Hugo Chavez Makes a Bestseller
Gifts are always political when the giver and recipient are both politicians, and only more so when they are pass between such International figures as Obama and Chavez. But what made Chavez gift 2 months ago notable wasn’t the gift itself, but the effect the gift had on book sales on Amazon.
The book, “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of Pillage and Conquest”, is an account of 500 years of Latin American history since the Spanish conquests. Chavez describes the ability of Latin American’s to reflect on their history as something very important to them, and its true that they have suffered much through Colonialism, Neo-Colonialism and neo-Liberalism.
I’m always glad when people are being made aware of this sort of historical perspective, instead of the views of the powerful, of the elites. But what of Chavez role in that history? After all, he isn’t the only person to try drawing the world’s attention to this 500 year span of history. The Zapatistas, through the words of Marcos, recalled this image of history when the first declared their struggle active (The First Declaration of the Selva Lacandon):
We are a product of five hundred years of struggle: first, led by insurgents against slavery during the war of independence with Spain; then to avoid being absorbed by North American imperialism; then to proclaim our constitution and expel the French empire from our soil; later when the people revelled against Porfirio Diaz’s dictatorship, which denied us the just application of the reform laws, and leaders like Villa and Zapata emerged, poor men just like us who have been denied the most elemental preparation so they can use us as cannon fodder and pillage the wealth of our country. The don’t care that we have nothing, absolutely nothing, not even a roof over our heads, no land, no work, no health care, no food or education, not the right to freely and democratically elect our political representatives, no independence from foreigners. There is no peace or justice for ourselves and our children.
But today we say: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
After my talk last Thursday, and one of the few questions I was asked in the meeting before we all decided to head for the bar, I was left pondering a discussion title for the future: “The Role of Figureheads in Struggle: Chavez v Marcos”. The two, despite both having a key role to play in political activity against the forces of Neo-Liberalism, have acted in almost totally different ways.
For Chavez, it has been self-promotion, with little hope of real liberation for his subjects, merely a redefining of their relationship to wealth. Don’t get me wrong, this stuff is important, but any real liberation must deal with the relationship between people, money and power. For Chavez, the ideal relationship between the masses and power has been one of besotted adoration of the pinnacle of a hierarchy.
For Marcos, almost exactly the reverse is the case. He has moved himself from visibility to non-visibility on many occasions, making strategic decisions on when to make himself visible again. Strategic decisions, not egotistical decisions. Marcos has rejected any desire to take state control, and the Zapatistas have shown themselves more willing to put down arms than to take them up, despite being in a situation where pacific resistance is almost as strategically useless as it will ever be.
I warm much more to Marcos (big surprise there, then) and feel much more comfortable with his leadership than that of Chavez, who I find somewhere between entertaining and frightening, perhaps both at once. Where Chavez has done little to restore dignity to the indigenous of Venezuela, instead offering them only pre-determined development, Marcos has made Mexico a more plural society and provided a means by which humans can return to being humans from their current status as economic pawns (and kings).
Chavez may have wanted to appear in contrast to the injustices of Latin American history, but he offers only material improvements, tied to exploitation of fossil fuel resources and little in the way of a status-shift away from economic definition of people’s worth. In short, the workers of Venezuela might be able to read and write, but they remain merely workers.
Through Marcos’ work and that of the rest of the Zapatista communities, people have learnt not just to read and write, but to take initiative, speak up for themselves and take decisions. And Marcos has left himself totally abandoned to their demands. To Chavez, its the same rhetoric repeating itself over and over, the same failed ideologies with little substantive improvement since the failure or the fall of Communism. Perhaps its just the employment of Machismo on one’s part and the employment of poetry and intellect on the part of the other, but I can’t help feeling Chavez is merely continuing the cycle of repression of Latin American sovereignty.