Chavez Cannot Make Concessions

An interview with the theologian Martin Zapata, the rector of the Catholic University Santa Rosa of Caracas, talks about President Chavez's relationship to Christianity, socialism, the opposition, and the constitutional amendment.

The word of Jesus Christ partnered with the concept of socialism has traveled Venezuela since Hugo Chávez entered the government ten years ago. First he invoked God, then he made analogies with socialism. Next, the mission of Jesus Christ on the Earth took the form in Venezuela of the social missions (Robinson, Inside the Neighborhood, Ribas, Sucre) created as a just act for the excluded sectors after the coup d’état perpetrated in 2002 against Chavez. From here on they will be called socialist missions.

Martin Zapata can’t avoid making an analysis of the political and social reality of the country without mentioning the word of God. A Doctor in Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and the rector of the Catholic University Santa Rosa of Caracas, he fervently opposes the ecclesiastic hierarchies because they treat the people like sheep, they impose faith as an absolute rule to maintain privilege, in an alliance with the oligarchies. He is aware that those who rebel against these ecclesiastic structures, end up like Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero.

I will now let Zapata speak for himself.

Religious activity is anthropologically shown to be one of the conditions that accompanies mankind because he feels tied to a transcendent being and this is the most basic of the human being, part of the psyche, its must genuine dimension where the fears and worries are focused on, as well as hopes. The theologian and professor of the phenomenological history of religion Juan Martin Velasco said, at the beginning of the 90’s of the twentieth century, that the political leadership of the coming century would be characterized by the use of religion in the political message due to the relationship between the famous messianism and the salvation that Jesus Christ inspired, in the figure of the Savior, and added that the politician that knew to act and speak in accordance with this would obtain extraordinary fruits. In this sense, President Chavez has managed the religious dimension very well, not only in his speeches, but also using the images and symbols to have a closer and more genuine connection with man. All of this is linked with his common language and his natural ability to communicate that has allowed him to connect deeply with a people that demand justice. When he accepted the calling of the recall referendum in 2004 he asked God to accompany him in that battle, along with the images of Maisanta and Florentino. Chavez didn’t need the institutional intermediation of the Catholic Church nor any other church to connect, but he did use religion. He is convinced, it seems to me, that in addition to having a political mission, it is also a divine mission, a mandate, a demand of the Christian commitment – of a follower of Christ – and that’s to establish the reign of God in political discourse: justice, brotherhood, peace, coexistence, equality, which are the programmatic values of the Sermon on the Mount of Jesus of Nazareth.

What does he hope to establish in Venezuela?

In Venezuela what he hopes to establish is a process of justice. That’s why he speaks of socialism as being the closest to Christianity because in the end Christianity is a utopia, an achievable dream that human mediation can bring to be, an ideal that we must construct and it could be possible depending on how we establish the societal conditions so that it happens. We must change the consciousness, the way we act and the political structure. What’s present in the Gospel is what, in political terms, has been attempted over time with constitutional systems and their political structures. For this reason the theology has something to tell us about social coexistence because it determined the organizational processes from biblical times to the ancient Christian age, as well as afterwards in the Middle Ages. That structure and the beginnings of the modern state initiated by the French Revolution, all the principles that are born from a profound class struggle, are based in the principles that the poor are going to be saved. “He has announced the renewal of the poor and has come to destroy the powerful,” is a principle in the Gospel that notes the social differences and the existence of a class struggle in society. The Gospel proposes in the programmatic political speech of Jesus is that without equality there is no justice.

So to what do you attribute Kart Marx’s phrase against religion?

Marx is right when he says that “religion is the opiate of the masses” if religion enslaves us and is used to manipulate consciences, when it has acted as a sedative, and a stimulant of fear and guilt, and when it has created societies with dominating groups and dominated ones. Marx didn’t refer to Jesus Christ, because his religion is one where the faith is a process of liberation and salvation, but to the religions that institutionalize themselves to manipulate the conscience of man, those that become structures of submission to exercise power, with a chain in its direct members as well as its believers. The power structures have a hierarchic structure that has two options for survival: one, you assume it in the attitude of liberation where the structures are flat and circular, meaning, when the coordinator or he who is in front is one more that accompanies and is chosen to coordinate the process; or the pyramidal structure, which is what was chosen by the ecclesiastic catholic institution, where the participation is lost, the communion, the leading role of the grassroots. Therefore, the model that is chosen, be it that of participation or representation, will effect the style of power and therefore the decision-making.

