Remembering Hugo Chávez on the anniversary of his passing involved more than I imagined at first, making writing almost impossible for me. I therefore opted for something simple: just some of the brightest, most uplifting memories I have of this unique figure in Latin American history, whose courage and indefatigable commitment, whose vision and practice, leave a lasting legacy and generate inspiration worldwide. Never defeated by the US, Chávez’s legacy continues even in the face of the most violent of the reactionary sectors of Venezuelan society, who today presume yet again to overthrow a government elected by the majority of Venezuelans. Nonetheless, this micro-essay is neither meant to be pure gushing sentimentality, nor an academic review of the Hugo Chávez years. Instead, it is a mere sign of my continuing respect for this monumental personage. This was not just a political leader and a fighter, but someone not shy of demonstrating the fullness of his humanity: singing, dancing, playing music, talking sports and playing sports, reciting poetry, and cracking jokes, with that unforgettable booming voice. This is what I wanted to convey here.
One of Hugo Chávez’s international speeches that remains firmly implanted in my memory is his famous 2006 address at the UN General Assembly, to the laughter and applause of people in the hall as he reversed demonization against the US leadership, and commented on the scent of sulfur left behind by Bush who addressed the assembly a day earlier. Here is short extract of the speech that I particularly appreciated, and the full video in Spanish, with a text link in English. I modified the translation to better convey what Chávez was saying in Spanish. It perfectly expresses the outlook we share via ZA.
…the hegemonic pretension of the U.S. imperialism that puts at risk the very survival of humankind itself. We continue to warn the world of this danger, and call on the people of the United States and worldwide to halt this threat, which is like the sword of Damocles.
….Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this podium, the President of the United States, whom I refer to as the Devil, came here talking as if he were the owner the world. It would not be too much to ask a psychiatrist to analyze the speech he delivered yesterday. As the spokesperson for imperialism, he came to give us his recipes for maintaining the current scheme of domination, exploitation and pillage over the peoples of the world. His speech perfectly fit an Alfred Hitchcock movie, and I could even dare to suggest a title: “The Devil’s Recipe”. That is to say, U.S. imperialism…is making desperate efforts to consolidate its hegemonic system of domination. We cannot allow this to happen. We cannot allow a global dictatorship to be installed or consolidated.
The statement by the tyrannical President of the World was full of cynicism and hypocrisy. Basically, it is with imperial hypocrisy that he attempts to control everything. They want to impose upon us the democratic model they devised, the false democracy of elites. And, moreover, a very original democratic model, imposed with explosions, bombings, invasions and bullets. What a democracy! In light of this, Aristotle’s and those theories made by the first Greek thinkers who spoke about democracy will need to be reviewed, so as to analyze what kind of democracy that is, one which imposes itself through marines, invasions, aggressions and bombs.
Yesterday, the United States President said in this same Hall the following, I quote: “Wherever you look, you hear extremists telling you that violence, terror and torture can help you escape from misery and recover your dignity.” Wherever he looks he sees extremists. I am sure he sees you, my brother, with your skin colour, and he thinks you are an extremist. With his colour, the Honorable president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, who came here yesterday, is also an extremist.
Imperialists see extremists everywhere. No, we are not extremists, what’s happening instead is that the world is waking up, and people are rising up everywhere.
I have the feeling, Mister Imperialist Dictator, that you are going to live as if in a nightmare the rest of your days, because no matter where you look at, we will be rising up against the U.S. imperialism. They call us extremists, since we demand total freedom in the world, equality among the peoples, and respect for sovereignty of nations. We are rising up against the Empire, against its model of domination.
There is so much music featuring the singing of Hugo Chávez that one could create entire albums. I was always very struck by this, not just by the talent and human fullness of someone who exceeded the confines of what we, in North America, have come to see as our standard politician (dull, dry, pompous), but by this phenomenon of a leader singing to his people. Here is one of my first favourites, “Motivos Llaneros,” featuring his ever-present singing partner, Cristóbal Jiménez, who also sang this back to Chávez at his funeral:
Here again, in another of my favourites, is Hugo Chávez and Cristóbal Jiménez singing “El Último Coplero,” which if I am not mistaken was also sung at Chávez’s funeral:
This is titled in a very moving way, and consists of a range of songs sung by Chávez, titled “Chávez sings his farewell to Venezuela”:
In a classic poem frequently recited by Chávez (as in the video below)–¡Por Aquí Pasó! by the Venezuelan poet, Alberto Arvelo Torrealba, which can be loosely translated as “He passed through here”–Chávez memorialized and praised the mark made by Simón Bolívar. Someone may need to write a new version, in honour of the eternal commander, Hugo Chávez.
Update: this is the only English translation of the poem that I have seen, many thanks to Guanaguanare.
¿Comandante Hugo Chávez? ¡Presente!