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Opinion and Analysis: Law and Justice | Participation | Politics

Remembering Injustice: Venezuelan Activist Jorge Rodriguez Assassinated by Government Forces in 1976

This week Venezuelans commemorated the life and legacy of Jorge Antonio Rodriguez, the popular socialist leader brutally murdered on 25 July 1976 by forces loyal to then president Carlos Andres Perez (Democratic Action, or AD).

Thirty-five years after the founder of Venezuela’s Socialist League was kidnapped, tortured and murdered for his active role in the struggle for Venezuelan socialism, his family, friends and allies, including leaders of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), joined together to reaffirm their commitment to Rodriguez’s struggle for social justice.

On Monday, Jorge Rodriguez Gomez, son of the slain leader and PSUV mayor of Caracas’ Libertador Municipality, told those gathered at the capital’s General Cemetery of the South that his father’s death must not to be remembered with “sadness alone”.

Instead of “sadness and ceremony”, he said, those who meet every year to mark the anniversary of the leader’s death must “ratify our commitment to life, to the Bolivarian Revolution, to the future, to loyalty and above all else, to our absolute and unbreakable decision to advance the Bolivarian Revolution, with Hugo Chavez, building the homeland that our children deserve; that same homeland Jorge Rodriguez wanted for his children, grandchildren, and for all Venezuelans”.

According to Rodriguez, at the time of his father’s death the Venezuelan right-wing already understood “what we only sensed at that time; that this tomb (of Jorge Rodriguez) was becoming something very dangerous for the oligarchy and for the Fourth Republic, that his grave was an example for the homeland that we are all building today, the homeland of the Revolution that we are building each day alongside Chavez”.

“At that time we didn’t understand that after all the suffering and torture, all the physical torment, his life would begin to grow in the heart and soul of all those Venezuelans who want what is best for the people, who live with hope”, he concluded. 

FALLEN ACTIVISTS

Former Venezuelan Vice-President and award-winning investigative journalist Jose Vicente Rangel asked those gathered at Monday’s ceremony to consider, “how much of what is real today, as part of Venezuela’s revolutionary process, is not the result of the struggles of Jorge Rodriguez, Alberto Lovera, Fabricio Ojeda, and the many others?”

Alberto Lovera, Secretary General of the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV) in 1965, was kidnapped on 17 October 1965. His body, mutilated by acts of torture, was found submerged off the Caribbean coast over a week later.

Fabricio Ojeda, leftist journalist and guerrilla fighter, presided over the Patriotic Council that helped oust former Dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez (1952-1958). In June 1966, after being picked up by state security forces, these same forces claimed Ojeda “committed suicide” in his Caracas prison cell.

According to Rangel, “without the extraordinary sowing” of revolutionary ideals by Venezuela’s socialist leaders of the past, the Bolivarian Revolution “would not have coalesced as it has”.

Rangel also said that remembering the legacy of those Venezuelans who suffered state violence “is one of the ways we can fight against impunity”.

Rangel made specific reference to the Law Against Silence and Forgetting, elaborated by members of the PSUV in conjunction with victims of government repression during the Fourth Republic (1958-1998), which seeks to establish greater clarity around the violence suffered by the Venezuelan people during that period.

“It’s not about hate”, said Rangel, “but about the struggle for justice”.

Rodrigo Cabezas, member of the PSUV’s National Directorate, said that the example of socialist leaders such as Jorge Rodriguez guides the “socialist militants, revolutionaries and Venezuelan patriots” of today. The socialists of today, he affirmed, “are making real part of the dreams for which he (Jorge Rodriguez) lived and struggled”.

JORGE ANTONIO RODRIGUEZ (1942 – 1976)

Jorge Antonio Rodriguez is considered one of Venezuela’s most important socialist militants, leaders, and ideologues. Born on 14 February 1942 in Carora, state of Lara, he first became involved in Venezuela’s political life as a student of education at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV).

While at the university, Rodriguez led an increasingly radical student movement and, in 1973, helped establish the Socialist League – a leftist alternative to the political parties and structures formed during what is commonly referred to as the Fourth Republic. Rodriguez was Secretary General of Venezuela’s Socialist League until, on 25 July 1976, members of the state’s security forces kidnapped and tortured him, leaving him to die from his injuries while in detention. 

“We raise the red flag”, Rodriguez once said, “because red is the color of Revolution”. And in the case of Venezuela, he affirmed, this revolution is based on “courage, happiness, and a total disposition to fight”.

Rodriguez also insisted on the active participation of women, youth and students, campesinos and other excluded sectors of Venezuelan society, affirming that their participation is at the heart of “making and creating revolution”.

WOMEN’S ROLE

Women’s presence in the struggle, for example, “has a profound revolutionary significance”, he argued. “To rebel against a system of exploitation and oppression which attacks them with extreme forms subjugation, and then to embrace proletarian positions, is a level of capacity” that must be appreciated by all those who struggle for socialism in Venezuela.

“Without women”, he said, “a real mass revolutionary movement can not exist”.

An outspoken socialist, Rodriguez was also highly critical of reformist tendencies within the Venezuelan left. He called reformism “the enemy at home” and said that reformists “present a false package of what struggle and revolution look like, serving only to help consolidate the power and domination of the bourgeoisie over the working class”. To combat reformism, Rodriguez said, the Venezuelan left should engage in a “fraternal ideological battle, a banner of shared experiences and dispositions”, that must be made reality without sacrificing “revolutionary unity”.

“We must be consequential with our calls for struggle”, he affirmed. “Socialism is consolidated through social struggle and one must not rest for one minute in this fight; a fight that is limited only by total victory or death”.

SOCIALISM REVIVED

Before his assassination, Rodriguez warned the governing Democratic Action party that Venezuelan revolutionaries would “take the struggle for socialism to the ultimate consequences” and if they are “killed in combat” there will always be “other valuable comrades who will certainly continue the struggle” for Venezuelan socialism.

The Bolivarian Revolution, led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, is based on the progressive ideas established by the country’s constitutional assembly (Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, 1999) as well as the Simon Bolivar National Project (2007-2013) – the country’s first five-year plan for socialist development.