It’s been almost 24 hours now since I learned of Hugo Chavez’s death. Today I watched his coffin make its way in a slow procession through the streets of Caracas, thronged by a sea of red-clad supporters.
His death was not all that unexpected. Reading the messages from Havana, where he had gone in November for further operations to deal with his cancer, it became clear to me by early January that he would not be returning to the Presidency, but I thought he would follow Fidel Castro’s move to retirement, to focus on his health. At least that is what I had hoped – I had preferred not to consider his death at that time.
Chavez and Venezuela were not really on my radar until the 2002 US orchestrated coup, where he was deposed for 48 hours.
Before then, my focus had been on other areas.
I was involved in various Canadian activist movements, from the Days of Action against the Harris Government in Ontario, various actions by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and the various anti-globalisation movements that really took off with the Battle for Seattle, and later with the Battle for Quebec City.
I was also working within the Canadian NDP, was a founding member of the Socialist Caucus of the NDP, and involved in campus politics, with the Trent Socialists and sitting on the Student Government.
At this time, the PLP had recently come to power, and I was in the midst of synthesising Marxist theory, with the works of Marx, Engels, Luxemburgh, Lenin and the Latin American Marxist Mariategui being particularly influential in my development at the time.
Following Mariategui’s argument that the revolutionary should not seek to mechanically copy a European formula of Marxism but instead adapt it to local contexts (he was writing in reference to Latin America), I set out to develop a Marxist analysis for Bermuda.
I wasn’t ignorant of Latin American politics and developments though.
My personal life revolved mostly around the international students at university, which at that time were largely dominated by Latin Americans (mostly Mexicans, but also Ecuadorians, Colombians, Salvadorians, Chileans, Brazilians and Argentines) and Africans (Mostly from Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Senegal, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast), with smaller groups from Asia and Europe.
There was accordingly much discussion about the politics of our homelands, and I learned a lot as a result.
I also was introduced to literature of the Latin American boom, particularly those of Carlos Fuentes, Jorge Icaza Coronel and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I have found that I have learned more, and deeper, about Latin American politics and society through their writings than from any other source.
There were contacts with organised groups from the region. The groups I was involved in had established relations with the Colombian FARC and ELN, the Nicaraguan Sandinistas and, particularly the Mexican Party for the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and the Zapatistas, and we met regularly within our various activist circles.
But Venezuela was never really a matter of discussion or a topic of interest.
That is, until, the 2002 coup.
I was in China at the time, living in Nanjing. I was doing some studies of the transition to capitalism that China was then undergoing at breathtaking speed. I was looking at how the workers and social movements were responding, and also at the environmental cost.
The news of the coup broke like a thunder clap.
Chavez had been arrested, detained at an offshore military base. Troops were in the streets. The US was recognising the coup leaders as a legitimate government, the coup as a monument to democracy.
And then came the people. Streaming out into the streets demanding the return of Chavez. Word came that the Republican Guard and other key units were opposing the coup.
There was confusing news, but I found out later that the Chinese media actually had better coverage of the events than was available in the West and Venezuela itself, but it was still full of confusing news.
I was awake the entire time, until news came that the Republican Guard had secured the Presidential Palace (without firing a shot) and the coup had collapsed.
This was my first real ‘introduction’ to Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution.