December 2, 2006

Chavismo as Eschatology

JayDee says: I've seen Chavez speak in person twice in the last few weeks. Both times, he had his audiences eating out of his hand, weak-kneed in the thrall of his charisma. What's disconcerting, though, is that the first time, he was dealing with revolutionary students - the second, with foreign journalists.

The first speech was a few weeks back at the Teresa Careño - Caracas' flagship theater. Arriving there I saw hundreds of students clad in red, chanting in unison, waiting for El Presidente. There was something creepy about the energy in that hall. The scariest thing was the chants, though. My favorite? El que no salta es un yanqui! He who is not screaming is a yankee! Shudder.

This went on and on and on unabated, with boundless enthusiasm, for the full hour and a half we waited for the event to start.

The scene reeked of group think. You saw men and women turned into cogs of an ideological machine, chanting repetitive, empty, meaningless slogans again and again and again. To think these are the folks celebrating higher education!

Suddenly Chavez turns up, dressed in loafers, casual slacks, and, of course, a red shirt. The crowd goes batshit insane when it sees him. I lean over to a fellow journo and ask if he thinks the man will open with "Satisfaction" or save it for the final encore.

He gets to talking:
We are here to fight against imperialism, to defend el pueblo, that is why we celebrate education.

One day Bolivar, having seen his dream of a unified America shattered, said: Our hour hasn't arrived. Well, today it has. This is the hour of el Pueblo, of Simon Bolivar, Socialism, Christianity, the Bolivarian Republic.

The imperialist corporations are trying to steal our wealth. So, we have to study, to know our history better, to know how to defend ourselves.

There are two worlds. One of capitalism, of man for man, of exclusion. And ours, where humanity and Christianity rule. We are here to celebrate your training for carrying forward 21st century socialism. Today, we celebrate a new generation of students more aware, more conscious, students prepared to break the neo-liberal model. That is our collective path. We will never again go down the path of savage capitalism.

The neo-liberal plan was the 'final plan'. 1989 was the resulting revolt, but El Caracazo wasn't enough. It was just the beginning of our movement. Children, Men, Women shed there blood for a better world. And the coup of '92 was next.

And now we are posed on the verge of another historic epoch. We have consolidated the revolution in these last seven years, and the next era will stretch forward to the year of 2021, realising Simon Bolivar's dream, forever rejecting a role as a colony of the North.
It was the first time I quite grasped the way Chavez's reinterprets history, crafts it into a narrative that puts him at the center, even when he's talking about events that have nothing to do with him. El Caracazo - the outbreak of mass urban looting that took place for four days in 1989, happened three years before the man's shadow darkened the national consciousness, but you'd never guess that it listening to him: it's now been assimilated entirely into the revolutionary redemption story. As far as he's concerned, history moves in a definite direction. And the trajectory is clear: from light, to darkness, to light again.

Simon Bolivar -> Imperialism -> Caracazo -> the 1992 coup -> Chavez!

It is Francis Fukuyama turned on it's head, a sort of End of History where all the forces of history conspire (perhaps following Christ's divine will) to produce their crowning achivement: the Bolivarian revolution, the saving grace of humanity. Chavismo is the purpose of history.

The second time I saw him, Chavez waltzed into a Press Conference in Miraflores, the presidential palace, in a finely tailored dark suite and bright red tie. About 150 international and domestic journos applaud as he works his way into the room. Is that normal?

Instead of heading for his desk, Chavez takes a sharp turn and wades into the crowd of journalists. Everyone goes apeshit, crashing in on him, scratching and clawing, pushing to get in close, while photographers and cameramen scream from the back and sides, "SIT DOWN."

Security looks on nervously.

Journalists totally lose their cool around the guy, pushing and shoving each other like children.The grown, educated, professional, impartial men and women of the supposedly hard-bitten international press just about swoon around the guy.

The foreign correspondent next to me leans over and says, "I have never seen anything like this"

And people wonder about his cult like effect on the poor!

Chavez sits down in front of a portrait of Bolivar. Half his cabinet sits behind him and to his right, the other half in front and to his right. How bored must they be?!

Then his speech:
This has been a happy, jubilant, positive campaign.

Venezuela ended the 20th century as a lost Republic, a nation that had lost it's morals, it's righteous economic and social ways, lost its direction.
The audience is vastly different, but it's the same theme: Chavez as saviour.
"The country was shattered, mired in poverty and only functioning for the elite. With the exception of CUBA, Lat Am was under the boot of neo-liberalism.

Have we made mistakes errors? Yes. Have started things and not finished them? Yes. But we have brought democracy to a land where there wasn't any.
Somebody gets up and asks, "The people believe in you, but not your ministers. They say they are corrupt. Will you sack any of them?"

"In the 70's, Venezuela was like Soddom and Gomorrah." The crowd titters. "This palace was a pleasure dome, a place for business and parties."

He lectures on Carlos Andres Perez for a good 20 minutes.


One of the things we will have to assume with greater responsibility in this era is the fight against corruption. Corruption is a product of capitalism, or the desire to be rich, this is the birth of the cancer that is corruption
Next question.

He moves on, not having answered the question. Come to think of it, he never answers the question he's asked. The questioning rules are strict, and time is limited. There's no chance for a follow-up. There will be only 8 questions, and, following his intro and first answer, we are already 90 minutes into this shit.

Suddenly, I realized the game we were playing. This wasn't really a press conferences at all. Amidst this cult of personality, there's no such thing as a real press conference. Journos here are no different from the students at the Teresa Carreño. In his presence, we're reduced to being just another audience.