Billboard in Havana, Cuba. (Photo: Nueva Perspectiva / flickr)

One month after the death of revolutionary leader and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on March 5, the outpouring of love, respect and solidarity for Chavez and the determination to continue the democratic revolution continues apace.

It is now very clear that not only Chavistas love and respect this fallen leader, but millions and millions of Latin Americans. Leaders from all over Latin America have paid their respects to this larger than life man.

 Even the most conservative leaders from 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations came to mourn the passing of Chavez. In total, at least 55 presidents, prime ministers and princes attended the formal funeral ceremony in Caracas, some with handkerchiefs in hand wiping tears from their eyes.

Venezuela proclaimed seven days of national mourning so millions could come to pay their last respects. This was then extended to nine days, because the line ups were just too long. In the streets, ceremony after ceremony was attended by hundreds of thousands if not millions, many openly sobbing uncontrollably. All this was given day-long coverage on TeleSUR, Latin America’s continent wide TV network, itself a result of a Chavez initiative.

In Cuba, millions of people came out to honor Chavez. Among Cubans, Chavez is incredibly popular, a household word. Three days of “duela nacional,” or national mourning, were called by the Cuban government for Chavez. All public musical events were cancelled — and that is a very big deal in a country whose people so love music and dance. Even International Woman’s Day ceremonies scheduled for March 8 were postponed to the following week.

Day-long television on Thursday March 7 covered ceremonies held in every city and provincial capital in Cuba. And the line-ups were incredible. In Havana’s Plaza de la Revolucion, the line up officially started at 8 a.m., but one woman interviewed on TV said she was there at 4:30 a.m. The line up was so long it took about four hours to pass by the memorial. I went with my Cuban wife at about 7 p.m., and still there was a line up that stretched out for many blocks, and it was six to eight people wide — with still others lined up to watch and encourage those in the line up.

Cuba and Venezuela are solid allies and a powerful personal comradeship and friendship existed between Fidel Castro and Chavez. Many strong ties exist between the two nations. Perhaps the most significant is the exchange of Venezuelan oil at preferential prices for Cuban doctors and teachers to help in the social mission projects launched by the Chavez government over a decade ago.

Chavez’s great popularity was and is due to many dimensions of this leader. His bold and creative moves to help the poor people of Venezuela through the many social missions — education, health, housing, culture, and more — have certainly won huge popular approval and devotion from the poor. Chavez, himself from a modest rural background, displayed in his own character a sense of humility and devotion to humanity that is palpable in the many videos daily aired on television.

Chavez is respected and loved as much for his simple humanity as for his brilliant and creative democratic political actions. He took the old, outworn term “patria,” fatherland, and injected into it a new much broader meaning. His love of patria was a love for el pueblo, the people and for all humanity. Every day now we see him on TeleSUR, singing out this love. And now, as the election campaign for a successor to Chavez builds up to the April 14 date, we also see Chavez (who had the foresight to do this before he died) campaigning daily in a news clip for his chosen candidate, Nicolas Maduras, and for the continuation of the democratic Bolivarian revolution.

Simon Bolivar, the great historic visionary and revolutionary, fought for a liberated and independent South America in the 19th century. Chavez is his successor. He has brought the Bolivarian dream into the 21st century. Millions and millions of Latin Americans now once again see that this dream can be realized in this century. They see Chavez as the second liberator. Venezuelans have demanded that Chavez be buried beside Bolivar in the Pantheon that is currently being constructed for this.

Through Chavez’s inspiration and leadership, many institutions have already been created to ensure that the Bolivarian dream of Latin American liberation and integration is made a reality. These include TeleSUR, Banco del Sur, Petrosur, UNASUR, ALBA and CELAC — to name the major ones.

I think it’s fair to say that the ‘Washington Consensus’ has been broken into bits and Chavez played a big part in that. He has been honored in the United Nations and in even in the formerly U.S.-dominated Organization of American States, although Canada’s “tribute” was formalistic, cold, brief, paternalistic and hypocritical — mentioning how now, with Chavez’s death, Venezuela could move toward democracy. How completely hypocritical, given that Canada is hardly a model of democracy these days with Harper interpreting a 24 per cent vote of the registered electorate as a “mandate” and the fact that the last election was tainted by the use of the robocalls. Compare this to Chavez, who has regularly pulled from well over 50 per cent and up to over 60 per cent of the Venezuelan electorate.

Chavez is immensely popular not only in Venezuela and Cuba, but also in all or most of Latin America. Why? Because Chavez actually helps the poor, and because democracy is the number one principle of Bolivarian socialism.  Monitored by the European Commission, the NAACP and the Carter Commission, the elections in Venezuela are far more democratic than those in Canada or the U.S.

During the election process in Venezuela voters put their fingerprints on the ballot, so cheating is practically impossible. In fact, the Carter Commission has called the Venezuelan electoral process one of if not the most fair and democratic in the world. So, no Chavez was not a dictator, but a democratic president par excellence. But the capitalist press — showing their great fear of a successful, democratic socialism — keeps relentlessly repeating the outrageous lie that he is a dictator. 

Chavez has always said that the revolution is about the people, that if the people don’t do it, no leader can do anything by him/herself. Chavez practiced the slogan of the Zapatistas who learned it from the Indigenous people of the Lancandon Jungle in Chiapas, Mexico — “we lead by following.” Following who? The people, of course.

For local activists across Venezuela, Chavez was a gateway for the real revolution from below, the revolution within the revolution as they say over and over in that book Venezuela Speaks! Voices from the Grassroots. As one of the activists interviewed in that book said when she was asked if she was a follower of Chavez; “No I don’t follow his ideas, he follows mine”.  

For example, it was only after the workers actually started organizing workers and community councils and communes in about 2005-06 that Chavez came out and supported their ideas and their efforts, both by speaking out for councils and communes and by providing material and financial support from the state. As Chavez said: “Es la hora de los pueblos.”  This is what the protagonism that people speak about in Latin America means: the leading role in a real revolution is played by the people themselves. True leaders like Chavez know this and are able to express it creatively and support it.

Just over a week after Chavez’s death, I went with my long time comrade and friend Susana Hurlich and her friend Cathy to the Venezuelan Embassy here in Havana to sign their book of condolences. I am not ashamed to say that I have cried several times over Hugo’s death. He was such a great revolutionary and un hombre muy sencillo, simple and full of joy. My wife remarked that he always seemed to be smiling. Millions and millions of Latin Americans and others from around the world will miss him. Here is what I wrote in the Venezuelan book of condolences:  

My dear Comandante, you are the first leader who in death I have ever cried for and very much! I know you supported the people in everything and in the most important thing, the creation of peoples and workers organizations, councils and communes. Thank you for your life. You live in the hearts of the people and in my heart — me a Canadian! Viva siempre comandante! Chavez vive, la lucha sigue!

We all three wrote our words in the book and then were led to another room decked out with an alter, many pictures of Chavez and Bolivar, candles and a huge rose on the floor made up entirely of petals, rose petals all very bright. We were each given a beautiful very bright cerise red rose and asked to distribute the petals among the others already on the floor. At the end I raised my fist in the solidarity gesture and then tapped my chest three times and blew that love to Chavez.  


Michael Carr is an activist and retired academic who splits his time between Vancouver and Havana. 

Photo: Nueva Perspectiva / flickr