Man against the world

Hugo ChávezAn atmosphere of sadness and imminent tragedy has taken over towns and cities of Venezuela as Hugo Chávez nears death. For so long portrayed in the west as a buffoon or a socialist firebrand, this immensely important political figure has suddenly begun to be treated with dignity and respect. What is not yet understood is Chávez, who is suffering from cancer, has been the most significant ruler in Latin America since Castro seized power in Cuba, in January 1959, more than half a century ago. Such extraordinary and charismatic people emerge rarely in history; they leave an imprint that lasts for decades. I have long been a supporter of Hugo Chávez, writing and talking about him since he first emerged as a serious and revolutionary political contender in the middle of the 1990s. He embodied 2 vibrant traditions from Latin America in the 1960s: the memory of the left-wing guerrilla movements of that period, inspired by Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution (and, of course, by Castro) and the unusual experience of government by the left-wing army officers, notably General Juan Velasco Alvarado in Peru + General Torríjos in Panama. He also embraced powerful current of left-wing nationalism in Latin America’s leftist parties, often repressed during the years of the cold war, but never far from the surface. Chávez was born in the village of Sabaneta in July 1954, in the wide cattle lands of Barinas State (a year younger than Tony Blair). His parents were schoolteachers and members of Copei, Christian democratic party. Ambitious to be a baseball player, he joined the army at the age of 17 rather than following his elder brother to study at the University of the Andes in Mérida. A frustrated intellectual, Chávez became an inspiring history teacher at Caracas military academy, influencing a generation of young officers with his tales of Venezuelan dissidents from 19th century, starting with Bolívar. In Venezuela, country dominated by white European immigrants and overlaid with a thick cultural veneer of American consumerism, sought to recreate pride in an alternative historical vision of land peopled by the often-ignored descendants of Native Americans and black slaves. In 1982, dismayed by the growing decadence and corruption of civilian politicians, Chávez formed a “Bolivarian revolutionary movement” within the armed forces that started as a political study group and ended up a subversive organisation hoping for an appropriate moment to stage a coup d’état. This came after 1989, when civil unrest erupted in several cities; armed forces were called out to suppress it with great violence, killing more than a thousand people. Chávez and his small band of middle-ranking officers then staged a coup in February 1992. It was successful in much of the country but failed in Caracas, where Hugo Chávez was in charge of the insurrection. Faced with defeat, he surrendered and appeared briefly on national television to announce that he was giving up, “for now”. His implicit promise that he would return another day brought him immediate popularity countrywide, especially in shanty towns and rural areas. Chávez represented the hope of profound change in a stagnant and unequal society, and six years later, in 1998, leading an ad hoc party, the “Fifth Republic Movement”, he was elected president of Venezuela with 56% of the vote (…..)



Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional


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