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Hugo Chávez and Bolívar


The following essay is the afterword toThe Cult of Bolívar in Latin American Literature by Christopher Conway, published by The University Press of Florida in 2003. This afterword is reprinted here courtesy of the University Press of Florida.The Cult of Bolívar in Latin American Literature is an interdisciplinary study of the history and cultural and literary manifestations of Bolivarian Nationalism in Latin America. Christopher Conway is also the editor of Peruvian Traditions by Ricardo Palma (Oxford University Press, 2004), and The U.S. Mexico War: A Binational Reader (Hackett Publishing, 2010).

–>For an updated discussion of the comparison between the Cult of Bolívar and the Cult of Hugo Chávez, see The Cult of Bolívar and the Emergence of the Cult of Hugo Chavez.

For more detailed information on the book titled The Cult of Bolívar in Latin American Literature see this review.


Afterword: Bolivarian Self-Fashioning into the Twenty-First Century. An excerpt from the book The Cult of Bolívar in Latin American Literature by Christopher Conway, University Press of Florida 2003, pages 151-172. Page numbers are in [brackets]. Text begins on page [151]. Endnotes are marked with asterisks (*).

“I swear in the name of the God of my parents”

In 1850, the Colombian historian Manuel Uribe Angel visited Simón Bolívar’s renowned childhood tutor and friend, Simón Rodríguez, in Quito. The elderly Rodríguez was poor and disillusioned after a string of failures in implementing his radical educational ventures in Latin America. Uribe asked the elderly man about his memories of Bolívar. Rodríguez recalled that when he and Bolívar had visited Rome in August of 1805, they climbed the Monte Sacro, where Bolívar was overcome with emotion. Rodríguez described how the twenty-two year old Bolívar became inspired and vowed to liberate his homeland from Spanish tyranny. After invoking the faded glories of the Classical World, Bolívar declared: “I swear before you; I swear in the name of the God of my parents; I swear upon them; on my honor and my homeland, I swear that I will not let my arm rest, nor give my soul repose, until I have broken the chains that oppress us by order of the Spanish authorities” (Bolívar, Doctrina 4). Rodríguez’s second-hand account of Bolívar’s vow on the Monte Sacro has become one of the cornerstone texts of the myth of Bolívar. The Venezuelan painter Tito Salas immortalized the scene on one of the frescoes of the National Pantheon in Caracas; the elegant young Bolívar is portrayed with the soft nimbus of a white cloud hovering around his figure, his right arm outstretched toward the future and the other resting on a fallen column, while the awe-struck and proud teacher Rodríguez looks on from a seated position. In truth, as Susana Rotker has observed, we cannot be sure of the details of this scene or of Bolívar’s exact words. The so called “Oath of Rome,” deprived of the framing devices that indicate that Bolívar’s words [end page 151] are being represented through the memory of another person, has entered into the canon of Bolivarian literature as Bolívar’s first proclamation. “If this did not happen,” Rotker declares, “it does not matter: it should have happened” (emphasis in original 42). Indeed, as an emblem of Bolívar, and of his iconicity as a national and Pan-American symbol, the “Oath of Rome” faithfully represents a foundational scene of Latin American identity.

Fast forward to December 17, 1982. A captain in the Second Regiment of Venezuela’s Parachute Division decides to formalize his plans for a revolution against the Venezuelan state. He and two fellow officers inaugurate their secret political cell, the Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucionario-200, by restaging Bolívar’s Roman oath. They take turns declaring: “I swear in the name of the God of my parents; I swear on my homeland that I won’t give peace to my soul until I have seen broken the chains that oppress my people, by order of the powerful. Popular election, free men and lands, horror to the oligarchy.” Captain Hugo Chávez Frías had decided to fashion himself after Bolívar and his spectacular journey. He was self-consciously surrendering himself to History by beginning with a thinly veiled reenactment of Bolívar’s oath. It was a gamble, but if his plans were to come to fruition, Chávez knew that his oath would recreate the iconic image of Bolívar and secure his place in Venezuelan mythology as a true heir to the hero of independence. And as extraordinary as it might seem in retrospect, Chávez’s self-important bid to ‘be like’ Bolívar did produce results, and shook Venezuela to its foundations. Eighteen years after his oath, and after a failed coup and two years in prison, Hugo Chávez ascended to the Venezuelan presidency and embarked on an ambitious plan to radically transform Venezuela.

