“History will absolve us who struggle for the good of humanity, who struggle to save the world, who struggle in truth for a better world of equality, justice, and freedom.” -- Hugo Chávez, XVI World Festival of Youth and Students, Caracas, Venezuela, August 13, 2005
In the context of the popular rejection in Venezuela of the neoliberal project imposed by the global powers with the collaboration of Venezuelan political and economic elite, and in a situation of popular disgust with the failure of the nationalization of the petroleum industry to promote national economic development (see “The neocolonial era in Venezuela” 8/3/2016), Hugo Chávez emerged as a charismatic leader with the capacity to describe the global and national structures of domination in understandable terms, and who was able to optimistically project an alternative political reality. He thus possessed the capacity to forge that consensual reflection and united action necessary for a social transformation in defense of popular interests and needs. He emerged as the central leader in the forging of a new political reality in Venezuela and in Latin America. The emergence of charismatic leaders with exceptional gifts of understanding and political leadership is a normal tendency in revolutionary processes (see various posts in the category Charismatic Leaders).
Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías was born in Sabaneta, a rural village of Venezuela, on July 28, 1954. Chávez describes his family as a poor peasant family. His father was a school teacher who earned his teaching diploma by studying part-time. Although his mother and father lived nearby, he was principally reared by his grandmother, a peasant woman who was half indigenous. He describes himself as a mixture of indigenous, African, and European (Guevara 2005:14-15, 71-72, 76).
In 1971, at the age of 17, Chávez entered the Military Academy of Venezuela, and he earned a commission as a Second Lieutenant in 1975. His study during his years in the military academy established the foundation for his revolutionary formation. He read the writings of Simón Bolívar, Mao Zedong and Che Guevara, and he developed a perspective that he describes as a synthesis of Bolivarianism and Maoism. He investigated these themes further in a master´s program in political science at Simón Bolívar University. He continuously read books of historical, political, social, and literary significance during his military and political careers, and he advised young people to develop the habit of reading. He frequently recommended particular books in his discourses, famously exemplified by his recommendation of Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival during an address to the UN General Assembly and his gift to President Barack Obama of Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America (Guevara 2005:78-79; Chávez 2006:104).
During the 1970s and 1980s, he had considerable success leading young officers in the forming of a reform movement within the military. On February 4, 1992, with the participation of approximately 100 fellow officers, he directed an attempted coup d´état, with the intention of overthrowing the government and convening a constitutional assembly. The coup failed, and he was imprisoned. Upon his release in 1994, he resigned from the military and formed the Bolivarian Fifth Republic Movement, again with the intention of convening a constituent assembly, but now seeking to attain power through the electoral process. He was elected President of Venezuela in 1998, in spite of the ignoring of his candidacy by the mass media, and he assumed the presidency on February 2, 1999. He immediately issued a decree calling for a constitutional assembly. Elections for a new constitution were held, and a new constitution was approved, establishing the Fifth Republic. In 2000, he was elected to a six-year term as president under the new constitution, and he was subsequently re-elected, with nearly 63% of the vote, to a second term from 2007 to 2013. He died of cancer in 2013 (Guevara 2005:9-39).
Hugo Chávez understood that the underdevelopment of the peoples of Latin America, Africa, and Asia is a consequence of colonial domination. Citing Andre Gunder Frank, he asserts: “Underdevelopment is a characteristic of development. Our underdevelopment is a consequence of the development of the imperialist countries. They only arrived at the level of development that they have after having invaded and sacked immense territories of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. If not, they would not be at the level of development that they are” (Chávez 2006:132).
Chávez understood the negative effects of neoliberalism, which he condemned in moral terms.
It is practically and ethically inadmissible to sacrifice the human species appealing in a crazy manner to the validity of a socioeconomic model with an enormous destructive capacity. It is suicidal to insist on disseminating it and imposing it as the infallible remedy for the ills for which it is, precisely, the principal cause. . . . What neoliberal capitalism, the Washington Consensus, has generated is a greater degree of misery and inequality and an infinite tragedy for the peoples of this continent.
