Why is Simón Bolívar slowly morphing into Chávez? This is something related to, but different from, the way Chávez is described in Bolivarian terms in hegemonic media. I’m not talking about the way SiBCI turns Chávez into Simón Bolívar, but about the way Simón Bolívar is turning into Chávez.
It all started with that infamous 3D render of Simon Bolívar that looked so much different than the original pictures we are all used to. Before that, there was no debate on what picture was the most accurate, people just trusted the very old paintings. And specially that which Bolívar himself said looked so very much like him. You know, common sense.
Well, now’s the moment to hold on to your hats and adjust your reading glasses. The following is a painting inspired in the chavista Bolívar 3D render that was uncovered on an official event in Ciudad Bolívar, Estado Bolívar, of all places.
— PSUV | Bolívar (@Bolivar_PSUV) January 7, 2016
No, your eyes aren’t fooling you. Bolívar Sabina has finally morphed into Bolívar Chávez. And yes, it is as spooky as hell can be.
In Venezuelans’ collective memory, Simon Bolivar is this badass dude who single-handedly liberated all of Latin America from the Spanish Empire and then became president of Venezuela once it was a republic. Every part of that sentence is wrong, of course, but it doesn’t matter —it’s our myth, and we’ll believe it if we want to.
We know his quotes, we know who his slave-nanny was, he’s on every coin, on every corner, his plaza is at the center of every city, town and village, his freaking horse is on the coat of arms, his professors are in the name of every school ever and so on. He received the best education his nearly limitless supply of money could buy, so he was the perfect soldier, and then the perfect ruler.
That’s the version Venezuelan kids draw at school and make plays about, with their sideburns drawn with black marker and their plastic swords. He wasn’t human, that guy was perfect. Perfect. Venezuelan history is a footnote to his biography. If we had a Mount Rushmore, it would have four identical faces on it.
And then we have Chávez, who was, meh… I mean, sure, he has a huge fan base, with the really hardcore fans even going as far as lighting candles and praying to him. Like Simón Bolívar, he’s everywhere too. But he didn’t win any wars, didn’t really fight in any battles (well, except for a single one that he lost), didn’t defeat any empires, and definitely didn’t unite anything, ever. Finding people who hate him is dead easy —you can always find someone sarcastically yelling “Viva Chávez!” as they wait in line for basic goods.
Despite SiBCI’s best efforts, Chávez is nowhere near the mythological level Simón Bolívar has. It’s just too recent, and there are way too many people dealing with the results of his recklessness. Still, the government insists on treating them as equal. Militantly! After all, they own the ‘Simón Bolívar brand’, they might as well put it to good use.
While I’m writing this, on twitter, the shamelessly public media promotedtrending topic of the day is #GeneraciónBolívarChávez, where you can find pictures of kids dressed as Chávez, making plays and drawing Chávez alongside Simón Bolívar. Maybe in their minds, the Mount Rushmore venezolano should have one face of El Libertador, two of Chávez, and one of Robert Serra, the joven mártir.
And in their collective memory, Chávez is already equal to Simón Bolívar. And maybe, for some really confused kid who wasn’t paying attention, they are the same person, because these days they kind of look the same. For a government that relies on printing money to honor its debts, that is thinking ahead. Big time.
At one point, the opposition tried to rescue the Simón Bolívar brand in the presidential elections of 2012, by naming the comando de campaña “Simón Bolívar”, but Capriles lost, and that was it for the comando. Now they barely use the Venezuelan flag. Anything patriotic, besides the flag and the National Anthem, is kidnapped by the government.
Ramos Arrechup’s offense on chavista patriotic symbols may have been just a move to mark his territory as new man of the house. Or perhaps it answered to a deeper, repressed feeling of frustration on the account of having chavismo’s distorted version of history rubbed in his face for so many years, and now being in a position to do something about it. Wouldn’t you?
But nothing that Henry does to erase the 3D chavista version of Simón Bolívar will stop the government from using it. If anything, it’s quite the opposite. Now the government has vowed to fill the streets of Caracas with posters of Simón Bolívar and Chávez as a response. As for the rest of the country, expect your corresponding actos de desagravio, like the one in Ciudad Bolívar where they presented the new Chavolivar como quien no quiere la cosa.
No doubt this is an important matter, as this historical revisionism targets children (apart from some really gullible adults). The thing is, despite their viral potential, cultural issues are not high in the urgent matters list. This would be when that ability of walking and chewing gum at the same time pays off.
Chavismo is racing to elevate Chávez into a similar everlasting myth as Bolívar is, it would only make sense that this desecration of Venezuelan contemporary history meets some sort of hardcore resistance.
Let’s hope that —this time around— we won’t turn the heartless autocrat into a hero children are taught to emulate.