At the time of this writing, in January of 2003, President Hugo Chávez has survived one coup and is facing a month-long national strike that has paralyzed oil production and resulted in massive protests and violence on the streets. Although the years to come will provide the necessary hindsight to better understand his presidency and its outcome, it is not too bold to say that Chávez embodies the most dramatic instance of Bolivarian nationalism in twentieth-century Venezuela. Like most of the writers discussed in this study, Chávez diagnoses the failure of Bolivarian nationalism and proposes a reinvention of the hero of independence. His version of Bolívar is predicated on a rejection of neoliberalism, economic dependency and political corruption. Moreover, Chavismo is sustained by the conceit [end of page 152] that it is desirable and possible to erase a century of liberal constitutionalism and restart history through the recovery of an original Bolívarian ideology. Chávez himself assiduously cultivates the notion that he is the true heir to Bolívar, to the point of fashioning himself after Bolívar. It is fitting, then, to close my study of Bolivarian iconoclasm with a post-script on Hugo Chávez, whose tumultuous political career is predicated on a populist reconstruction of the institutionalized Cult of Bolívar and a pointed rejection of the traditional formulas of liberal progress. Chávez’s brand of Bolivarian self-fashioning provides us an opportunity to offer some final reflections on the Bolivarian monumentalism that has been the subject of this study.

“I alone shoulder the responsibility for this Bolivarian military uprising”

Hugo Chávez Frías was born in the town of Barinas in 1954, where his parents, both school teachers, struggled to make ends meet. To supplement his parents’ meager salaries, Hugo Chávez recalls selling fruit and sweets out of a cart on the streets of his town (García Márquez “Enigma”). If family funds were limited, however, a wealth of historical memory bound the family to Venezuela’s martial history. Apart from their nationalist devotion to Bolívar, the Chávez Frías family could trace its ancestors to two caudillos, Colonel Pedro Pérez Pérez, who fought during the Guerra Federal of the nineteenth century, and Pedro Pérez Delgado, known as Maisanta, who resisted the dictatorship of Juan Vicente Gómez in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

In 1971, the seventeen-year-old Hugo Chávez enlisted in the Venezuelan military and began his life as an ambitious and independent-minded career soldier. From early on, Chávez questioned the integrity of the counterinsurgency campaigns of the Venezuelan armed forces against Marxist guerillas.* In the 1980′s Chávez began to network with close friends in the armed forces and formed the Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucionario 200 (MBR-200). The conspirators rejected the democratic state as corrupt and incapable of representing the interests of the masses. They were alarmed by increasing poverty and the state’s growing commitment to neo-liberal policies that exacerbated the living conditions of the poor. Inspired by the example of other populist military leaders, such as General Raul Velasco of Perú and Omar Torrijos of Panama, they believed that the armed forces [end of page 153] could be a force for progressive, social change. They were willing to wait for the right moment to strike, when they had moved up the ranks, and when the popular sector might be drawn into the struggle (Gott 42).

The window of opportunity came on February 27, 1989, when Caracas erupted into riots over the price of public transportation. When the government raised oil prices, the cost of bus fares for the thousands of people who commute from outlying communities into the capital every day doubled within twenty-four hours. However, if the price of oil set off the riots, long-standing resentment of a lingering economic crisis and the state’s inability to address it had set the scene for the violent outburst. A state of siege was declared and the armed forces killed hundreds if not thousands of protesters (Gott 47). Despite the indignation of the members of Chávez’s cell, they were caught unprepared and could not act. The riots, known as the Caracazo, intensified the conspiratorial activities of the MBR-200.

Three years later, on February 4 1992, the MBR-200 attempted its coup. Tank divisions entered the city and attacked the defense ministry, the military airport of La Carlota, the presidential palace of Miraflores, and the president’s private residence of La Casona. Plans to capture President Carlos Andrés Pérez and high-ranking officials of the military failed in the face of miscommunication and limited resources. In a chase worthy of fiction, the president escaped his enemies at Maiquetía international airport, at La Casona and at Miraflores. Chávez realized he had missed his chance and appeared on television to call for his men to surrender and in the process, became a hero to many in the country. His words transfixed a populace that was deeply distrustful of a political establishment and deserve to be quoted in their entirety.

