Israelis Have Shown Netanyahu the Door. Can He Inflict More Damage Before He Exits?
Valerie Reynoso
The Rising Monopoly of Monsanto-Bayer
John Steppling
American Psychopathy
Ralph Nader
25 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare for the 2020 Elections
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid Made Official: Deal of the Century is a Ploy and Annexation is the New Reality
Vincent Emanuele
Small Town Values
John Feffer
The Threat of Bolton Has Retreated, But Not the Threat of War
David Rosen
Evangelicals, Abstinence, Abortion and the Mainstreaming of Sex
Judy Rohrer
“Make ‘America’ White Again”: White Resentment Under the Obama & Trump Presidencies
John W. Whitehead
The Police State’s Language of Force
Kathleen Wallace
Noblesse the Sleaze
Farzana Versey
Why Should Kashmiris be Indian?
Nyla Ali Khan
Why Are Modi and His Cohort Paranoid About Diversity?
Shawn Fremstad
The Official U.S. Poverty Rate is Based on a Hopelessly Out-of-Date Metric
Mel Gurtov
No War for Saudi Oil!
Robert Koehler
‘I’m Afraid You Have Humans’
David Swanson
Every Peace Group and Activist Should Join Strike DC for the Earth’s Climate
Scott Owen
In Defense of Non-violent Actions in Revolutionary Times
Jesse Jackson
Can America Break Its Gun Addiction?
Priti Gulati Cox
Sidewalk Museum of Congress: Who Says Kansas is Flat?
Mohamad Shaaf
The Current Political Crisis: Its Roots in Concentrated Capital with the Resulting Concentrated Political Power
Max Moran
Revolving Door Project Probes Thiel’s White House Connection
Arshad Khan
Unhappy India
Nick Pemberton
Norman Fucking Rockwell! and 24 Other Favorite Albums
Nicky Reid
The Bigotry of ‘Hate Speech’ and Facebook Fascism
Paul Armentano
To Make Vaping Safer, Legalize Cannabis
Jill Richardson
Punching Through Bad Headlines
Jessicah Pierre
What the Felicity Huffman Scandal Says About America
John Kendall Hawkins
Draining the Swamp, From the Beginning of Time
Julian Rose
Four Funerals and a Wedding: A Brief History of the War on Humanity
Victor Grossman
Film, Music and Elections in Germany
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ahmet Altan’s “I Will Never See the World Again”
David Yearsley
Jazz is Activism
Elliot Sperber
Captains of Industry 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail