Mar 07, 2013 - Issue 507

Presente’ Hugo Chavez

ComándateHugo Rafael Chávez Frías was a black man. Born July 28, 1954, his family was Amerindian, Afro-Venezuelan, and European Spanish. The proportions do not matter because they mirror the proportions of most black people on the North and South American continents; he was a black man. He never disavowed his black heritage even when he was attacked by his opponents for being too black. Some of the political and personal animus that President Chavez faced in Venezuela derived from racial prejudice. Much of the love that he received from the majority of the residents of that country was because he never loss connection with his heritage or the poverty of his childhood. I visited Caracas in 2004 where I observed how real this love was.

Hugo Chavez was the first elected Amerindian leader and the only elected Afro-American leader in South America! One would not know this from the vilification that he received from the US media and from the US government. He dared to face down Big Oil, the elites in his country and abroad, and to use the tremendous oil resources of Venezuela (now estimated as greater than Saudi Arabia) to benefit his people and the poor people of the world.

In 2006, while he was in New York to follow President George Bush to the United Nations podium, he was very warmly greeted in Harlemwhere he let folks know about Venezuela’s discounted heating oil program that allowed the underprivileged in New York and Chicago to stay warm that winter. While the US media was flabbergasted that Chavez had just referred to Bush as a sulfurous stinking devil, he was at Mont Olivet Baptist Church announcing the expansion of the heating oil program to serve more than 450,000 households with 100 million gallons of heating oil at a 40 percent discount. The prior year, 40 million gallons were offered to states mostly in the Northeast. Chavez made sure that Native Americans throughout the country were offered the benefit.

Like many of the readers of these pages, Chávez described himself to be an anti-imperialist. He was a critic of neoliberalism and laissez-faire capitalism. As Wikipedia states, “He supported Latin American and Caribbean cooperation and was instrumental in setting up the pan-regional Union of South American Nations, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, the Bank of the South, and the regional television network TeleSur.” President Chavez took the heroic legacy of Simon Bolivar seriously.

[Simon Bolivar (1783-1830) more than rivals George Washington in American continental history! His victories over the Spanish colonialists brought independence to Bolivia, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. In an ancient version of a coalition of the oppressed, the revolutionary slaves of Haiti significantly assisted Bolivar in his quest to throw off colonialism.]

Some detractors on the left criticize Comándate’ Chavez for not doing more to transition Venezuela away from such heavy dependence on oil revenue. They discount his efforts to establish independent sustainable enterprises in the rural areas of Venezuela. Yet they have been rather inarticulate in defining “the what” and “the how” of achieving greater success. They also seem to be unable to appreciate the power and the dynamics of Chavez’s elitist opposition forces that have an almost monopolistic control over the media outlets in Venezuela and who make no pretense at impartiality. In 2002, with the knowledge of the Bush administration, a coup d'état was attempted by the elitists to oust Chavez who had been properly elected to office. The people of the country rose up and the military got on the right side; Chavez was triumphantly brought back to power. Just goes to show what can happen when the military remains loyal to the people.

The February 24, 2013, edition of the English version of Pravda recounts Venezuela’s and Chavez’s influences on an historical south-south collaboration that is of huge import to the world. This Russian paper describes a letter from Chavez that was read to the third Summit Africa - South America (ASA). This summit was held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, and 63 countries participated; the second Summit had been held in Venezuela. In the letter Hugo Chavez highlighted the ties between both continents, “in our continents, enough historic, political and natural resources are found to save the whole planet.” “President Chávez wrote that the malicious [European] exploiters want to enrich themselves at the cost of Africans by taking away their natural resources and waging wars on those that are not willing to comply. He urged African leaders to speed up the process of unification and to reject all interventionist activities by NATO.”

“At the end of his letter, Hugo Chávez expressed his ‘fraternal love for all African brothers, who share the same anti-colonial, anti-imperialist ideals.’ He asked them to ‘march together until all of our aims will be accomplished.’ The letter was signed with the sentence, ‘Viviremos y venceremos.’ We will live and we will win.”

Reinaldo José Bolívar, a Venezuelan professor and Vice-President of Foreign Affairs for Africa, presents some interesting thoughts about the common roots and projects of African countries and Venezuela. He was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Institute of Strategic Investigations on Africa and its Diaspora, the ‘Centre of African Knowledge’ in Venezuela. Venezuela has been continuously increasing its presence in Africa and will continue with this process. Venezuelans have African blood in their bodies. Africa is present in their genes. ‘African-ness is part of our identity. I am an integral Africanist,’ says Reinaldo Bolívar. Africa, to him, means ‘the future of humanity.’” The next ASA Summit will be held in Ecuador, in 2016.

My friends of the African Diaspora, it is highly unlikely that we will have a unifying force in the world again soon like President Hugo Chavez. He passed away of cancer on March 5, 2013. The rest of us have a job to do. We must do everything that we can to take up the slack the loss of this great man will present us. It is time to redouble our anti-imperialist efforts and to vigorously reach out our hands South-to-South or wherever we are to cement solidarity with the many other victims and descendents of the victims of colonialism.

Presente’ Hugo Chavez! Columnist, Wilson Riles, is a former Oakland, CA City Council Member. Click here to contact Mr. Riles.