“First I want to say ‘good morning’ to all the people of Venezuela, but this Bolivarian message is directed specifically to the courageous soldiers of the parachute regiment of Aragua and the tank regiment of Valencia. Comrades: unfortunately, for the moment, the objectives that we had set for ourselves have not been achieved in the capital. That’s to say that those of us here in Caracas have not been able to seize power. Where you are, you have performed well, but now is the time for a rethink; new possibilities will arise again and the county will be able to move definitively towards a better future. So listen to what I have to say, listen to comandante Chávez who is sending you this message, and, please, think deeply. Lay down your [end of page 154] arms, for in truth the objectives that we set ourselves at a national level are not within our grasp. Comrades, listen to this message of solidarity. I am grateful for your loyalty, for your courage, and for your selfless generosity; before the country and before you, I alone shoulder the responsibility for this Bolivarian military uprising. Thank you” (Gott 70-71).

Chávez caught the popular imagination by taking personal responsibility for the failed coup, and by defiantly uttering the phrase por ahora [for the moment] while acknowledging the failure of his plans (71). The Bolivarians of MBR-200, Chávez seemed to be saying, had lost the battle, not the war.

In an astonishing series of twists and turns, President Carlos Andrés Pérez was impeached for corruption in 1993, Chávez was pardoned in 1994 and elected president in 1999. Chávez’s MBR-200 had been reborn as the Movimiento Quinta República, and its central political mission was summed up by its name: to convene a Constitutional Congress to rewrite the Venezuelan Constitution and found the fifth Venezuelan republic. When he was being sworn in as President, Chávez swore upon the “moribund constitution” that he would lead the nation to a new and improved Magna Carta. Protests from old party horses, intellectuals and the Supreme Court of Venezuela were pushed aside. A referendum on whether or not to convene a constitutional congress was overwhelmingly approved by the public and majority of delegates from the Movimiento Quinta Republica were voted into the assembly. The new constitution created by the assembly was approved by yet another popular referendum and Venezuela was officially renamed the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. By 2001, however, Chávez lost national and international political capital by antagonizing the opposition, unions, the oil industry and the press.

Chavez’s opponents see his regime as a throwback to the paternalistic, military dictatorships of the past. The distinguished historians Manuel Caballero, Elías Pino Iturrieta and Inés Quintero, among others, decried Chávez’s manipulative and excessive appeals to Bolivarian nationalism, his bid to militarize the government and his initiative to rename the nation. The well known novelist Mario Vargas Llosa published an editorial in El Universal in August of 1999 calling Chávez a demagogue, an autocratic populist, a felon and a traitor to his constitution and his uniform. Indeed, Chávez’s words and acts give some credence to the criticism that he is autocratic. In his presidential acceptance speech before the congress and foreign dignitaries, Chávez declared that he aspired to be a much better “Com [end of page 155] -mander” than before (Chávez “Discurso de toma de posesión”). Later on that same day, in a speech at the Paseo de los Próceres, he referred to his new title as president in a distinctly martial pitch: “…this president will be the first soldier on the battlefield” (Chávez “Discurso Paseo de Próceres”). Indeed, one of the defining characteristics of the Chávez presidency has been the symbolic and political prominence of the military in the new state. Not only has Chávez named military officers to important government posts, but he also promoted plans to use the armed forces in social services, education and public works.**

As President, Chávez wanted to become a continental leader capable of counteracting United States hegemony in the hemisphere by reviving Bolivarian Pan-Americanism.*** On inauguration day, in his speech at the Paseo de los Proceres, Chávez said: “Venezuela from this moment onward declares itself standard bearer of Latin American and Caribbean unity.” Chávez’s close friendship with Fidel Castro, and his friendly state visits to China and Iraq have given him ample opportunity to disseminate his conviction that the United States should not be the only arbiter of foreign affairs in the world. For example, he refused U.S. requests for permission to fly over Venezuelan airspace to pursue drug war missions over Colombia. Further, he defied Latin American dependency upon the United States by proposing a NATO like organization for Latin America, as well as a common currency for the entire continent. Compared to his neoliberal predecessors, who presided over bureaucracies that were viewed as inherently corrupt, Chávez broke the mold of the modern Venezuelan foreign diplomacy through a combative, Pan-American stance.

