Hugo Chávez, unplugged


I was stuck in traffic when Chávez’s death was announced. Roman Lozinsky was interviewing NASA scientist Tico Campins, a Venezuelan astrophysicist with a multi-million dollar budget at his disposal to explore, you know, the far reaches of the galaxy. A Government broadcast interrupted the fascinating interview.

“March 5th, 2013,” said Vice President Nicolás Maduro. No further detail was needed to guess what would come next.

The news didn’t sink in right away. It was disconcerting. Chávez had that, even in death. He could create impossible moments.

I backtracked in my mind to the very beginning, to the first time I felt concerned with Chávez, the first time he lodged in that part of my brain that has tormented me for so many years. I searched, and what I found wasn’t the “por ahora” moment or anything like it. I didn’t alight on the one time I saw him in person, when he was invited to speak at UCAB while he was a candidate and clumsily dodged students’ questions with prefabricated answers and a talk show host smile.

The image that came to me wasn’t Chávez’s, it was my Dad’s. It was the look on his face when the now deceased President first took office. When he unbuttoned his shirt and struck his right palm with his left fist.

“We’re fucked,” dad said.

There was no symbolism there, the message was explicit.

The Vice President’s tone contrasted an earlier broadcast where he menaced the opposition, “que nadie se equivoque” (make no mistake), and made wild allegations of the US inoculating Chávez with his deadly condition. This message was different. It was heartfelt, melancholic even.

I felt lonely, I admit it. All by myself, in my car. Having no one to riff with, I looked for some solidarity in other windows. And what I found was disturbingly close to the beginning of the Everybody Hurts video by REM.

Everybody paralyzed in their cars, keeping each other company in their silent air conditioned pods. Faces of relief and hopelessness, which, when you stop to notice, look the same.

Then I remembered the last time I saw him on TV.

During his final message, before returning to Cuba for one last surgery, Chávez addressed his people. Flanked by Diosdado Cabello and Nicolás Maduro, he spoke to those “who felt the fatherland in their hearts.”

I remained an optimist, expecting that at some point of his speech, conscious of his fate and understanding the hard months the country would face, he would call for union and understanding. A last chance at redemption.

But no.

He spat a generic “que nadie se equivoque,” and then went on to close his epic in a similar manner to that dramatic scene under the rain a couple of months earlier during the closing of his campaign.

Chávez excluded half of the country in his last speech, denied them recognition, and after giving instructions on how the succession should go, he broke into song and gave an acapella rendition of the now infamous “Patria Querida” song.

Chávez’s death left a hole in both his supporters and detractors. He missed the chance to acknowledge half of the nation he claimed to love so fervently, but in fact hated enough he spent untold billions and, ultimately, his life to defeat. And he failed to prepare his own followers for what would come after him, this brave and confusing new world that lies beyond the rubble.

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  1. Well, he was a narcissistic megalomaniac full of hatred, so hatred and senseless anger were the only things that he left as a legacy.

  2. The corpse may be dead and cold, but the monster he created is still alive… wounded and dying, perhaps… but still alive. I will make time to wax nostalgic and reflective… after the monster is dead!

  3. Well, he died late December 2012, not in March 2013.

    Just for the record.

    Some day, when that truth is made public, we will witness, once again, the depths of scumbaggery that this movement was capable of.

    I cannot reveal the source of the date, but given the level of the official that told me, I have no doubts as to the date.

  4. According to the celebrated Mr Bocaranda Chavez did die on march when they disconnected his life supporting system , before that he was for all practical purposes dead to the world , since he had to remain in a kind of induced coma to protect him from the terrible pains he suffered when awake ……..His condition it was widely rumoured was effectively that of a brain dead person since sometime late in december of 2012 …….the fact that the regime maintained him inaccesible for this period is proof that any presentation of his person to the world would reveal that he was totally incapacitated which for reasons of their own they wanted to hide from the public.!!

    • That’s the version I know too, from a book (Bumeran Chávez). The guy did survive 2012, but he was in such a bad shape that his death was a foretold conclusion. After surgery, he never left the bed again.

  5. Thank you Raul for that very thought provoking piece. I clicked on that last speech you referred to above. December 12, 2013. Disconcerting. Rambling. A man facing death with few coherent thoughts. A crucifix. A ‘patria’ song, nothing more. But, above all, a committed narcissist. Your father was right. A Venezuelan Nostradamus. The very real pain and suffering is about to descend on the country. May God have mercy on all the people, and the suffering to come.

  6. Half of the country refused to acknowledge the other half before Chavez disacknowledged them. And the truth is it’s not really half.

    I know this is true because I knew it before Chávez took over.

    He was just a force of nature. It’s on us that he was the path nature took.

    • It is interesting to compare the price of oil (WTI) during the 10 years before Chavez was elected in 1998 to the price of oil today. Recently the lowest WTI price is 33.62. In the 1990s, whereas the WTI hovered between 24 and 37 during 10 years, it hit the lowest price 16.28 right around the time Chavez was elected. Let those prices and their consequences for the 50% of venezuelan poor sink in. The price history of WTI shows that the “lack of acknowledgement” of the poor in the 90s was as involuntary as it is today. But the Tascon List was not an involuntary consequence of an external factor.

  7. If it’s any consolation, Chavez is in hell. And he went to hell with his built in torture. The devil simply makes sure he stays awake watching Globovision and NTN24, and the cancer is still causing him pain.

  8. I envy those people who can remember Chavez’s death. All I remember is that I was so overjoyed, I got pissed that night. Loss of memory ensued.

  9. I’ll remember Hugo Chavez in spite of myself. You see, to me he’s a cautionary tale. Here was a man who:

    -Was elected President of Venezuela in conditions other people can only dream of. Landslide victory, etc., etc. mandate to write a new Constitution… But you know what? He never *was* President of Venezuela because he never wanted to act the part.
    -Wished to rule for life. Wish granted ironically as life was cut short.
    -Was extremely ill, kept the job, ran for reelection, treated himself in secret in Cuba. Committed suicide. Period.
    -Got a majority of my countrymen and women, in possession of the same facts as I, to reelect him, a severely ill, nay, a doomed man, a dead man to govern them for six more years. Astounding.

    • When the country’s population is ignorant and filled with hatred, it’s easy to take control of them and do whatever you want after that.

  10. I was on the train crossing over the East River from Manhattan back to Brooklyn after work; missing out on the view I take in often, because I was too busy “discovering” La Boheme. I’ve had it in my iPod for years, but it was only then that it was hitting me, ‘This is about love!’ When I got the glorious text from my brother. I had been detached from the news for years (I never got to bother with any rumors). I was, and remain, thrilled.


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