An Affective Picture of Chavismo (IX): Grief

Continuing his reflections on Chavismo, Reinaldo Iturriza argues for “burning down altars” and continuing the popular rebellion.


There is no easy way to say this. Perhaps that is why I decided it would be better to start by quoting something a friend of mine, Mine Saravia, wrote on December 1st, 2018.

Mine began by referring to the disenchantment felt by so many close friends not so much with the government, but with the Revolution. They sometimes fuse the two into one, even though they are very different things. It is a difficult, thorny subject, because it is impossible not to hurt feelings, and we are going through a phase in which low passions are running high.

Reasons to be angry… there are aplenty. Mine listed a few of them, and she was very emphatic about this point. In this regard it is pointless to argue. There are clearly many reasons to be angry. But what makes the difference is how we choose to deal with problems: “It’s not that I’m disappointed. I’ll continue the struggle on my end, with my people, in my barrio. No. The issue is that I don’t want anything to do with any politician. I’m no longer helping anyone, I don’t believe in anyone,” she wrote, without hiding her anger.

Thus, Mine went on, “I’m also angry at my people,” with “those who literally make a living out of conning others,” but which are not capable or organizing to “sow” or “form a communal council,” amidst so many other things which are possible and necessary.

Mine’s tone grew harsh: “Don’t cling on to Chávez. Chávez died and maybe it’s time to let him go. Because it seems we cling on to him as some eternal savior who took us out of a bad place into a better one. And now that he’s not here all we can do, as we do with Jesus, is pray and hope for the best, while in practice we do nothing. Chávez wasn’t Jesus. Chávez is not a religion. Chávez is, should be, a seed. He shouldn’t be the savior we pray to, but the seed that grows within us so we get moving, so we can be better, live the revolution in our day to day lives. Obviously we can. We can be solidarious starting from the little country known as home, where we can plant seeds in our children, relatives, friends.”

Mine is right: it is as if in the physical absence of the deified man many of us were doomed to act as humans, too human, and give free rein to the worst in us. Then we raise our prayers to be momentarily cleansed of our sins, we mourn the irreversible loss of our savior, we curse the false idols who are no longer able to perform miracles, and we go back to getting one over our neighbor in the hell that is daily life, walking in circles, angry and alienated, as if we had no free will.

What kind of life is that? One that is not worth living. In truth we have only one choice: shake off the idea that unstoppable forces condemn us to this purgatory.

Chávez, a man of flesh and blood, died. And if we had no chance to grieve before, the time has come to do it now.

Letting go of Chávez, living our grief, does not mean Chávez is no longer among us, or that the popular rebellion is over. Quite the contrary, it means the popular rebellion should continue or, for those who feel lost, start again.

And to start again we need to burn down the altars. Don’t get me wrong: it may be that Chávez has won a place amidst the court of liberators [a santero altar to honor the heroes of the independence wars]. This is not about going against popular idols.

Burning down altars means destroying everything that can keep us away from the man who lived and died for the popular cause. Destroying the imaginary resting place for figures who can only be adored if they are high, high up, unreachable, inaccessible, forcing us to be on our knees.

Burning down altars means ceasing to believe in an idealized man whose example is impossible to follow, and to believe in the men and women of the pueblo who served as examples and made Hugo Chávez possible. It means that if we drop to our knees it will be to root out weeds and sow seeds or, as Mine wrote, to impregnate the land.

Because this is the land where we need to continue, or restart, the popular rebellion, and if in order to do that we need to reorganize the heavens, then we will just have to do it.

One thing I have learned working the land is that weeds are not removed in one motion, placing the body perpendicular to the ground and pulling up with brute force. To root it out one must pull sideways, applying strength smartly, making wave-like motions, almost at ground level, time and again, until it gives in.

By now I am not sure what made me proudest: sowing seeds in the land, watching corn grow, harvesting or learning to remove weeds. By the way, this idea that weeds never die is completely false. They do, even if it takes work.

Weeds are a form of life that stands in the way. Like despair. That is why, when one prepares to root it out, one is dealing with a matter of life and death.

Something similar happens with grief: weeds are like a bad form of life which we live when we cannot deal with death. If grief is the circumstance that forces us to face our mortality and that of our loved ones, it also teaches us that there is life after death, that life will go on once we are gone.

After grief, what is left? Sowing. Holding on to the very profane certainty: popular rebellion is the beginning and the end.

This is the ninth installment of a series of texts by Venezuelan writer and theorist Reinaldo Iturriza. Follow the links for the previous texts: part Ipart IIpart IIIpart IV, part VIpart VII, part VIII.

Translated by Ricardo Vaz for Venezuelanalysis.com.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.