“Now is when Venezuelans will listen to me speak of Bolívar…”

No other president since Antonio Guzmán Blanco has promoted the image of Bolívar as effectively as Hugo Chávez. Although Venezuela is historically steeped in the Cult of Bolívar, Chávez’s populism has intensified Bolivarian ritual and discourse. As tempting as it might be to think of Chávez as yet another demagogue taking advantage of the symbolic capital of a century and a half of Bolivarian nationalism, a closer look reveals that this president is engaged in a more complex transaction. As president, Chávez is attempting to preserve the critical dimensions of oppositional nationalism from within the state. For Chávez, Bolívar is not a trophy for consolidating national pride, but rather a call to arms to remake a nation marred by what he calls “a moral cancer” (Chávez, “Discurso de toma de [end of page 156] posesión”). His Bolívar is not the monument, but a spirit of renewal in an age of crisis. As such, Chávez engages the Bolívar question on two related fronts: on the one hand he criticizes the static and self-congratulatory discourse of official identity, while on the other he tries to mobilize a more dynamic and politically transformative version of Bolívar. In the process, Chávez cultivates parallels between himself and the hero of independence, suggesting that his authority springs directly from Bolívar himself.

A survey of Chávez’s presidential acceptance speech (herein “Discurso de toma de posesión”) may provide some insight into how his new Bolivarian nationalism is defined. Chávez’s speech is gregarious and dynamic, and underscores his optimistic populism. At one moment, he cites Walt Whitman, an apt choice considering how Chávez strives to contain multitudes in his discourse. Alongside Whitman, and repeated references to the spirit of Bolívar, Chávez invokes Galileo, José Martí, Miguel Angel Asturias, Pablo Neruda, Pedro Mir, Pope John Paul II, Gabriel García Márquez and Chinese Proverbs. From within this multitude of voices, Chávez negotiates a discourse of crisis, in which Venezuela is the victim of a catastrophe, and a providential discourse of renewal, in which Venezuela faces a glorious and epic struggle to reinvent itself. An example of the discourse of crisis: “Our homeland is wounded in the heart, we are in a kind of human grave.” The discourse of renewal: “…this day, which is not just another day…it is the first passing of the torch to a new epoch…the opening of a door onto a new national existence.” Chávez calls for a collective act mea culpa, and for reconciliation. He assails neoliberalism as a savage ethos and rejects the statist models of governance, proposing a third way, a balance between the invisible hand of the market and the protective presence of the State. The symbolic axis for these ambitious plans for reconstructing Venezuela is the spirit of Bolívar.

Early on in his speech, Chávez tells a revealing anecdote about Bolivarian nationalism in Venezuela that underscores his commitment to separate himself from the institutionalized Cult of Bolívar: “…why Bolívar? It’s not about the forced protocol of repeating any obscure phrase of Bolívar, just to speak of Bolívar, like I remember one of the soldiers in my tank platoon did on one occasion several years ago. It was his responsibility to gather the company every day, and every day it was his task and obligation to begin the announcement of the day’s orders with a thought of the Liberator that he would read in the patio; and he had a book from which to take the thoughts and pick any one of them. One day he lost the book and when we were about to form ranks and formally read the orders of the day, [end of page 157] the corporal invented a maxim: ‘Let us care for the trees for they are life.’ Simón Bolívar.” Chávez’s tale of the Bolívar of protocols rejects the notion of Bolívar as a random compendium of parables and dictums. The story also reveals a sense of disillusionment with Bolivarian identity in general, which has become dislodged from the Venezuelan self, like a foreign and meaningless object that serves no idealistic purpose. The solution to this dispersal of Bolívarian meaning is a return to the kind of Bolívar celebrated by José Martí and Pablo Neruda. Their Bolívar was a Bolívar of the people and for the people, stirring into life every time that the masses lift themselves up to struggle for liberty. This linking of Bolívar to internationalist social justice is not new in of itself, but the endorsement of this vision by a Venezuelan president signals the legitimation of a rich tradition of Marxist interpretations of Bolívar that have existed on the margins of official culture in Latin America.****

