touring the bush (13) : caracas chavista
move over, che. there’s a new big man in town, and on t-shirts. in the nineties we had marcos, now the sporadic-shower kids of genoa, seattle, gràcia, and other “politically sensitive” first-world enclaves have a new icon of enduring revolución, all the current rage in lefty-pop-politics and resistencia superstardom: hugo chávez.
1989 was the tragic year of the caracazo, the biggest social shakedown caracas faced in the last decades. in 1992, chávez appeared on the radar of global politics after two failed coup-d’états against president carlos andrés pérez, who had adopted an active repression against the protests and riots of those years (pérez, a former socialist-turned-sucker-for-washington-consensus-economics, was later removed from the presidency and imprisoned for an outrageous corruption case. he later went into exile). chávez, back then lieutenant cornel, went to jail for two years. he was later pardoned and went on to try his luck in politics, founding the mvr (movimiento quinta república, or fifth republic movement). he won the 1998 presidential election, and from then on things in venezuela would never be the same (well, some things).
privatizations were reverted, a new constitution was sworn, social programs sprung out of nowhere (sustained by petrol-dollars), massive for and against chávez demonstrations rocked the capital (around twenty between 2000 and 2004), a bush-backed coup against chávez failed, and chávez was on his way to becoming the hemispherical anti-freetrade, anti-bush spearhead (he called bush “the devil” in a speech given at the UN general assembly). his local “bolivarian missions” extended to a regional and even global call for radical change. supposedly.
chávez is a polarizing figure. he has taken control over parliament, the military, and the local media (he’s even created telesur, an alternative t.v. broadcasting company that is a sort telemundo-crossdressed-al-jazeera). he’s unsettled foreign affairs and silenced the opposition. he’s pushed the resurgence of the latinoamerican left and proven a vital ally to castro’s withering regime in cuba.
what about the city? has caracas become a revolutionary capital? is there evidence of radical change in the urban fabric? well, yes, but not really because of chavismo, not even his terms. chávez has maintained old political and economic structures, and he has reinstalled even older ones (the return of economic populismos : price controls, state intervention, subsidies, oil-funded spenditure). the precise, acupunctural interventions that have seized caracas and her barrios in the last years do reflect a generalized discontent and a reinvigorated social participation, but they are not direct outcomes of state policy. some are even funded by the devil's advocates (world bank, etc. etc.) what lies in the brick and mortar moutains of caracas's barrios is a semi-latent alternative to pure bolivarismo, a more active, pragmatic and open approach to social needs and problems. another revolution, still in the rough.
next : caracas revival