Ten years after his death

Hugo Chávez, the locomotive that drove the daily construction of the Patria Grande, that of the peoples, left an orphaned nation ten years ago. He symbolised (and symbolises) the emergence of emancipatory regional thought for the change of era, with Marxist anti-capitalist critiques, with a humanist conception. And he rescued the idea of socialism as a utopian horizon.

They were 14 years that transformed Venezuela but also Our America, ‘La Pobre’. First, considering that our great majorities, those made invisible by the elites and the hegemonic media, were not only objects, but were transformed into subjects of politics.

A dignified life for all. Daring to do what many considered (or believed) impossible, such as confronting imperialism, or breaking with the good old ways of formal and liberal democracy, institutional and declamatory, understanding that the poor had to be empowered, giving them access to education, housing, health, for all.

Understanding that we had to move from the stage of more than 500 years of resistance to a stage of building sovereign nations, of a true participatory democracy, of building popular power, through a revolution by non-violent means, moving towards integration and unity of our peoples – and not of our trade – through complementarity, cooperation and solidarity, far from the dictates of the Washington Consensus.

The economic and social advances experienced by the Venezuelan people, today attacked with ferocious savagery by the unbridled US and the incapacity (not to use other adjectives) of its local lieutenants, are important but are not the essential, which lies in the fact that Chávez produced a revolution in the consciousness, changed the minds of our peoples. The immense popularity of Chávez throughout the region and in the Third World revealed the revolution of these changes in the popular vision.

From the “ALCa-rajo” of Mar del Plata – together with his “partners” Néstor Kirchner and Lula da Silva – that buried the US free trade pretension, to the Bolivarian thinking that gives sustenance to what he called Socialism of the 21st Century, he read that Simón Rodríguez, Bolívar’s teacher, pointed out that it was necessary to create one’s own ideological symbol. And Chávez’s thinking was based on an effective state that regulates, drives and promotes the economic process; the need for a market, but one that is healthy and not monopolised or oligopolised; and, above all, the human being, the human being.

In his proposal for a break with hegemonic capitalism, a humanist model with Marxist bases appears, and this responds to the pretension and need to build his own ideological model, to see himself through Venezuelan and Latin American eyes.

“Formal democracy is like a mango, if it were green it would have ripened. But it is rotten and what we have to do is to take it as a seed, which has the germ of life, sow it and then fertilise it so that a new plant and a new situation can grow, in a different Venezuela”, he used to say.

Ten years ago Hugo Chávez died, the man who changed the course of Venezuela and Latin America, who only had to utter two words in 1992 to enter the history of his country and become a new political reference point. The television images, barely one minute and 15 seconds long, broadcast at 10:30 on 4 February 1992, left to posterity his acknowledgement of the failure of the revolutionary attempt he co-starred in: “for now”.

A decade later – while President – he would be the target of a coup d’état on 11 April 2002 that culminated in his reinstatement – with the people in the streets demanding the return of their constitutional president – two days later. He survived the 62-day oil sabotage and bosses’ strike. Cancer, they say, ended his life as he was about to begin a new term in office, and the myth began.

Some claimed that with his death, the “progressive cycle” had come to an end. From Washington they did everything possible to put an end to it; economic sanctions, blockade, invention of a puppet president, invasions, assassination attempts against his successor, Nicolás Maduro. And from Europe came back the colour-mirror salesmen, disguised as “advisors”, to change the course of the Bolivarian Revolution, nonviolent, on the road to socialism. They killed Chávez, they wanted to destroy Chavismo.

The last instructions.

The very night of his last electoral victory, on 8 October 2012, President Hugo Chávez announced from the “balcony of the people” (in the Miraflores palace) the beginning of a new cycle in the construction of Venezuelan socialism, with a call for criticism and self-criticism, to multiply efficiency, to put an end to bureaucracy – a nomenclatura that obeys but does not comply – and, above all, to strengthen communal power.

Twelve days later, on 20 October, in the first council of ministers of the new cycle, Chávez laid down his instructions – the coup de rudder, he called it – for the period 2013-2019, where he insists on the need for popular power to dismantle the web of political oppression, the exploitation of work and cultural domination. “Self-criticism is to rectify, not to continue to do it in a void, or to throw it into the void. It is to act now, ministers, ladies ministers,” he said, urging them to make a change of direction.

Before starting the new cycle, Chávez pointed out the need for a fundamental debate to confront the logic of the so-called institutionalisation of the revolution and its right-wing and bureaucratisation effects: “Someone must organise a great forum on the road to socialism. Can one go to socialism in connivan with capitalism? Can one separate the economic relationship from the formation of the consciousness of social duty, the foundation of socialism? Can one build new capitalist entrepreneurs without capitalist consciousness, as some people will be proposing? The absence of discussion leads us to failure”.

Chávez was aware that in the rank and file – who demanded participation and debate – there was unease about a strengthening of sectors, practices and ideologies functional to capital in important political spokespersons (ministers, deputies, governors, mayoral candidates, party leadership cadres), aimed at removing it from the theory and practice of socialism. Chávez spoke of shaping a new sociality from everyday life, with new ways of planning and producing material life, based on solidarity, dismantling the old bourgeois state, inventing new forms of public management, and insisted on the irreversibility of the socialist transition. Che Guevara had already denounced the vain attempts to “build socialism with the dented weapons of capitalism: private property, the market, money, commodities, competitiveness”. Chávez, in a tone of self-criticism, put on the table the possibility of losing the course of a revolutionary government. “The commune, the people’s power, it is not from Miraflores, nor is it from the headquarters of this or that ministry that we are going to solve the problems. Let us not believe that because we are going to inaugurate the Cerro Azul cement factory or the factory of factories in Guanare, or the computer factory, or the satellite factory, or this and that factory, or because we nationalise cement, we are ready, no”.

Careful,” he warned his team, “if we don’t realise this, we are finished, and not only are we finished, we would be the liquidators of this project. Those of us who are here bear a great responsibility before history. Look at your faces, look at your eyes in the mirror every time you go to the bathroom or wherever there is a mirror. Me first.

To what extent do the measures and policies adopted actively contribute to the constitution and well-rooted consolidation of a substantially democratic mode of social control and general self-management, he posed, while repeating that the “maximum possible happiness”, passed through discussing alienated consumption and artificial needs, overcoming “having” by “being”.

“I am a loving, contumacious and unrepentant subversive, in pursuit of the happiness of my people and the full realisation of the Bolivarian and socialist homeland”, he told José Vicente Rangel in Yare prison on 30 August 1992, where he was imprisoned after the failed revolutionary attempt of 4 February.

The dreamer, sometimes naïve, the life-saver, the warrior, the one who always wanted to be a baseball player, who also suffered the loneliness of power, knew how to combine political and ideological thinking with pragmatism. And ten years ago, he left us suddenly. His people repeated in the streets: “We are all Chávez”.

He left his Government Plan 2013-2019: the path was laid out. The difficult part was to walk it. A decade ago, we lived through the pain of his departure. Who, chavista or escuálido (anti-chavista), could .imagine, Venezuela without Chávez, Latin America without him? But, as Alí Primera, the Venezuelan revolutionary singer-songwriter, used to say, those who die for life cannot be called dead. He left behind an orphaned country, an orphaned Patria Grande.

“There are blows in life, so strong… I don’t know,” César Vallejo would say. Could it be that Chávez death changed the future of the region? Today people recite Chavismo, Bolivarianism, when the world has changed and is once again at war, and it is increasingly difficult to dream of a united America (Latin America and the Caribbean). Chávez death was a stab in the back to the possible future that had been in the making.