The most striking deployment of Bolívar, however, takes place when Chávez restages the present as a repetition of the Wars of the Independence, with himself playing the role of Bolívar. Standing before a hostile congress, Chávez anticipates resistance to his plans to do away with the old constitution, and preemptively attacks his critics by suggesting that Venezuela is at the same symbolic crossroads it was at when independence was being debated in 1811. Resistance to change, argues Chávez, is analogous to the position of those who defended the legitimacy of the Spanish Crown, while support for the immediate transformation of the Venezuelan political system is the equivalent of the cause of independence. In 1811 Bolívar had argued for the new Venezuelan polity to remain united in its commitment to independence, and Chávez interjects this call for unity of purpose into the present, calling for the congress to join his Bolivarian revolution. Echoing Bolívar’s condemnation of the foes of independence in 1811, Chávez terms those who would resist his agenda traitors: “Today gentlemen, to join those who want to conserve things as they are now, to seek consensus with those who oppose those changes that are necessary, I say today like Bolívar: it is a betrayal!”

Chávez presents himself as a celestial messenger, telling the congress and the nation the big truths that need to be spoken. In one of his most grandiloquent moments, Chávez suggests that he is the incarnation of Bolívar by referencing another mythic scene of the life of Bolívar, the 1825 ascent of the highest peak of the Andes, Ecuador’s Mount Chimborazo. After his ascent Bolívar composed a short text called “My delirium on Chimborazo,” in which he describes being swept up in the sublimity of the [end of page 158] divine realm and its providential direction. Despite convincing evidence that Bolívar’s ascent of Chimborazo did not take place, and that “My delirium on Chimborazo” is apocryphal, the scene has been canonized as another foundational moment attesting to Bolívar’s providential leadership (Rotker 41-42). In his speech, Chávez juxtaposes God’s command to Bolívar upon Chimborazo to speak the truth to the people, with his own dramatic pronunciations about the painful truth of Venezuela’s present crisis. “The truth is this,” declares Chávez, “Venezuela is wounded in the heart; we are on the edge of a sepulchre”. By heeding the voice of the same God that spoke to Bolívar on Chimborazo, and to Chávez in the present, the nation will be resurrected.

“An embrace for all and thank you very much for your attention…”

Chávez’s Bolivarian self-fashioning underscores the enduring power of Bolivarian mythology, which continues to be rewritten in politics as well as in art into the twenty first century. Throughout this study, I have underlined how Bolívar belongs to two distinct yet intertwined realms of experience: the failures of the present and the promise of tomorrow. This combination of utopia and dystopia also marks the discourse of Chávez, and might explain his emergence of one of the most controversial presidents in Venezuelan history. For his supporters, Chávez represents a break with corrupt political traditions and infrastructures; for his critics, however, his Bolivarian self-fashioning signified a return to the manias and delusions of Latin American dictators of the past. Which version is real? In the words of Gabriel García Márquez, from his insightful essay on Chávez, Chávez is a bewildering man that could very well save his country or pass into the annals of history as yet another despot (“Enigma”).

What is certain is that Chávez’s Bolivarian ideology topples the static and ossified monument of Bolívar and replaces it with a version of Bolívar that signals the conceit that an original, pure and unquestionable Bolivarian Truth can be identified and harnessed for reimagining the nation. Yet, in a deeper sense, Chávez recreates the dominant poses of the monumentalist Bolívar. Bolívar continues to be the organizing principle of a teleology that promises the realization of the ideal of ‘progress.’ Although Chávez rejects the discourse of neoliberalism, he maintains that political, social, and economic regeneration are predicated on the sanctity of Bolívar. The patrilineal dimensions of the Cult are also reified and strengthened,[end of page 159] with celestial commands descending from God onto Bolívar and finally, through Chávez, to the people of Venezuela. The authority of the father remains intact. Finally, Chávez underscores the inviolable nature of his brand of Bolivariana. Bolívar is more than a symbol of tomorrow, and of the authority of the father, he represents an authoritative horizon of meaning,the last word. For Chávez, the sign of Bolívar is univocal and irrevocable; it does not admit contradiction, interpretation or challenge. Chávez’s rhetoric may have a critical dimension to it, but in the end, he conjures up the tried and true icon of Bolívar as the embodiment of absolute power.

