Hugo Chavez was President of Venezuela for fourteen years. A lot can change in such a period of time. How interesting it has been to read over the last couple of days a volume of speeches all taken from his first year in office, 1999. Yes, many things have taken place in fourteen years but in people, in their character, most things remain as they were.
Chavez always spoke about the importance of communication in a language that people can immediately understand and relate to. In this collection, the campaign to elect a Constituent Assembly becomes three blows of a round of boxing, and the revolution becomes a baseball match that cannot be considered over until the very last ‘out’. After particularly pleasing electoral results, Chavez says they have hit a home run with all the bases full. Nature, too, is a major reference points for the man born in the llanos, or countryside of Barinas state. He speaks of human beings in comparison to trees, who can never live as a sole existence but rely on their roots to take sustenance from beneath the ground, the Sun to provide them with energy from the sky and the God who created them. He speaks of God on almost every occasion, recognising a power far greater than his own, something he would continue to do even at the height of his popularity and throughout his political career. As for his own position, on several occasions it is “nothing more than a straw blowing in the wind”, or only a wire that carries the electric current of the people.
Always a big reader, it was in August 1999, speaking before the newly-elected Constituent Assembly, when Chavez turned towards Shakespearean tragedy for inspiration.
“”A few nights ago I was reading some of the tragedies of Shakespeare, The Tempest. The first scene begins with a boat that goes on the high seas and suddenly they hear sounds of thunder and see lightning, a strong wind is heard that comes combing the waves of the sea, the captain goes out and shouts: “Fast that the storm comes.”… when the boatswain sees the brave sailors have lowered the sails and are each in his place and have tied the knot and are ready, turning around and putting his face to the strong, blowing wind and says: “And now wind, blow, blow hard, do what you want storm, I have room to manoeuvre you”. I say that today, like Shakespeare: “Blow strong wind, blow storm, I have the Assembly to manoeuvre you.”
For Chavez, this was the political struggle he faced, containing both the beauty of a piece of literature, and the fierceness of the storm. He had witnessed the Caracazo of February 1989, seen the atrocities the Venezuelan armed forces had committed against their own people. He had participated in the military uprising of February 1992, the failure that will always be remembered as a success. But more than anything, Chavez speaks with emotion. Almost every speech ends with “dear friends” or “a hug for everyone”. Sometimes it’s “a big hug”, sometimes “a revolutionary hug”.
The night before beginning a trip to Asia, Chavez wants to tell the country where and what he is going to do, and ends by saying “I will miss you”. It isn’t the language of politicians, and that is why Venezuelan people will miss him.
“…Jesús, el flaco, el del burro de Nazareth: “Dejad que los muertos entierren a sus muertos” y vamos todos a la vida… a la vida con el pueblo”.
“Jesus, the skinny one, the one of the donkey of Nazareth [said]: “Let the dead bury their dead” and let’s all go together to life… to life with the people”.