12 March 2013
Venue: Francis Bancroft Building, Room 2.40, Mile End Campus, Queen Mary, University of London
On live television, Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolás Maduro choked on his words. Hugo Chávez, the improbable President, born in the rural poverty of Sabaneta, in the state of Barinas, in 1954 had died of cancer on March 5, 2013. To his wealthy and light-skinned enemies he was evil incarnate. To many impoverished Venezuelans, his contradictory and eclectic ideology – a labyrinthine blend drawing on the thought of nineteenth century Simón Bolívar and Ezequiel Zamora, twentieth century left-military nationalism and anti-imperialism, Soviet-inflected, bureaucratic Cuban Socialism, social Christianity, pragmatic neostructuralist economics, and currents of socialism-from-below – made a good deal of sense at least insofar as he had come from origins like theirs and had made the right sort of enemies. For sound reasons, the international legacy of the Venezuelan president for sections of the left has been tarnished by his appalling support of Gadhafi, al-Assad, Ahmadinejad, and the Chinese state. But to begin there for an understanding of the profound resonance of his death for the millions upon millions of Venezuelan and Latin American victims of colonial rule, capitalist exploitation, and imperial humiliation would be to resolutely miss the point. The tidal wave of anti-Chávez vitriol on behalf of the world’s rulers is rooted in the refusal he represents for the poor and dispossessed, for the exploited and oppressed – a refusal to go on as before, to submit to neoliberal capitalism, and to get on one’s knees before imperialism.
Jeffery R. Webber is a Lecturer in the School of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary, University of London. He sits on the editorial boards of Historical Materialism and Latin American Perspectives, and is the author most recently of Red October: Left-Indigenous Struggles in Modern Bolivia. Webber carried out field work in Venezuela in 2008, 2010, and 2012 as part of research into a book he is writing on the contradictions of the new Andean Left.