This discussion of Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian self-fashioning invites us to reflect on the underlying dynamic between crisis and plenitude that has been at the center of most modern revisions of Bolívar since the end of the nineteenth century. Bolivarian nationalism began in the early national period as a refashioning of religious paradigms; Bolívar was to be the overseeing spirit of a harmonious national unity predicated on reverence for his words and example. Yet, as soon as Bolivarian identity acquired monumental visibility as an ideology of the state, it became available to intellectuals as an ambiguous symbol. In the face of the failures and contradictions of Liberal progress, these observers questioned whether or not the true spirit and mission of the original Bolívar was being served by official culture. Thus framed, the monumental Bolívar ceased being an authoritative symbol equal to the spirit of Bolívar and became a false idol.

Manuel Díaz Rodríguez, Teresa de la Parra, Gabriel García Márquez, as well as Chávez, seek to topple the false idol and replace it with a new vision of the hero of independence, one that is more commensurate with his true meaning. Between the push and pull of disenchantment and hope, these modern Bolivarians did not take the monumental Bolívar for granted, they interrogated it in the name of refashioning it in the name of tomorrow. Others who have meditated on the Cult of Bolívar and who have been included in this study, such as Juan Dávila and Denzil Romero, are more pointed in their questioning of Bolivarian monumentalism. Rather than resurrecting a Bolívarian spirit through their critique, their representations question some of the very premises of idealizing and mythologizing history and its protagonists. Although some artists will undoubtedly continue questioning Bolívar in this deeply iconoclastic vein, the currency of Bolívar in Latin American political and popular culture will continue being constructive, rather than destructive. Bolívar will be a banner and a call to arms, not a word in quotation marks or a question mark. The Cult [end of page 160] of Bolívar will remain and continue to adapt to changing historical conditions, in a continuos process of symbolic resurrection. It will continue to feed off the vast reservoir of wonder and affection that Latin Americans have for their quixotic hero of independence.

The continuing power of the Cult of Bolívar as an ideological mechanism continually readapted to a changing present, and flexible enough to accommodate the extremes of the political right and left, raises the question of whether or not Bolivarian identity in the twenty first century is a handicap or a new horizon of possibilities. The very repeatability of monumentalist definitions of Bolívar in politics and art lends credence to Luis Castro Leiva’s pessimistic assessment of the limitations of Bolivarian political discourse. If identity begins and ends with Bolívar, in a continuous repetition of the same iconic scenes, regardless of the ideology that frames their utterance, political discourse is impoverished and reduced to hollow formulas. More troubling is the fact that the commitment to constructing identity through the image of a single man validates political personalism. If it is accepted that Bolívar was a genius, a giant among men, and the authorizing principle for the construction of nations and political movements, then his providential leadership must be accepted as well, along with the corollary that in times of crisis, such a man might need to assume all powers in the name of a greater good. In short, the embeddedness of caudillismo within the Cult of Bolívar is an affront to democracy, dialogue and new political solutions to two centuries worth of civil war, economic and cultural dependency and political opression. Regardless of who Bolívar the man was in actuality, and of whether he is celebrated or vilified in political and popular culture, the only way to overcome the hollowness of the monumentalist Bolívar is to move beyond Bolívar and the personalist definition of identity. What makes this challenge so daunting is that it assails modern nationalism itself, which is predicated on mythic narratives in general.

Whatever the course of future events on the political scene and in the arts, Bolívar will continue to play center stage in discussions of Latin American identity for the simple reason that his quest for political independence and a modern, postcolonial Latin America continues to be relevant. The wounds of independence have not healed. The unfulfilled promise of a truly ‘new’ world has not been achieved. In spite of the eternal return of Bolivarian monumentalism and its authoritarian narratives, there is an alternative model of Bolívar to consider. Rather than an essential being with a providential, predetermined historical meaning, this [end page 161]Bolívar might be conceived as a metaphor for questions left unanswered across two centuries, and an invitation to dialogue about the unfinished business of modern Latin America in the twenty first century. Why not honor Bolívar’s memory by seeking answers to the same questions that he tried to answer through his dramatic political and military career? Only then would Bolívar, atop his horse on a pedestal in the Plaza Bolívar, transcend monumentalism and the disillusionment that has accreted on his body of bronze like a patina. Such an impetus would move the continent forward rather than backwards, in a remembrance of the unfinished nature of his journey, opening up history to the promise of answers that have yet to be found. [end page 162]


