Venezuela Remembers Chávez, One Year After His Death
EspañolOn the first year anniversary of the death of former President Hugo Chávez Frías, the government of Venezuela has decided to conduct a series of commemorative events, despite the wave of protests that have recently rocked the country. Through his Twitter account, President Nicolás Maduro, successor to Chávez, invited Venezuelans to participate in a tribute held in honor of the leader of the Bolivarian Revolution.
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) March 5, 2014
The tribute began with a civilian-military parade in Los Próceres, Caracas, where Chavista supporters gathered. Later in the afternoon, the regime held a formal event in the Cuartel de la Montaña, just west of Caracas, where the remains of the late president are laid to rest. Among other activities, the television channel Telesur premiered the film My Friend Hugo, directed by Oliver Stone.
World leaders who were close to the late president arrived in Venezuela to pay their respects. President of Cuba Raúl Castro arrived on Wednesday morning to participate in the festivities. Moments after touching down on Venezuelan soil, Castro immediately headed to Chávez’s tomb.
Others in attendance included Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Bolivian President Evo Morales, who once described Chávez as a “Latin-American brother, a fellow anti-imperialist, a soldier committed to his people.” Also participating in the day’s events were Marco Aurelio García, foreign policy advisor to the president of Brazil, Argentinean Vice President Amado Boudou, and Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister Riad Al Malki.
At the parade, Maduro reaffirmed his position on Panama’s request to discuss the Venezuelan crisis in the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) as an act of “intervention.” He went on to say that the government of Venezuela would respond “strongly” to any “attack” on their national sovereignty.
“We can take a look back at the nefarious history of the OAS and the last 60 years of orchestrated coups. There is a right-wing government [Panama] that aims to use the Permanent Council of the OAS as a way to have foreign forces intervene in our country. I will respond with strength and force against any attempt at intervention in Venezuela. I ask for the support of the people,” Maduro said during the celebrations.
While the government declared this Wednesday as a solemn day, the opposition has showed itself to be divided on how to proceed with protests. Julio Borges, a National Assembly representative of the Primero Justicia party, said the opposition would not hold a single protest on Wednesday to “show respect to that part of the country that still supports the figure of President Chávez.” He added, “out of respect for the celebrations of the first anniversary of the death of the President Chávez, there will be no marches.”
However, the call did not stop protesters, who proceeded to block those same streets with barricades and obstruct the free flow of traffic. For her part, opposition leader María Corina Machado attended a march in Táchira, where recent protests in the country first began.
— María Corina Machado (@MariaCorinaYA) March 5, 2014
Strengthening the Cult of Personality
Even now, a year after his death, the image of Chávez remains present in official speeches, in advertisements on state television, in “miraculous apparitions,” and even in the institutions of government. Mariatrina Burgos, founder of the organization Justice for Democracy, believes “Maduro clearly does not have his [Chávez] charisma and has certainly brought Venezuela into this debacle. He has used Chávez because, by himself, he’s no one. He has to continue to use the image of Chávez to maintain some popularity.”
With respect to the divisions within Chavismo, Burgos has commented that, “There are some who are with Maduro that are Chavistas, but not all Chavistas are with Maduro. There are some strong rifts … as a result of his leadership. Also, the people, even while Chavista, are not blind and continue to suffer firsthand the problems of security, scarcity, and poor quality of life.”
Despite the supposed rift, the president keeps Chávez present in every speech. Burgos considers this a strategy to maintain connected to the will of the “El Commandante Supremo” upon being named the successor of Chavismo and the revolutionary project.
“I think it doesn’t help much anymore. This is why today there needed to be this celebration of his death, to maintain the living image [of Chávez], and so people forget who Maduro is as an individual,” Burgos stated.
Despite the celebrations, the problems in Venezuela continue to intensify and continue to be denounced by nationwide protests. Burgos believes, “There will come a time, soon in my opinion, that this love will no longer do them much good. Love with hunger does not last, and the Chavista public and non-Chavista are beginning to notice that it’s all been a fairytale to try and entertain and make them forget the real underlying problems.”
Translated by Guillermo Jimenez.