21 January 2013

Return Of The Chavitos: The Brotherhood Of Chavez

Soon after Hugo Chavez went to prison in February 1992 for his failed military uprising, it was carnival time in Venezuela and hundreds of largely young boys dressed up in military fatigues with a red beret as Chavitos (little Chavez) or Chavecitos (the latter usually refers to a balancing Chavez doll), an army of Chavez look-alikes. In one commando operation Chavez had inserted himself in the Venezuelan popular imagination. 

A Chavito

He mentions this in one of his prison letters: “Those were the days of being born. Those were the days… that children were dressed up. I remember very clearly we were at the San Carlos barracks; it was the carnival and there we could watch television and there was a journalist speaking with a child. It is not easy speaking to children, but they were on the streets and the child with his mother, the child dressed as Chavecito or Chavito. Then the journalist arrives and comes up to the child, you know how the journalists are like, and then tells him:

‘And you, what’s your name and what are you dressed up as?’

“The child with a beret tells the journalist:

 ‘Are you an idiot? Don’t you see that I am Chavez?’

“And then the journalist tells him:

‘Sure, I know that you are in disguise. But who is Chavez?’

“The child gives a beautiful reply:

‘Chavez is there among the trees. He walks there and I’ll go with him.’

“Those were the days. You know that Chavez is something more than Chavez… I’m merely a human being of flesh and bones, no more than anyone of us. In truth, this is what we are as individuals: dragged, pushed and impelled by the revolutionary hurricane.”

Twenty years later, the Chavitos are effectively in power, not the carnival children, but a new generation of young leaders standing in for their leader absent from Venezuela. And they have a project: creating a brotherhood of Chavez. This is not a deduction; it has been publicly announced by Chavez’s principal heir and chosen apostle, Nicolas Maduro, the current Vice-President.

The Brothers 

Nicolas Maduro

Diosdado Cabello
Elias Jaua
There are two other men who stand alongside Maduro as the principal executors of Chavez’s political will, activated even though he is alive. Diosdado Cabello, speaker of the National Assembly, former soldier-mutineer and a natural expert in psychological warfare, and Elias Jaua, brand-new Foreign Minister and beloved of the Chavista base who also appeals to the young. There are no women in the first rank but four of the twenty Chavista state governors are women. The governors, two of them the last chiefs-of-staff and nine others former soldiers, were handpicked by Chavez to develop local bases and deny the Opposition any hinterland. They are the second rung of the leadership pool and committed to building the brotherhood. There are a few other second-rank leaders in the PSUV (the United Socialist Party of Venezuela), the national government and in the armed forces who are part of this talent pool. 

'I am Chavez'
Chavez postponed an emergency surgery and returned to Caracas from Havana for a day on December 8 last year and asked Venezuelans to accept Maduro as his successor if he did not survive. He met his military high command with the sword of Bolivar in hand, reiterated his choice of Maduro and in a symbolic moment handed the sword to Maduro. That was the precise moment in which power was transferred, even if temporarily, in Venezuela to the next generation. A few days later Maduro almost broke down at a public event, fearing that Chavez was dying of post-operation complications, and first spoke of creating the brotherhood of Chavez, swearing an oath of loyalty “to always accompany Chavez, if necessary, even beyond this life”. On January 10, the day Chavez was to have taken oath in parliament but could not make it, hundreds of thousands of Chavistas arrived at the Balcony of the People at the Miraflores presidential palace, constitution in hand and declared, ‘We are all Chavez’. The brotherhood of Chavez was consecrated that day. 

The brotherhood is structured on a very personal and, simultaneously, very ideological foundation. Loyalty to Chavez, unquestioning and permanent, will bind the brothers of the same ‘political father’. The President, Maduro said, had changed their lives, made them “better human beings” and turned them from idealistic young men and women to Socialists capable of handling power and using it to construct Socialism. But Chavez is what the assassinated Colombian leader, Jorge Gaitan, was: not just a person but also a people. The brotherhood of Chavez has at least three clear influences: the anti-imperialism of Simon Bolivar, Christianity and Marxism. Venezuela is dreaming the Bolivarian, Christian and Marxist dream that seeks to create a fiercely independent nation living on the principles of social justice based on a radical interpretation of Christianity (Christ was the first Socialist, as Chavez has so often said) and recognising that class struggle must lead them to social ownership of the means of production and a just distribution of riches based on the Marxist notion of from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. Borrowing a line from the iconic Venezuelan singer, Ali Primera, the brotherhood of Chavez seeks to “make humanity more human”.

If Chavez returns and lives awhile, the project will recede, only to germinate again when he passes away. Perhaps he will have better luck with his succession that either Lenin or Mao; perhaps it was not mere luck or chance that this has happened; perhaps he prepared for it right from the start of his illness; perhaps he will have more time to cement his legacy.

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