Hugo Chávez Frías: When a friend departs
Chávez embodied Venezuela’s longing for freedom, and set out to raise a rebellious continent and lead it on the path to its second independence
Raúl Antonio Capotemarch 8, 2019 17:03:44
Ignacio Ramonet, in the book My First Life, an extended interview with Hugo Chávez, describes how: “We had arrived at the center of the infinite Venezuelan plains the day before (…) the cracked, hardened earth around us was dotted with colorful bushes, splendid giant fruit trees flowering.” They were in the land of Chávez, the boy who sold dulce de lechosa (papaya in syrup), the man who embodied Venezuela’s longing for freedom, and set out to raise a rebellious continent and lead it on the path to its second independence.
Ramonet relates their stay in Sabaneta de Barinas, the land of “my circumstances,” as Chávez referred to it. Reading this account sparks one’s imagination, navigating those splendid spaces through which Simón Bolívar passed, as well as the plainsmen of “Páez the Centaur,” and Ezequiel Zamora, and where “Cuba’s best friend” grew up.
Chávez’s death was a mean trick, there was much left to do in these lands. “I love my country dearly,” he tells Ramonet, “deeply, because as Alí Primera says, the homeland is man (…), only history provides a people with the full awareness of themselves.” Venezuela, and extending the horizon as Bolívar, Martí and Fidel knew, to encompass the Great Homeland, is that man who bore within himself the marks of that land, punished by the gusts of a hot breeze, hardened earth, and at the same time perfumed by the aroma of its fruit trees.
I recall an evening when I appeared on the Venezuelan television program “La hojilla,” talking about my book Enemigo, which was going to be presented at the Caracas International Book Fair. A colleague had asked me to be discreet when mentioning, on that occasion, the names of the Americans involved in subversive plans against Cuba and Venezuela. With a lot of effort I attempted to follow those instructions. But how not to mention names if the book was precisely condemning them?
We were in the midst of that dilemma when someone passed me a cell phone, and on the other end a fraternal, clear and enthusiastic voice told me: “Professor, do not omit names, explain well to Venezuelan students how gringos act, what those plans were like.” I was speechless for a few seconds. It was him, Hugo Chávez Frías. He was in Havana at the time and watching the program from there. He called three more times asking for details. During the last call he asked me: “Do you know who is watching the program here with me?” I fell silent for a long time.
I attended the masses dedicated to Chávez in the Cathedral of Havana, masses full of faith in his recovery, where Cubans, Venezuelans and brothers and sisters from other nations of the continent offered their best wishes and prayers to save the President.
In the interview that appears in My First Life, Ramonet asks Chávez: “Was there ever a Chávez myth?” to which he replied: “I am not a myth, that is what my adversaries would like. I am a reality.” The reality that reflected the hope of an entire people, and that materialized when “the desire for a new country with more justice, more equality, less corruption, began to exist in the collective imagination, and that’s when utopia was confused with myth.” Chávez clearly saw that his mission was to give content to that myth, to invent a possible country in the psyche of the Venezuelan people, create an achievable utopia, convince the majorities that a better future could be built and, according to him, “I should die as the individual Chávez myth, so that the new, collective myth of Venezuela emerges.”
They say that the people have built altars in their houses to the Bolivarian leader; many followers of Chávez have chosen “a corner of the home to soothe the soul,” a corner dedicated to the simple veneration of a people for whom he was never a saint, nor a god, but a simple man of the people, to whom he devoted himself.
“Chávez is established in the national consciousness as a national historic, political, philosophical, and ethical identity,” explains television presenter Larissa Costas, who consider the Bolivarian leader responsible for “having restored Venezuelans’ identity.” Such elements, RT reports, “generated an affective bond between the leader and the people that, naturally, is manifested in the candle that a grandmother lights in her home, in the flowers offered, in the prayers in his name, in the chapel installed in the heart of a poor neighborhood.”
Chávez was the Venezuelan people, he was one of them, he was born of them, and he maintained that spirit of origin, that humble soul that was immediately recognized by anyone who approached him. Chávez reached the people like a neighbor, like a friend who crosses the doorstep of our homes.
His heroic stature, far form distancing him, actually brought him closer to the people, because he expressed the people’s yearnings, and at the same time was devoid of the vain pride of Achilles. He was just one more, one of them, one of us.
His death, as I heard a Venezuelan say, only brought him “greater affection.”
They say he was born on July 28, 1954, in the midst of a torrential downpour in the Venezuelan plains, and thus we remember him in his unforgettable political campaign that October 4, 2012 when, alongside the Venezuelan people, seven major avenues of Caracas overflowed, under a torrential downpour that lasted for hours with this people’s giant on the streets.
He was born on a day of water rushing across the plains, and rose up in that myth that he did not want for himself, accompanied by a torrent of love, confidence and optimism of the people.
They say that although he died, he lives on in many, but even so his departure hurts. “When a friend departs, he leaves an empty space,” goes the song, and that space cannot be filled, it is there in a corner of a home where people revere him, in the hearts of many, and on that eternal mount, in his reunion with Fidel, Martí and Bolívar.
— Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías was born on July 28, 1954, in Sabaneta de Barinas, in the plains of Venezuela. Military man and politician. President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela from 1999 until his death on March 5, 2013.
— His profound socialist ideas and thought, and integrationist nature, were inherited from Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Miranda, and made him the undisputed leader of the Bolivarian Revolution.
— On December 6, 1998, 56.24% of voters elected Chávez as President of the then Republic of Venezuela.
— In the elections of July 30, 2000, Chávez Frías crystallized the constituent political project and was re-elected as President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela with 59.5% of the vote.
— On December 3, 2006, he was re-elected president in a landslide victory, securing more than seven million votes (62.84%), compared to 36.90% obtained by opposition candidate Manuel Rosales, who recognized the result that same night.
— In October 2012, Chávez won the presidential elections again, this time with 55% of the vote, defeating Henrique Capriles, governor of the state of Miranda and candidate of the opposition coalition.
— Hugo Chávez died on March 5, 2013, at the Military Hospital of Venezuela, after battling with cancer since 2011. His death was met by great sorrow among the people, while the Venezuelan government and his family received messages of condolence from all the parts of the world.