HAVANA TIMES — Yesterday, Tuesday, March 5, at 5:00 pm sharp, the social networks collapsed with the death of Hugo Chavez. This took place between the tears — false and sincere — of his devotees (who seem to believe the world is ending without the physical presence of the Venezuelan leader) and the hatred — clumsy and visceral — of those who blame him for all the woes of this incurable humanity.
Then I thought…How could I write something respectful, personal, with a few reflections on his legacy in the face of the avalanche of tributes and attacks that are now flooding us?
Trying to write this, what came to my mind was an earlier article. Just two days before, on Sunday, the world learned of the news of the murder of indigenous leader Sabino Romero, who died at the hands of hired assassins.
It was the culmination of a long conflict in which the criminal harassment by the right-wing of Zulia State and the grudges of the Venezuelan central government against the autonomy of social movements coincided with this sinister incident.
Sabino’s sacrifice has been added to the list of social activists — many of them identified with the positive changes of the process initiated by Chavez in 1998 — which have weakened in recent times. Hopefully their struggles and legacy will not be forgotten with the death of the president, whose call for justice they identified with.
The historical dimension of Hugo Chavez is beyond question. His figure is part of a movement of social demands and democratic political conquests of the Venezuelan people that have grown over the last thirty years.
These have been shown through democracy in the street, through neighborhood organization, marches, demonstrations and institutions, some of these forged in the heat of the Bolivarian process, such as the innovative Constitution now in effect.
Aspects of daily life become tense in the agitated political life of Venezuela, where undemocratic actions of the opposition (intolerant and coup-oriented) clash with the ruling party, and efforts — largely attributable to the Chavez — to uplift the poor, address the social debt and point to new ways for mass participation in community and public affairs.
We owe the rise of Chavez and his movement for initiating the breakdown of neoliberal hegemony, which had produced obscene levels of inequality and social exclusion in the countries of Latin America.
His legacy was also one of reintroducing forms of integration and solidarity, regardless of the Pan-American schemes forged by the OAS with too much of Washington’s stench.
Certainly his international alliances matched him up with unpresentable characters (like the late Gaddafi and the chameleon-like Daniel Ortega) but these also helped to strike a better balance with the political/military dominance established by the US after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Chavez is undoubtedly a person and a symbol. His image and legacy will be taken on by different peoples and perspectives. Psychologists will speak of a being clearly convinced of the need to brandish Bolivar’s sword; historians will point to his admirable ability as a political animal who won successive electoral contests until the edge of death.
Political scientists will ponder his efforts to create participatory democracy on top of the cadavers of old parties, while at the same time reproducing (and amplifying) authoritarian flaws, patronage and praetorians in Venezuelan politics.
He was a being with a deep and sincere conviction for the social redemption of the poorest: the mestizos in the barrios, the illiterate in the hills, the old woman on the farm.
For people, for many people, Chavez is and will be a man (a father, a brother, a son and a neighbor) in which they deposit all their love and hate, faith and frustration, doubts and hopes.
Eleven years ago, in the hectic hours of the coup of 2002, a group of Cubans spontaneously marched through the streets of Old Havana to lay a wreath in front of the statue of Bolivar.
In these culminating minutes, I make a call for respect and peace to the brave people of Venezuela so that they resolve democratically — without coups or intolerance under any banner — all the conflicts and hopes of that people