“As always, there’s the mass of people and I throw myself among them, I embrace them, sweat with them, cry with them and find myself. Because the drama, the pain, is over there, and I want to feel that pain. Because only that pain, alongside the love one feels, will give us strength to fight for a thousand years, if need be, against corruption, against inefficiency, for the good of a noble, dignified, brave people like the Venezuelan one. We don’t have to look very far to find tragedy.” (1)
These words, halfway between revelation and a declaration of principles, define what Hugo Chávez was all about.
This attitude in the face of drama, of popular pain, tells us about the mettle the man was made of, but it also allows us to understand the genuine Chavista way of doing politics.
It is not about finding human tragedy to disappear into infinite sorrow and roam as a preacher of misery would do, allowing ourselves to be consumed by resentment.
In contrast, this search, this collective cry, only makes sense to help us find ourselves, to find the strength to go on fighting.
An abyss separates Chávez’s attitude from what is usually called “exploitation journalism,” something very much in vogue in recent years.
Exploitation journalism is the journalistic counterpart of the “humanitarianization” of politics, a phenomenon which is strengthened around 2015, when the anti-Chavista political leadership takes on the “humanitarian crisis” discourse, which would come to justify not only “humanitarian aid,” but especially “humanitarian intervention.”
Millions of human beings who never mattered to elites, the dispensable, the historically invisible, appear all of sudden in exploitation journalism as the subject of a narrative, always in the role of “dehumanized” victims of a regime which is, as a result, inhuman, tyrannical and cruel.
The dehumanized victims of exploitation have much of Foucault’s infamous men: “Having been nothing in history, having not played any appreciable role in events or amidst important people, having not left any trace about them behind which may be referred to, they do not have and will never ever have any existence except under the precarious shelter of these words” (2). The eye that sets sight on them is a humanitarian one, coming to return to the victims some of the humanity stolen from them.
Be they migrants or “refugees,” miserable beings who eat from garbage or wither to death in hospitals, victims of criminal violence, of government repression, of the tortures in the regime’s dungeons, they are always worthy of pity.
It is no coincidence that, during the same period, charity campaigns multiplied, meant to assist the victims of an absent state. No campaigns against brutal imperial sanctions, against the food oligopolies or against private clinics, whose owners finance many of these charity initiatives.
The “humanitarianization” of politics results in pitiful politics, which can only prevail and reach its goals by appealing to an equally pitiful subjectivity, something that has been partially achieved: people inside and outside the country exude pity, in some cases declaring themselves persecuted or simply victims, for one reason or another, and narrating with excessive detail the Venezuelan hellscape, not so much to generate solidarity from the reader/listener, but to beg for aid.
Now, the tragedy is real. And as Chávez said, we don’t have to look very far to find it.
Politics which cannot empathize with popular tragedy can be anything, even pitiful politics, but never Chavista politics.
Those of us who have the opportunity, and in some cases the privilege, of intervening in public forums, have the responsibility to embrace this pain which is ours, and also struggle against corruption, inefficiency, deviations, omissions, what’s not properly done.
We must tell the tales of the people who overcome pain and struggle, with this infinite joy that defines us, but also the tales of the discouraged, frustrated, disoriented people, not to find solace in their discouragement, but precisely to boost spirits, to have them know they count, that their dignity makes us more human, to orient them, which in many cases helps us reorient ourselves. All in all, to walk alongside them, which is also a way to ward off our own loneliness.
Walking alongside the discouraged does not amount to showing weakness, but becoming stronger.
“I see this Dantesque picture and another child further back, also in his mother’s arms, his face disfigured over here. The jaw on one side and the disfigured head. I think a horse kicked him and broke his jaw, broke it in two. It healed itself, because the mother found nobody to help him. And so the kid is disfigured, he has like two jaws. And that’s going on here in front of mayors, governors, presidents, doctors, everyone.” (3)
And this cannot go on.
(1) Orlando Oramas León y Jorge Legañoa Alonso. Cuentos del arañero. Vadell Hermanos Editores. Caracas, Venezuela. 2013. Págs. 173-174.
(2) Michel Foucault. La vida de los hombres infames, en: Estrategias de poder. Obras esenciales, volumen II. Paidós. Barcelona, España. 1999. Págs. 394-395.
(3) Orlando Oramas León y Jorge Legañoa Alonso. Cuentos del arañero. Pág. 174.
Translated by Ricardo Vaz