Five Years of Post-Chavismo and His Siembra Seems Grim

Every Venezuelan remembers his burial. Now, five years later, Chavismo has proven it can survive without its founder despite everyone’s predictions.

Original art by @modográfico

Every Venezuelan remembers where they were that day.

The country had been in the dark about the health of a man who, for 13 years, ruled through his domineering personality. Mysterious trips back and forth to Havana, news conferences by Ernesto Villegas, an infamous set of pictures with his daughters. Many thought he was just faking it, another of his rabo e’ cochinos.

On March 5, 2013, I was sitting with my sister in the living room making a rocket with a plastic bottle. My mom and my stepfather arrived, told us the news and we turned on the TV. Nicolás Maduro was announcing that Hugo Chávez was officially dead.

We feared for the future. For two thirds of my life, I lived in a country where everything moved by his will. The government, the economy, the media, every small talk, every thought, dream, nightmare, it was all related somehow to the comandante (now) eterno. Venezuela without Chávez was inconceivable.

Nobody thought Nicolás Maduro would end his term, let alone be candidate for reelection. María Gabriela? Sure. Diosdado? Likely. But Maduro? That bumbling, awkward oaf who can’t even speak right?

Five long years have passed since Hugo was put on display at the place where he surrendered in 1992. It feels like a decade or two; we’ve witnessed massive protests, the collapse of oil prices, the healthcare system, the infrastructure and the economy. And the meteoric rise of the world’s largest inflation.

It’s 2018 and people still say it’s just matter of time. Maduro is up for reelection, and Chávez’ still here.

The government, instead of falling apart, closed ranks, growing more desperate and open about its oppressive nature. The opposition, going against any forecast, won the legislature only to squander it, losing its dignity along the way. Meanwhile, thousands of Venezuelans spread around the globe, taking their homeland as a lost cause.

It’s 2018 and people still say it’s just matter of time. Maduro is up for reelection, and Chávez’ still here. Not in his body, but in the country he left behind: a Venezuela that suffers the logical outcome of a carrot-and-stick system designed to spin around an axis, making no difference if it moves around an authoritarian leader or a cardboard box to barely keep you alive.

Here we are, waiting for something to happen, as we were in 2013 while we watched thousands of mourners standing in line in Los Próceres to say goodbye to the only thing in that seemed reliable in the nation. Venezuela still feels like a wake for Hugo Chávez, with long lines of people filled with fear, wondering what will become of all of us.

I remember, after days of watching his funeral on TV, going to the kitchen on a Saturday morning, feeling dread about the future.

Then I heard the children downstairs playing basketball and it hit me. Hugo Chávez belonged to the past.

We, the living, still make history every day.

We buried Chávez, and his legacy is probably burying itself.

José González Vargas

Freelance journalist, speculative fiction writer, college professor, political junkie, lover of books and movies and, semi-professional dilettante. José has written for NPR's Latino USA, Americas Quarterly, Into and ViceVersa Magazine.