Yesterday afternoon was spent watching the procession to take Chávez’s mortal remains to what’s now known as the Cuartel de la Montaña on State TV. The experience left me reeling.
Over the course of the afternoon, the broadcast – which every TV and Radio station in the country was forced to carry live – described Chávez as the breath of every living Venezuelan, as hiding behind every smile of genuine joy in the country, as invincible, as immortal, as a second Libertador, as the only reason the people have the ability to love and an etc. too long and too baroque to reproduce here.
I guess the best I can do to explain the mix of dread and alienation this grotesque show set off in me is via a simile. I’m aware that I don’t actually notice my 18-month old daughter growing. I see her every day, and it just happens so gradually. It’s people who only see her once in a while, they notice. “Wow, she’s so big now!” they’ll say.
Well, people in Venezuela are too immersed in state TV to notice just how insane it’s gotten. But, I only force myself to sit through several hours of VTV-style Communicational Hegemony at a stretch once every few months. So I see it. And, wow…the crazy…it’s so big now!
We’ve heard plenty about cubanization these last few years, but yesterday’s cadena broadcast went well beyond that. It was positively North Korean in its lack of even minimal self-awareness, of sentido del ridículo. The chavista cult of personality seems to have gone over some Event Horizon where they can no longer conceive of the notion of going over the top.
Yes, I get it that it’s a funeral and all, but I think Juan Cristobal is on to something: that was crazy.
Consider the remarkable – unbelievable, really, when you think about it – fact that they’ve chosen to keep Chávez’s mortal remains, for the time being, at the single spot most closely associated with the single biggest debacle of his career.
For years, Chávez’s detractors mocked him as “el héroe del museo militar”, and for good reason: Caracas’s Military History Museum is where he hid out, incommunicado due to his own logistical blundering, as the coup he had been planning for over a decade failed entirely due to his shortcomings as a military leader.
Threatened with aerial bombardment, Chávez weakly gave up his position at the museum without firing a shot, even after his co-conspirators had all succeeded in taking their target cities. Chávez’s body, in other words, is being kept at the site of the failure of the one and only military operation he commanded in his entire career. They could’ve chosen any place at all, but that’s where they propose to keep his remains.
The sheer audacity at play here is…breathtaking! A less radical movement would’ve shied away from a site that can’t help but be associated with failure. But these guys are made of sterner stuff: Chavismo has taken the Museo Militar and resignified it completely, reimagining it not as a place of abject humiliation but one of victory and pride.
But perhaps it’s not so surprising, coming from a movement that retroactively imagined Christ as a socialist, Bolívar as a Marxist, and Cipriano Castro as an anti-imperialist resistance fighter. Perhaps it’s not surprising at all coming from people who see Zamora as a social reformer rather than a warlord, Maisanta as a freedom fighter rather than a cattle-rustler and Rómulo Betancourt as a bloodthirsty tyrant hellbent on overthrowing a benevolent Pérez Jiménez.
Perhaps it’s entirely in character coming from the people who rewrote the history of the communist insurgency of the 1960s as an unprovoked set of massacres perpetrated by a repressive dictatorship against blameless left-wing activists, from the people who claim for themselves the nationalization of an oil industry that was already in state hands 24 years before they came to power, who claim credit for massifying access to an educational system that had been massified half a century earlier, who managed to repackage an outbreak of mass opportunistic looting into a leftist rebellion against neoliberalism.
The list goes on and on. Nearly every event of any significance over the last 200 years has been mangled beyond recognition by this type of aggressive chavista revisionism. We’re really not that far here from Orwell’s dystopia, where:
Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct, nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.
As I watched yesterday, staggered by the now complete transformation of our hegemonic media system into an all-out Orwellian machine for turning demonstrable lies into unassailable Truth, I couldn’t help but sense – just sense – that in 10 or 15 years, when children are taken on school trips to what will, by then, surely be known as the Museo del 4F/Mausoleo del Comandante Eterno, some bright-eyed 9-year-old will ask “and why did they bury the Comandante here?” and a friendly, socialist tour guide will calmly explain, “because it was from this very place that the Comandante led the glorious insurrection that overthrew the bourgeois order and brought the working class to power on February 4th, 1992.”