*In his 1999 conversation with Gabriel García Márquez, Chávez told the story of how he had stopped the torture of captured guerillas, only to be disciplined for his actions later on by his superiors. Chávez went on to describe his first existential crisis as a result of helping mortally wounded soldiers off a helicopter after a skirmish with guerillas. As Chávez told it, he held a wounded soldier in his arms, listening helplessly to the poor man’s pleas for help. After witnessing these scenes, Chávez was racked by doubts: “What am I here for? On the one hand peasants dressed like soldiers tortured guerillero peasants, and on the other, guerillero peasants killed peasants dressed in greeen” (García Márquez, “Enigma”).

**As Jennifer McCoy writes, Chávez has rejected the militarist model of direct control (military dictatorship) as well as the concept of the armed forces as puppetmaster of civil society and democratic institutions, and seems “to be introducing a new model of open military participation in a civilian government” (74).

***In his conversations with García Márquez, Chávez described a seminal moment in his life that illustrates his faith in Bolivarian internationalism, another key aspect of his aspirations as president. Chávez told the story of how he had been detained by a Colombian border guard in Arauca and accused of being a spy because of the maps, photographs, papers and guns he was carrying. Chávez was carrying the materials because he was researching and retracing the movements of his great grandfather Maisanta, but the border guard did not believe him. Chávez noticed the iconic image of the heroic Bolívar on a horse on one of the walls of the room where he was being detained. “Look my captain, at what life is,” Chávez finally said, “almost a century ago we were in the same army, and he who is gazing at us from that painting was the leader of both of us. How can I be a spy?” (“Enigma”). The border guard was won over by this statement and the two men spent the rest of the night drinking Colombian and Venezuelan beers at a cantina before parting ways as friends.

****Marxist Bolivarianism is generally characterized by the interpretation of Bolívar as a class-conscious, anti-imperialist revolutionary that fought against the Spanish empire and against oligarchy in general. For a sampling of Marxist essays on Bolívar, see Interpretaciónes y ensayos marxistas acerca de Simón Bolívar, edited by Max Zeuske; Simón Bolívar by José Grigulevich and Bolívar visto por los marxistas, edited by Jeronimo Carrera.

Works Cited in this Afterword

Bolívar, Simón. Doctrina del Libertador. Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1985.

Carrera Damas, Germán. El culto a Bolívar: esbozo para un estudio de la historia de las ideas en Venezuela. Caracas: Grijalbo, 1989.

Carrera, Jerónimo. Bolívar visto por los marxistas. Caracas: Fondo Editorial Carlos Aponte, 1987.

Castro Leiva, Luis. De la patria boba a la teología bolivariana: ensayos de historia intelectual. Caracas, Venezuela: Monte Avila Editores, 1991.

Chávez, Hugo.Discurso de Toma de Posesión, 2 Febrero 1999.”

—. “Discurso Paseo de los Próceres, 2 Febrero 1999″

García Márquez, Gabriel. El enigma de los dos Chávez”Revista Cambio 18-25 Dec 2000

Gott, Richard. In the Shadow of the Liberator: Hugo Chávez and the Transformation of Venezuela. London: Verso, 2000.

Grigulevich, Iosif Romual’dovich. Simón Bolívar. Moscow: Editorial Progreso, 1982.

McCoy, Jennifer. “Chavez and the End of ‘Partyarchy’ in Venezuela” Journal of Democracy 10.3 (1999): 64-77.

Rohter, Larry. “Caracas Journal; Salutes, Some Skeptical, as Schools Go ‘Bolivarian’.” New York Times 9 Nov. 2000, late ed. Final: A4+.

Rotker, Susana. “El evangelio apócrifo de Simón Bolívar.” Estudios Revista de Investigaciones Literarias y Culturales 6.12 (1998): 29-45.



2 responses to “Hugo Chávez and Bolívar

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