By Edwin Madunagu
Before finally settling for the title that appears here, I had considered, and serially abandoned, three other captions: Hugo Chavez’s revolution, Hugo Chavez’s socialism and Hugo Chavez’s 21st century socialism.
Although any of these rejected captions could have served my purpose, I chose The Hugo Chavez revolution because, on the one hand, I wanted to avoid anything that smells of the notion that what happened in Venezuela under Hugo Chavez was an experiment in governmental style, or Hugo Chavez’s “thing” that would disappear like bad dream, that would not survive the man; on the other hand I have not been comfortable with the slogan “21st century socialism”.
I call what happened in Venezuela The Hugo Chavez revolution simply as an acknowledgement of the critical and decisive leadership role played by the man in the revolutionary process while he lived.
Hugo Chavez, who had been president of Venezuela for 14 years, died on Tuesday, March 5, 2013. But several weeks before then any person interested in that country, for whatever reasons, knew that for the army paratrooper it was a matter of time before he departed the planet earth.
For someone re-elected president in a keenly contested election and whose opponent had the explicit support of the world’s only super power to be unable to take his oath of office for reasons of ill-health is not like failing to attend an event for “unavoidable circumstances”. I knew from that moment that not only was Chavez marching to the exit door but also that the revolutionary process in Venezuela was approaching a definitive crossroads.
Like Fidel Castro, his mentor, Latin American compatriot and friend, who also revealed that he was seriously ill and then handed over his state duties to his deputy, Chavez made public his affliction, kept the public abreast of its development and the fight against it, and urged the people to support the vice president should he become permanently incapable of resuming his duties. Adults should know what that meant, and what to expect.
However, I believe, or rather, strongly suspect, that Hugo Chavez’s ailment, like that of Yasser Arafat about a decade ago, was artificially induced. This is not the question of my being a Nigerian for whom there is hardly a natural death.
Just think of a situation where the foreign ministry of the world’s only super power (a department of state next in power only to the presidency itself) would establish a separate directorate to coordinate a project to liquidate, by all means, a popular social experiment going on in a poor, but independent Third World country and discredit its example! Several “experts” in medical sciences in North America have said it is impossible to induce an illness like cancer. I am also aware that one particular “expert” had declared such belief an “insanity”. My immediate response is that we should all wait for revelations.
Worldwide reactions to Chavez’s death came in torrents. We all saw mass expressions of pain. For television viewers across the globe what happened inside Venezuela and in some other South America countries need no re-telling. You many compare this to reactions to those that came at the death of President Abdel Nasser of Egypt in September 1970 or that of General Secretary Joseph Stalin in March 1953, all depending on your reading of history and mass psychology and your current ideological persuasion.
However, no ruler, no revolutionary leader, would have wished for a more glorious departure than that of Hugo Chavez.
What I consider important to this article are the reactions of current rulers of this world and the more representative opinions of non-ruling, ordinary people. But I shall make only a short selection. Let me, however, say upfront, that my main concern here is the lessons of the Hugo Chavez revolution.
This is not for “academic” reasons or to “live up to expectation”. I am taking up this issue because I have been convinced for a long time that, ultimately, there will be a fundamental, non-sectarian and mass-engineered rupture in the structure and content of the Nigerian state.
What I may now add is that I believe that the rupture here will be a historically-determined variant of what took place in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, if I may use that expression for precise historical periodisation.
Some would like to amend this proposition by adding the phrase “that is, if Nigeria survives its current systemic crisis”. My response will be that the rupture I am talking about is fast becoming a condition for Nigeria’s “survival”.
When Hugo Chavez died: From Ontario, Canada, Paul Kokoski, writing under the caption The death of Hugo Chavez in his letter to the editor of The Guardian in the paper’s issue of March 11, 2013, said: “Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez was a communist dictator whose heroes were Fidel Castro, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Robert Mugabe, and Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah. One of his major goals was to integrate Cuba, Venezuela, Honduras, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Ecuador under one Marxist-socialist government umbrella…”
Then followed a bitter denunciation, ending with: “Like Stalin, he will not be missed.” Kokoski thus listed some of the main grievances of the bitterest opposition to Hugo Chavez.
Under the caption, Hugo Chavez’s rotten legacy, The Economist, in its editorial (“leader”) of March 9, 2013, said that, “with luck, chavismo (that is, the Chavez – inspired revolutionary movement) will now have lost much of its sting. His death could help break the deadlock that has stalled Latin American integration.
The Chavez formula – exploiting inequality and social grievances to demonise the opposition – will remain a powerful one. But now that the man has gone Latin America’s democrats have an easier task”. The Economist thus intellectualized Kokoski’s opinion.
President Barrack Obama of the United States of America carefully and decently selected his words, but his thrust was clear: “At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez’s passing, the United States re-affirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government. As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies to promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights”. (The Guardian, March 7).
A former American president, Jimmy Carter, pointed at something he saw. He said that Chavez “will be remembered for his bold assertion of the autonomy and independence for Latin American governments”. (The Guardian, March 7). This is a different thing from what Kokoski and The Economist saw, or a different interpretation of the same thing that Kokoski and The Economist saw.
The government of the Peoples Republic of China, towing its well-known line of “non-interference,” simply said that Hugo Chavez was a “great friend of the Chinese people” and a “great leader of Venezuela who had made an important contribution to the friendly and cooperative relations between China and Venezuela” (The Guardian, March 7).
The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, said that Hugo Chavez was an “uncommon strongman who looked into the future and always set the highest target for himself” and thanked him for “laying the solid basis for Russia-Venezuela relations”. The European Union (EU) said that, “Venezuela has stood out for its social development and for contribution to South America’s regional integration”.
The governments of Cuba, Iran and Syria also sent messages. But we all know the lines all these “villains” of the American power would tow. The details may therefore be omitted.
Coming home now: The Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, said that Hugo Chavez “greatly endeared himself to the ordinary people of his country with his admirable efforts to improve the living conditions of underprivileged Venezuelans” and that the late president did the very best that he could to uplift his people and country in the 14 years of his presidency”. Oh! Mr. President! Your words are too weak. And they are not political.
Then came a star representative tribute. Writing under the caption The colonel in heavenly cockpit, Tatalo Alamu (in his The Nation on Sunday column, Snooping around) of March 10, 2013), said: “With the passing this past week at the age of 58, of Hugo Chavez the late Venezuelan leader, Latin America has lost one of its most colourful leaders and potent force against global imperialism… But more importantly, by allowing the Venezuelan people to enjoy their god-given bounty, Chavez has returned us to the first principles of sovereignty: that power and national resources belong first and foremost to the people and not to a thieving political elite.
The world and humanity at large may yet have the Latin Americans to thank for providing us with a way out of the 600 years epistemological cul de sac of western modernity…”. Three powerful theses.
• To be continued.