Hugo Chavez: Ex-hero of the people?

It’s catalog season again! As a young single person who’s been moving a lot since college, I don’t get nearly as many as, say, my parents, but since I’ve been living in my current apartment for slightly more than 2 years now, they’re starting to roll in. One that I’m actually legitimately on the mailing list for is the Syracuse Cultural Workers, since I ordered some buttons from them at one point. Full of feel-good, liberal, power to the people “tools for change,” it’s got some fun stuff to look at. But I’ve been torn over one item they’ve had for a while: the Hugo Chavez poster.

Syracuse Cultural Workers Hugo Chavez poster

If you click on the image, you can better see the poster’s message, which reads, “The hurricane of revolution has begun, and it will never be calmed. -Hugo Chavez, presidente de Venezuela.” Given how much Chavez and Venezuelan politics have been in the news lately, I flipped through my latest SCW catalog the first time specifically to see if they still had the poster listed. They didn’t, though, as you can see above, they do still appear to have it on the website. I don’t actually know if this was a conscious decision on their part, or simply due to the fact that they’re a non-profit and can’t afford to put every item in the print catalog every time. If it was a conscious decision, though, I can certainly understand.

For those who may not have been keeping up with Latin American politics, Chavez has proposed a bunch of constitutional reforms that are due to go up for a ratification soon. Here’s a recent BBC article summarizing what’s happening right now. In a nutshell, two of his main reforms would be removing presidential term limits and increasing the current term from six to seven years. (See Hilary’s post on presidential term limits for further discussion of that particular issue.) Other reforms would increase presidential control over the central bank. He is currently in his second term, having been reelected last year, but the opposition party so strongly objected to his policies that they (unwisely) protested by withdrawing from those elections, leaving only his supporters in parliament. Sort of does away with the idea of checks and balances, doesn’t it?

The thing is, I’m not really writing this to condemn everything that Chavez has ever done. In his first term, which is when that poster came out, he seemed to be making many revolutionary, needed changes for the benefit of many of the people in Venezuela. Not being in Venezuela, I have no idea how much of this is skewed because of my exposure to the news mainly through the foreign press, but it is interesting to me that, while Chavez mostly hit mainstream US news whenever he said something rude about Bush in a major speech or at the UN, or when he traveled to Cuba or Russia, other English-language foreign press (such as the BBC, obviously) covered him and his policies fairly favorably.

With the constitutional reforms, though, Chavez is crossing a line. On Wednesday, the BBC reported on a protest march against the reforms that became violent. Not deadly mayhem and massacre, certainly, but a distinct break from what we’ve been hearing before.

Students had chanted “Reform, no – democracy, yes” as they tried to reach parliament.

Scuffles began when they tried to push through police lines.

Student leader Stalin Gonzalez said at least five demonstrators had suffered minor injuries, the Associated Press reports.

“There is… a part of this country that rejects these reforms and we want to be heard,” Mr Gonzalez told a local television station.

Protesters complained that police had stopped their march from reaching the National Assembly while the authorities frequently allow Chavez supporters to stage street demonstrations without restrictions.

“It’s clear proof of political discrimination,” said Mr Gonzalez.

Among the students’ concerns about the erosion of civil liberties is the fear that the authorities will be allowed to detain citizens without charge during a state of emergency.

Mr Chavez has dismissed criticism of the constitutional changes saying they are needed to accelerate Venezuela’s transition to socialism.

The comments by people who had been at the protest, or who just had an opinion, at the end of the article were quite interesting as well. Only one Chavista swearing that the protesters must be rich, pampered elite students. All the rest were actually quite measured. Interesting that his comment was in such a minority. In any case, I’m definitely in sympathy with the protesters.

I’ve been concerned about the way things were going down there ever since I heard the parliament had approved Chavez’s request to rule by decree for 18 months, back in January. Then he started talking about constitutional reforms. I began to see shades of Pinochet, despite the differences in political ideology. In talking about the developments with a friend, I noted that a leftist dictator with only the best intentions for his country’s poor at heart is still a dictator, and the politics become a lot less relevant.

So I am torn about the poster. Yes, he instituted some reforms that were quite beneficial to the people of Venezuela. He made some very inspirational speeches, which contained very inspirational quotes, which in turn make excellent and inspiring posters. But he is also starting to see himself as the only hope for his country, and is leading them further and further away from democracy. As much as my college Latin American history classes have left me with a soft spot for socialistic ideals and reforms, it also left me with a certainty that dictatorship is never the way to go, and I am sad to see another Latin American country sliding down that slope, particularly when it started out with such bright prospects.

As I commented on Jennie’s post about Mao kitsch, it’s always easier to make merchandise when your idols are dead, and can’t make inconvenient political decisions anymore.

-posted by Dana

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3 Responses to Hugo Chavez: Ex-hero of the people?

  1. poetloverrebelspy says:

    Not a very deep comment, but . . .
    Are you telling me that kid’s parents actually named him STALIN?

  2. Dana says:

    I know, doesn’t that make it sound so much worse? “Chavez, even Stalin is criticizing you! Don’t become a dictator!” (Or “doctator,” as one of the commenters on the article put it.)

  3. […] hopefully final, news on the Venezuelan constitutional reform front, (which I talked about earlier here,)  Chavez’s proposed reforms were defeated in the public referendum, 51% to 49%. Given his […]

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