Much of what I wrote until 2013 was in direct dialogue with Chávez. This wasn’t a conscious effort. It was something I realized talking to those closest to me, taking stock of seven years of writing and defining what was to be done moving forward, at a time when we tried to deal with the loss of the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution.
I’d never meant for it to be that way. This “dialogue” was simply my reading of a very fluid relationship between Chávez and Chavismo, which expressed itself in many ways.
It’s no secret to anyone that, in Chávez’s absence, a profound sense of loss prevailed within Chavismo. Something similar to grief, but not exactly. For sure we would have wanted an opportunity to mourn him, but we didn’t have the occasion. We had to move forward. And it’s a good thing we did.
Losing Chávez wasn’t akin to the loss of a father. Of that I am sure. More than a father-son relation, the bond established between Chávez and Chavismo was a strong alliance. We had lost an extraordinary ally.
From 2016 onwards I worked on two books yet to be published. They were still in dialogue with Chávez. In “Chávez lector de Nietzsche” (“Chávez, reader of Nietzsche”) I tried to recreate the very specific historical conditions that made it possible for Chávez to have this conversation with himself during his illness and recovery, in 2011 and 2012. He then quickly turned into a public reflection exercise about the shortcomings of the Bolivarian Revolution. Then, in “La política de los comunes” (“Politics of the commons”), I turned to the 90s Chávez, the Chávez of the virtuous decade of Venezuelan politics, trying to reconstruct, in broad strokes, Chavismo’s immediate historical precursors.
In both books, and to a certain extent also in “Chavismo Salvaje” (“Savage Chavismo”) and in yet another unfinished book that starts from Peter Weiss’ particular interpretation of Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, I got close to what I feel is an urgent endeavor: elaborating what could be called, for lack of a better term, an affective picture of Chavismo.
Despite what others might think, I don’t believe it’s a useless or untimely exercise. After all, we live in dangerous times under threat from US imperialism, dealing with the deadly effects from its constant aggression, forced into an unbreakable unity in spite of everything and all the acute contradictions inside the Chavista camp.
In contrast, both the aggression and the contradictions make an evaluation of what we are essential. In fact, it’s likely that such an assessment will offer valuable insights to rebuild what was destroyed and, more importantly, outline the strategic horizon that often gets blurred.
On what we are – and on this I have no choice but to speak for myself –, I can declare upfront that I am, above all, Chavista. It may sound obvious, but these are times in which some people have chosen silence or to disavow their political identity, so this is not a minor issue: I am Chavista.
This is something I’ve gone back to recently, because of a special and fascinating conversation with historian Fermín Toro Jiménez. Toro said that, in spite of Chávez’s greatness, and in spite of calling himself an anti-imperialist, he didn’t consider himself Chavista, but Bolivarian. He will have had his reasons, and I absolutely do not judge him.
To be honest, I’m not sure how big of a generational component exists in all this. I think, for example, of all the reasons a 20-year-old person could give for not identifying with Chavismo. It’s a person who did not have the chance to live through, and, why not, be amazed by what Chávez represented, and who got politicized (if that’s the case) during the Bolivarian Revolution’s toughest moments.
The point is that I am, without a doubt, Chavista. Maybe, to a certain extent, because I saw Chavismo emerge, even if I did not understand it at the time, and then I watched it fight with a truly wonderful audacity and dignity. Perhaps that’s the same reason why I can still see it struggling where others only see despair and defeat. Finally, maybe that’s precisely why I can’t just sit on the sidelines and wait for better days.
More than a simple identification, there’s a lot of popular class pride, apart from a Chavista knowhow of doing politics, to which I simply cannot renounce.
We must understand that drawing a sentimental picture of Chavismo is not an exercise of nostalgia. I have no plans to join the chorus of those who claim we need to go back to what we used to be.
We won’t get out of the labyrinth, for instance, on the famed “three roots” (1). Chávez himself imagined the three-rooted tree “with a trunk, branches and a 360-degree treetop. This tree absorbs from the ground and from beyond the atmosphere, from sunlight, almost from infinity, to be able to grow and live […] absorbs from the environment, the surroundings […] from the light to the shadows, all the way to the apex of the roots.” (2)
We will exit the labyrinth drawing from what’s around us and also from infinity, from our lights but also from our shadows.
Finally, it’s a fallacy to suggest that it’s indispensable to be outside Chavismo in order to have a global, an non-partial, non-“polarized,” view of reality. Quite the contrary, I believe it is possible to build a total vision from within Chavismo in a constant relation with those fringes and with those who oppose the Venezuelan process of change.
Chavismo emerged precisely as those popular fringes burst into the walled stage where the elites played politics to make a Revolution… to live with dignity. Nobody ever said it would last forever. But one thing is certain: it can go on being that.
(1) Reference to Chávez’s “three-rooted tree,” outlined in his “Blue Book” political manifesto. Chávez identified Simón Bolívar, Simón Rodríguez (Bolívar’s tutor and companion) and Ezequiel Zamora as the roots of his political project.
(2) Agustín Blanco Muñoz. “Habla el Comandante Hugo Chávez Frías”. Cátedra Pío Tamayo, CEHA/IIES/FACES/UCV. Caracas, Venezuela. 1998. Page. 75.
Translated by Ricardo Vaz for Venezuelanalysis.com.