Chavez: Their Dark Talisman

In this reflection published in Argentina’s leftist Pagina 12, a Chavez partisan sees the dead Venezuelan leader as a figure of American and European popular demonology.

What will they do, now that their greatest adversary has fallen silent? The West has lost a perfect paladin, an unequalled antagonist who throughout his years in power laid bare all of the hypocrisies on which the Western democracies rest their legitimacy. Demonized by the press, ridiculed to the point of making asses of those who taunted him, Hugo Chavez was an inverted mirror with which self-righteous westerners constructed their own self image as honest democrats.

So, for example, the Venezuelan president, dead this week, was the villain of the story because, in Muammar Qaddafi’s final days, he offered the Libyan leader a way out. However, those who had spent decades doing business with the picturesque Libyan colonel were the same ones who attacked Chavez. It was the same with Iran. Every time the Venezuelan chief hosted the Iranian president Mahmud Ahmedinejad, Western columnists and TV talking heads sharpened their knives for Chavez’s throat. Nevertheless, the petroleum companies from the countries of these same journalists continued to tap the Iranian oil wells. Two-faced behavior, two faced morals, one-sided condemnation.

For the moralists of the West, Hugo Chavez embodied perfectly the idea of “the new South American despot.” Everything they thought was wrong with the global south was condensed into his person: he was the proof that they were ‘better than that.’ When the battle for a new constitution was joined, the commentaries grew more strident, denouncing a step toward a perpetual presidency.

And, nevertheless, every month, the French president of the moment receives the planet’s authentic despots in his palace: Arab or African leaders who have spent decades bleeding their people dry, while buying luxurious mansions in Paris, and perfume by the ton. Not to belabor the point, but former French president Sarkozy invited, to the country’s 14 of July military parades commemorating the French Revolution, the Syrian president Bashar al Assad. His presence at an event commemorating the end of the tyrannical monarchy, and thereby the birth of democracy, engendered a controversy but nothing more.

Chavez, by contrast, awoke a sort of condescending smile, a malignant sarcasm, and finally a devastating epithet: despot, dictator, etc. But separating a Bashar al Assad from Hugo Chavez there was an enormous litany of the dead and the arrested, a steel clamp over a prisoner society, a criminal government. The differences [in treatment]seem to have been geopolitical and commercial: The more commercial and geopolitical weight a country has, the less its president can be made fun of or disrespected.

Now there is one less adversary to help them praise themselves in the mirror. We have lost a controversial head of state, an implacable force who exposed the moral contradictions of those who govern the world with their models. For lack of putschists and murderous and extravagant dictators, it was Chavez who filled the imagination with which the West dreams itself the hero and thought the worst of the rest of the planet.

Chavez was the perfect model of Latin American singularity. But only for the horde of ignorants who continued to see Latin America through the filter of a bygone past. The processes of transformation, real confrontations with certain neoliberal barriers, social progress; all of this is buried by the contradictory power of those who carry out such changes.

There have nevertheless been exceptions. Jean Luc Melenchon, the reliable leader of France’s Left Front, wrote on Twitter that “what Chavez represents never dies.” His loyalty to Chavez cost Melenchon a torrent of heckling and ridicule. Likewise in a tweet reacting to his death, the French Justice Minister, Christiane Taubira, referred to the “broken heart’ of the Venezuelan people and the fears of the people for the “arrogant return of injustice and exclusion.” But I still remember the discomfort with which, during an interview, the Greek radical leftist leader Alexis Tsipras tried to avoid saying whether Chavez was a model for him.

The armchair hacks no longer have a devil. Now they will have to find someone new with whom to hide their own inadequacies.

Eduardo Febbro