Category Archives: Happening Now

Hugo Chávez is Dead, & Thoughts on Hootin’ and Hollerin’ Over Dead Leaders


Latin America

You’re right, that title is a bit insensitive. In my family we usually crack jokes at funerals, wakes, trips to the coroner to identify bodies etc, etc. Dead famous folk are no different, yet the death of great political figures is greatly polarizing.

I neither idolize nor deplore the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, because there is so much more to history than superheros and villains. Nobody in politics, be it Barack Obama or Cristina Fernández de Kirchner runs their respective countries with clean hands.

As many of your Twitter and Facebook news feeds may have now informed you,  Hugo Chávez died at 58 after a long battle with cancer. If you are Chicano, or have friends who were once part of MEChA, a lot of inspirational, fight-the-power quotes from Che Guevara (which were likely something someone just pulled out of their ass for the occasion, no less) and mantras such as “rest in power” and “la lucha sigue.” I am not saying I saw everybody sleep through many a Raza Studies class, but I am pointing out that too many people hardly ever pick up a history book, and instead think they know it all because of their cheeky little t shirt. As Juan Valdez said in his play, The Militants, “Sure we need camisas, but you forgot to mention huaraches! ¡Vivan los bigotes!¡Vivan las camisas!¡Vivan los huaraches!”

I remember being in my last semester at SF State when at the Fifth Summit of the Americas, Chávez gifted Obama with Eduardo Galeano’s book, The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of The Pillage of The Continent. I doubt Obama ever read the book, and had thought of Galeano’s books as more of a beginner’s peek, a mere wetted toe into the intricacies of Latin American history and social change.I read Galeano’s Upside Down: A Primer for The Looking-Glass World for my resistance literature class. I figured I would save it for any future nieces or nephews to supplement the “God Bless Muricca” history lessons they were sure to get. The guy I was dating at the time picked the book off my shelf and put it down after one page, saying Galeano was hateful and racist towards white people. Never saw that dude again.

When he assumed presidency in 1999, Chávez was the first of leftist leaders to take power in Latin America, and  vocally oppose the United States. Leftist governments don’t usually last very long in Latin America. In 2002, Chávez was briefly forced to resign but reinstated as president three days later in a coup applauded by the Bush Administration and The New York Times. In response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the Venezuelan government began providing low-income families with heating oil under the CITGO-Venezuela Heating Oil Program, while Bush’s response to the disaster proved rather dismal.

However, with one of the highest murder rates in the world, I kept Venezuela off my must-see list in what I call National Lampoon’s Latin American Backpacking Adventure. I was also surprised when in 2011, Argentina awarded Chávez the Rodolfo Walsh award, given to those who advance press freedom and named in honor of a journalist who was killed in 1977 during Argentina’s “Dirty War”.The Chávez government closed over 30 radio stations and has sued, and threatened reporters with fines in order to dominate Venezuelan media and silence his opposition. Although democratically elected, Chávez still played the part of what we all know to be The Man.

What I take from all of this is that one should be active in seeking out information about the hand that feeds them. It is even more important to think critically even though fear of stepping too far outside the norm might be deemed too outlandish or individualistic. Even though somebody is gone, ideas always exist and are always freely flowing.


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