The Church of Hugo: A business approach

On the second anniversary of his, erm, sowing, I couldn’t help but reflect back on this story. About a year ago, I had to represent a client —a Canadian company— before a public institution. “Represent” is not quite the word though, it was more like interpreting, decoding, and tearing apart a business deal. A representative from the Canadian company – the Canadian – was sent to Caracas to assess the deal, which, as usual around these parts, seemed too good to be true.

The setting was the typical business meeting with chavistas: a small re-enactment of the sort of workshops that Chavez used to hold on national television, where jokes are cracked, people are mentioned, praise is doled out, with a dash of reprimand and public humiliation.

The meeting, in this case, was chaired by an Air Force officer – the Colonel – flanked by his lawyers.

Then, there was one of those slimy characters that abound in corrupt systems. One of these business intermediaries – the Liaison – who had been awarded the contract, and was now looking to my client to provide the actual service.

The Colonel was polite. He did, however, show special contempt towards his lawyers, often blaming them for delays on closing the deal and treating them like children. He ordered one of them to fetch coffee, then glanced at us, and an evil, proud, smirk slit his face as he fixed his eyes on the lawyer’s ass while she walked away.

The Liaison started praising the Colonel, the institution, and the project. He explained how it would be good for the country, and how it was in consonance with Chavez’s Plan for the Homeland.

What came next was neither a sermon nor quite a prayer. It was one of those rote speeches that young children from Margarita learn in order to entertain tourists with a fictionalized version of local history.

“You don’t know this,” said the Liaison to the Canadian. He paused, then turned towards me, and continued in a condescending tone, “and probably neither do you. Before Chavez, there was nothing. WE were nothing. Then, on February 4th 1992, he fell from the skies dangling from his parachute to bring hope and equality to the people. Like Bolívar, his father, before him. He endured many hardships. He was imprisoned, and when he got out was made President.”

“Then, evil, greedy, forces from the past deposed him from the presidency, and on the third day he came back and brought with him 21st century socialism. His return brought many years of wealth to the nation. And he ruled justly and generously. And fought fiercely against capitalism, and struggled gallantly to stay with us even when he was beign eaten away by cancer.”

“And then he died…”

“But not without leaving his words behind. His wish for us. His command. His plan. The Plan of the Homeland, HIS words. Since then, he has been planted in the same place where he landed from the skies on that historic 1992 morning, in the Cuartel de la Montaña. Planted in that soil, so he will sprout, and flourish, and grow strong like a Samán tree, to protect us, to give us shelter under his loving, generous, shadow.”

He made another short pause before closing his speech— “Chávez vive…”

“…. la patria sigue,“mumbled the others.

Their response sounded like that of a bored teenager in church. Nonetheless, they answered. Automatically, as protocol would seem to dictate.

After we left the building I felt watched. From above. I looked up, and there HE was. Hallelujah.

Business resumed thereafter, and I’m sure I caught a glimpse of the Colonel rolling his eyes, having probably listened to the same speech for the umpteenth time.

Our deal was never closed. It was a good-old fat guiso, but it didn’t mesh.

The hallways of ministries and public institutions are swarming with clerical chavista bullshitters like the Liaison, with contracts under their arms, trying to get a piece of the loot. They are willing to humiliate themselves to gollumish levels, spewing out nonsense they don’t even believe in just to keep their lifeline.

Then there are the high ranking officials. Most of them were relatively close to Chavez. They don’t buy into the mythology, like our Colonel, but they play along because it has become a part of Bolivarian business jargon.

What’s curious about the Church of Hugo is that, even when the flock doesn’t seem to believe, and no one seems to oversee them, everyone follows the ritual. Their fear of each other is the backbone of the cult.

Or perhaps, deep down, they do believe a superstitious kind of belief: they are afraid of the wrath of the Supreme Commander, a fear rooted in an otherworldly realm no one can define but nobody dares mess with.

This helps explain why, to them, we’re not opponents. We’re apostates.