How much damage was done to the peoples of Latin America by the initiative of the Americas, neoliberalism, the Washington Consensus, and the well-known package of measures of the International Monetary Fund. And in this continent nearly all the governments were kneeling, one must say it in this way, the elites of the peoples were kneeling undignified, or better said not the elites of the peoples but the elites of the republics, were kneeling before the empire, and in this manner the privatization orgy began like a macabre wave in these lands, the selling of very many state companies (Chávez 2006:263-64).
The hegemonic intention of North American imperialism puts at risk the very survival of the human species. We continue alerting over this danger, and we are making a call to the people of the United States and to the world to stop this threat that is like the very sword of Damocles. . . . North American imperialism . . . is making desperate efforts to consolidate its hegemonic system of domination. We cannot permit this to occur, that the world dictatorship be installed, that the world dictatorship be consolidated (Chávez 2006:346-47).
Chávez believed that humanity stands at a critical time in world history. “The capitalist model, the developmentalist model, the consumerist model, which the North has imposed on the world, is putting an end to the planet Earth.” We can observe such phenomena as global warming, the opening of the ozone layer, an increasing intensity of hurricanes, the melting of the ice caps, and the rising of the seas. Moreover, in the social sphere, rather than accepting their superexploitation and social exclusion, the peoples of the world are increasingly in rebellion. Humanity is approaching a critical point, in which “in the first five decades of the twenty-first century it will be decided if in the future there will be life on this planet or if their will not be life.” It is a question, he believed, of “socialism or barbarism,” citing Rosa Luxemburg (Chávez 2006:195, 256)
At this critical and decisive moment in human history, Chávez possessed that hope in the future of humanity that is the hallmark of the revolutionary (see “The revolutionary faith of Fidel” 9/15/2014). He believed that “the great day of liberty, equality, and justice is arriving.” This is exemplified, he believed, by the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, which is constructing a “socialism of the twenty-first century” that will not be the same as the socialisms of the twentieth century. It will be “a socialism renewed for the new era, for the twenty-first century. . . . It will not have only one road; it will have many roads. It will not have one model; there will be many variants of socialism. It will have to adapt to the circumstances of each country, of each region. . . . Socialism for Latin America cannot be a replica, it has to be a great and heroic creation, a heroic construction of our peoples” (Chávez 2006:193, 198).
Socialism of the twenty-first century is based on a renewed formulation of traditional values. “Socialism of the twenty-first century ought to begin to consolidate new values that are not new, they are old values but one must renew them, one must strengthen them. . . . For us here in Venezuela, for example, and I believe that it is valid for a good part of Latin America and the Caribbean, Christianity is a current that pushes and feeds our socialism in construction. This socialism of the twenty-first century has much of Christianity for the Venezuelans, as it has much of Bolivarianism and Marxism” (Chávez 2006:200).
Chávez was an inspiring voice that resurrected the dream of national liberation formulated in the period 1948 to 1979 by charismatic leaders of the Third World and the Non-Aligned Movement (see “The Third World Project, 1948-79” 7/20/2016), calling the people to political action in the development of an alternative to the neoliberal project imposed by the global powers (see “IMF & USA attack the Third World project” 7/29/2016). And in the tradition of Fidel, Ho Chi Minh, and Nyerere, he saw socialism as a necessary component of national liberation (“Fidel adapts Marxism-Leninism to Cuba” 9/9/2014; “Ho synthesizes socialism and nationalism” 5/8/2014). In the next post, we will look at the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, forged under his leadership.
Guevara, Aleida. 2005. Chávez, Venezuela, and the New Latin America. Melbourne: Ocean Press.
Chávez Frías, Hugo. 2006. La Unidad Latinoamericana. Melbourne: Ocean Sur.
Key words: Chávez, Venezuela, socialism, Bolivarian Revolution