Elias Jaua, until recently vice-president of Venezuela, provides here the historical context to the word "Chavismo" and describes what it means to be a Chavista today


The Bolivarian civic-military organisation which began to be constructed as a political force under the leadership of Comandante Hugo Chavez is rooted principally in the rebellions of the people and the military in 1989 and 1992 respectively. However, the structure of the Bolivarian Movement 200 (MBR200) as a presence in the streets began to take place at the beginning of 1994, when Hugo Chavez was released from prison and began a social and political pilgrimage throughout the country.

Between 1994 and 1998 Comandante Chavez managed to bring students, professionals, small and medium sized business owners, peasants, farmers, fishers, miners, indigenous peoples, workers, women, young people, the military, local activist leaders and almost the entirety of Venezuela’s left leadership into the project of rescuing Bolivar’s thought and holding a constituent assembly to re-found the state and recover national and popular sovereignty with the goal of transforming the structures responsible for the social exclusion of the majority of the people. He even opportunistically managed to gain the support of important sectors of the bourgeoisie for the Bolivarian political insurgency.

That’s how Comandante Chavez was elected a president on December 6 1998, and through this, activated a constituent process which would lead to the election of a national constituent assembly and the subsequent approval by the people of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela’s constitution; a totally unprecedented event in our country’s history.

Within the context of the constituent process, the president of the republic, Hugo Chavez, beganto take innovative steps, employing the armed forces en masse for activities aimed at social protection and national development, taking to the streets to meet the poorest and most excluded sectors of society, challenging the bosses of the large private media chains and giving a revolutionary function to the public media, developing a courageous form of international politics and establishing links with Cuba, China, Iraq and Iran, as well as starting off the recovery process for the geopolitical weight that is the OPEC – amongst other challenges to the established powers. All these measures begin to shape a new political practice which is sustained through the exercise of full national sovereignty and the independence of the republic’s government from any influence from external or internal powers; the recognition of the political protagonism of the people and social inclusion as a human right, as well as the demystification of current powers.

In 2000, following a process which re-established government powers, as required by the new constitution passed in 1999; President Hugo Chavez requests that the new national assembly, which is now a constitutional body, begin to prepare in order to legislate in social and economic matters.

This process aimed at creating and approving laws by the president, aimed at fulfilling the constitutional mandate to transform our institutions, economic regime and the role of the state in the economy, was added to a growing tension in the international arena with the United States, Colombia and Spain in defence of our sovereignty and world peace, which would lead to a confrontation with the dominant elites who would unleash the events of 2002.

I give you this historical examination simply to contextualise the moment in which the term “Chavista” appears and to identify the peoples’ Bolivarian current which emerged at the end of the 1980s and at the beginning of the 1990s. Even in 2001, the political forces led by Commander Chavez identified ourselves as “men and women of Bolivar,” very few people identified themselves as Chavista.

The moment that the dominant elites decided to put an end to this revolutionary experiment, they used all their arsenal of social hatred against the poor people who followed Comandante Chavez. That’s how they added the new epitaph “Chavista” in the singular and “Chavista hordes” or “circles of terror” in the plural, to the long and historic list of adjectives used to criminalise the people (lowlife, hordes, bandits, black trash, thugs etc).  

In reality it was an attempt to strip us of our identity as Bolivarian, it was the oligarchy’s final effort to preserve the term Bolivar within the rusty archives of history academies. However, not only could they not steal from us the essence of the name “sons of Bolivar”, but we took on the name Chavista as well, and we dignifiedly gave it a new meaning.

I remember a march when I saw “I’m Chavista, so what?” for the first time, etched angrily on a piece of cardboard by a woman from the working class. From then on we were Chavistas, which at the beginning just meant that we were followers and defenders of Hugo Chavez. As Bolivarians and Chavistas we won battles against the coup, the fascist strikes in 2002, the “guarimbas”* of 2003 and saw our president ratified in 2004.

After consolidating the peoples’ victories of 2002, 2003 and 2004, we once again ratified our identity as Chavista. I remember that in that period the commander began to question the term, because he believed that it gave way to a personalistic tendency which went against revolutionary principles, but he later realised that being Chavista was something that transcended his surname.

Being Chavista means feeling a connection of love toward a political leader who hasn’t betrayed us, it means recognising ourselves as a people who are the descendents of a historical hero who belongs to us and who has become the present and the future; it is knowing that nobody is worth more than anybody else, knowing that we all have rights to all rights, feeling a profound love in our souls for our homeland and feeling deeply proud of being Venezuelan men and women, proud of being Latin American.

Being Chavista is knowing that power belongs to us a people and not to the rich, it is feeling respected in our cultural and social diversity. Being Chavista is being conscious of the fact that our national income is for everybody and holding human solidarity up as a supreme value. Being Chavista is to feel part of a strong ethical belief in life, for the liberation of the people, for the union of South America, for the greatness and the beauty of what they didn’t teach us about our father, Simon Bolivar. Being Chavista is to be irreverent in the face of domination. Being Chavista is both thinking and acting from a leftist standpoint.

That is what Bolivarianism is, and Chavismo was born from it. It was profoundly Christian and then it became socialist, because there is no other way to genuinely express the highest level of human values.

Today Chavismo is one of the largest leftist political and social forces with one of the greatest impacts on the world, and it has become a reference point for the “poor of this earth” (a reference to Cuban revolutionary, José Martí). Today Chavismo is Hugo Chavez and Hugo Chavez is Chavismo.

So great is the impact of this new political culture that the rightwing in Venezuela and in other countries has tried to take control, albeit unsuccessfully, of Chavismo’s codes and values. They do not understand that there is no Chavismo without the thought and passion that Chavez has for the people, that Chavismo doesn’t exist without a free people, that there is no Chavismo without a preferential option for the poor, that there is no Chavismo without true socialism.

For this and many other reasons, we are proud to be Chavistas, socialists and Bolivarian. WE ARE CHAVISMO, A JOYFUL AND REVOLUTIONARY FORCE FOR LIBERATION.

Happy new year for 2013, a year of great challenges for Venezuela, the 200th  anniversary of the beginning of Venezuela’s second republic, proclaimed by our father Simon Bolivar. We will live and we will win!!!

*Guarimba is a word used by the Venezuelan opposition to describe their tactics used to bring down the government, including violent mobilisations in the streets, shooting firearms and trying to provoke a repressive reaction from the government.

Translation by Rachael Boothroyd for Venezuelanalysis.com