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  • A supporter of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro holds a picture of the late Hugo Chavez at a rally in Caracas.

    A supporter of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro holds a picture of the late Hugo Chavez at a rally in Caracas. | Photo: Reuters

Published 9 May 2018
Chavez is more than Chavez: more than a government; a party; a liturgy; 2,000 communes; two million houses; dozens of elections, almost all won, writes Marco Teruggi.

One must ask: what are we naming when we say 'Chavismo'? How many types of Chavismo live within Chavismo? It is necessary to break down this word that we use daily. More than a word, it's a category, with a history of more than 20 years. It's necessary to do it particularly in times like these, where we are in dire straits: the presidential elections are round the corner, and we need to win.

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I write from certainty: Chavez is more than Chavez. More than a government; a party; a liturgy; 2,000 communes; two million houses; dozens of elections, almost all won. What is it? Chavismo is greater than its very core.

In order to get an answer, you have two steps: dismembering it then putting it back together as a whole. An exercise of analysis to delve into the depths of a political process that adversaries loathe and fear, and which often – in their own ranks – is reduced to its governmental dimension.

It's hard to understand how we continue standing, against the ropes or in the center of the ring, without getting into the territories where Chavez passions are born; the subjectivities; forms of organization; relationship between the parties, tensions that seem sometimes to reach the limit and then they're resolved. Behind this question is the main question: what do we defend when we go to elections or confront violence designed to push us to a civil war?

They are eight chavisms. Put them on the table in parts, which are then rearranged to become a single word. It is ourselves, in eight deliveries and a metamorphosis.

First Delivery: The Old Man and The Machete

The old man relates the tale of when they put a needle in his eye and it loosened everything. He imitates it with his finger, from far away to almost touching it. After they scraped the inside, he thought that was it and he would never see again. During the day the light went from thin to full, and Cuba was not Cuba but Venezuela again, in the lower part of Merida, which is sometimes Zulia, or also Trujillo, and this area is known as Sur del Lago. He returned to grab the machete, put on his boots, walk with his half-opened shirt, and rescue land from the hands of the landlords. This can cost you your life. More than 300 peasants were killed in 18 years. Taking power away from those who have always had it unleasesh death.

It was his first time on a plane; in an excellent clinic, everything was free. What political process invests money in the eyes of an old peasant? What does an old peasant think when he recovers the eyesight he once took for granted? He went with his wife and several contingents of Venezuelans. He has not forgotten a single detail, nor about how land is retaken: 15 years later, he is still there; stubborn, with his machete and his muddy boots. The country has changed in that time; the wave of advances against the oligarchy stagnated, with a balance of more than four million hectares recovered and several open debates. Did the lands that were rescued become productive? Did recoveries work better in the hands of the state or organized peasants?

Thousands of pages of similar stories could be written, from the dispossessed masses who could study, get medical attention; those who went from being excluded to politicizing, entering theaters and offices – not only to clean them – to access new, imaginary departments, to be claimed by Chavez, coming from that historical territory. It was a radical democratization in the hands of ordinary people. The barrios, the poor, peasants, marginalized, women – especially women.

Historic Debt

The accumulated historic debt was immense when Hugo Chavez assumed the presidency. Lack of health, access to education, housing, identification, water, food. The greed of those who drove an oil-producing country to poverty. The myth of a happy Venezuela pre-Chavez is false. That Venezuela had flown through the air on February 27, 1989, and the protagonists were the ones who built the backbone of Chavismo. Chavez put his strategic bet on them. And the first thing to solve that debt in an accelerated way was the opening of public health centers, educational missions, water for the barrios, and food on plates.

Reducing the issue to material affairs is like reducing Chavismo to a government: a mistake. The process encouraged millions: as a people, their national history, their way of life, their skin color. Dignity was the power that was set in motion: it faced the 2002 coup d'état, the oil strike, allowing us to resist these years in which material conquests – with the exception of housing – no longer go forward, but they go backwards instead. Those who are mostly affected are the middle and lower classes, centrally the Chavista social base.

Chavismo was configured as something of its own identity, the political name for those who were always out of the game. There is an equation that rarely fails: the more materially humble a neighborhood is, the more Chavista its people are. The emerging middle class was the first to move away from the impacts of a war designed and combined with errors of their own – the historic middle classes mostly associated their destiny with that of the rich emigrants to Miami. The dimension of Chavismo as identity, enhanced by the rational/sentimental link with Hugo Chavez, was built by the conquest of things: they did not fall from the sky.

I hear the old man. When we are thirsty, he cuts a coconut with the machete, shares its water; part of the production – the recovered lands that now produce corn, yucca, bananas – because this is about democratizing the land and restoring its productivity, which the landlords never exploited. The old man has not become rich; he has skin like leather, skinny with tense muscles. Who is going to take away his Chavista vision? Although the situation is difficult, peasants have been evicted with the complicity of those who should be Chavistas. When offered a bribe in dollars, they turn their back on Chavismo, or maybe they never believed in it. He himself is Chavismo.

Chavismo's Social Base

There are millions like him: the hardcore social base of Chavismo, emerging when many insist the fight is over. On July 30 last year, more than eight million people went out to vote for the National Constituent Assembly after four months of violence, when being a Chavista in an upper-class area was almost certainly a death sentence. Why did they cross rivers to get around paramilitaries and go to vote? It was not for the government, the party, or the need to change the constitution. It was for something bigger, more profound. A history; an identity, it was for oneself. The scale of priorities, values and responsiveness is another. If you do not understand class – its past, territorial, economic, cultural forms, its way of doing politics – Chavez is not understood. There is the genesis. And that's where you should begin to achieve common sense again. Because many in the same popular areas have moved away, disaffiliated, entered the army of those who rise every day to solve material problems and stopped believing in the revolution. They do not go to another political option; they return to privacy, withdrawal. A product of the wear of war and disappointment with Chavismo leaders who reproduce the ways of doing politics against which the revolution rose: monopolists of the word. It is Chavismo against itself, the many Chavisms within Chavismo. The old man knows it. Chavez said: "I'm no longer myself." He was right.

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