“I have come so that you will know the truth,” Jesus Christ said and it is the only thing that human beings can base themselves in: the truth. In life, one cannot make ethical, political, or social concessions if they aren’t based on the truth. The concessions in politics betray the truth and Chavez isn’t allowed to make concessions. He can sit down with the opposition, if they want to talk about the truth of the political elements as is the quest for justice, better social equity, of a society that reverses the processes of exclusion, but not just if they want to avoid that he touches their landholdings.

What does the opposition refer to when they talk of the reigning intolerance in Venezuela?

When they speak of intolerance they refer to not touching their private space, which is based in the traditional liberal principles most genuine to capitalism, where the individual freedom of man is the most important, without any state control. That tolerance of “leave me alone with my individuality” has been effected in the great crises of capitalism, but with what happened recently in Wall Street it is shown that the collective has to take priority over the individual because the common good is the fundamental cause for which a society should integrally develop itself. In this process of change that is taking place in Venezuela no personal piece of property at risk, if we are talking about the house, the car, the participation in a club, the beach house, the small business. Here what we have to do is radicalize the process, to control the means of production.

Has Chavez divided the country?

Venezuela was split before Chavez won the presidency of the Republic. More correctly, he has avoided a civil war in the country, and what Chavez is doing is giving rights to the people who have always been denied them. And that right wing minority, many times without real class consciousness – because these middle classes are equally dominated even when though they feel dominant due to the effects of the media manipulation and for the elevated social status they have had – they don’t understand that these people never experienced a process of inclusion that the Bolivarian Revolution is now permitting them. Chavez is governing for those who never had a government. If that is not understood, then we will never be able to establish coexistence among Venezuelans. But this country continues fractured because we haven’t really gotten to the bottom of the issue, which is the control of the means of production, which is what establishes justice. There isn’t a single rich guy who has got rich as a result of just actions. “All wealth has an exploitative action as its origin,” the fathers of the Church said.

I always say that it wasn’t that the opposition won a few governorships and mayoralties in the recent regional elections, but that the revolution lost ground. In a competition it is assumed that all athletes have at least certain physical conditions that are equal among them all. Here the best athletes in some areas lost, unfortunately, against some political dinosaurs that are an embarrassment in the recent history of Venezuela. In those areas where the revolution lost ground, the great opponent weren’t those low level candidates, but the private print and audiovisual media that maintain control over those middle class sectors, and where the revolution has erred has been to not plant solidarity in the consciousness. One of the great failures in the ideological teachings of the revolution is that we haven’t understood that we have to increase the consciousness of the middle class, encouraging their sensitivity towards social problems and the search for justice.

To what do you attribute the persistence of certain opposition to the Bolivarian process?

Within the revolutionary process there still doesn’t exist an ideological communion, which is the goal to strive for. In other words, there are a lot of people without consciousness who aren’t clear that we need to change the bourgeois capitalist state into a socialist one. This is why we should establish a front of anti-imperialist struggle, a proposal about collective property in the means of production and a workers’ leadership that really assumes control of production in Venezuela. All the social movements and progressive sectors need to come together in a sole ideological direction based on these three ideas, those groups that are not organized because they don’t want to pick a specific political position.

What is the destiny of the political parties that have disagreed or betrayed Chavez?

The political parties that don’t have a solid ideological structure and those that are of the “client” style will disappear from the political map. They will be transformed, as Lot’s wife, into a statue of salt. Excluding the Communist Party of Venezuela which, despite its errors – no one is exempt from them – has demonstrated its ideological project and coherence throughout history, and also has demonstrated loyalty to the revolutionary project of President Chavez.

Why is a constitutional amendment necessary?

The Latin principle Vox populi, vox Dei isn’t a compound phrase that you say to be an electoral snob; it has a historic basis to justify the sovereign decision. What the people decide is what is going to be done. The revolution is something more than Chavez and this began with a movement of change that was identified as a socialist revolution. Here what is important is that the revolution establishes justice in Venezuela. There are leaders that in some given point in history, are needed to establish or strengthen the phase of a process. And the phase that we are in now, which is the deepening of the socialist project or the project of Simon Bolivar, has still not been accomplished. Therefore, the leader that can help the people to conquer the Bolivarian objective is Chavez. Bolivar played that role in his time in the group of leaders that supported him politically throughout his process. When Bolivar loses that process of being needed to lead that process, that is when he leaves power. But until he accomplishes the objective, Bolivar governs and constructs a process that he had been assigned.  The amendment is going to permit Chavez to be in power until this revolution can be strengthened in a democratic and peaceful way.

Translated by Spencer Earl