By Dae-Han Song (English Chief Editor, The [su:p])
A gentle breeze blows, and the sun is warm. I soak the Caribbean into my skin and bones. Today is my first day out of the conference area and the last in Venezuela. I hop onto the petite car of my attache (from the Ministry of External Relations) and towards Hugo Chavez’s mausoleum at the Cuartel de la Montanas (Barracks of the Mountain). As we drive past, I observe the people walking around, those in line, the ones drinking coffee on the sidewalk, and the murals, what must their lives be like, what must they be thinking.
The Cuartel de la Montana is in the hill community of Enero 23 (Jan. 23) in Caracas. As my attache mentions, “the neighborhood is ‘popular.’” Not only does it belong to the lower classes, it also belongs to some of the most rebellious and militant Chavistas. Its namesake is the date of the 1958 uprising that brought formal democracy. True to its rebellious name, the parish rose up again in 1989 against the government’s implementation of IMF prescriptions, part of a larger uprising that would be known as Caracazo. From these same hills, three years later, inspired by the rebellion, a young military colonel, Hugo Chavez, would mount a failed coup. As he surrendered, he would take full responsibility on live television and be imprinted in the hearts of Venezuelans. As we drive across the city, murals and barrio names honor Chavez, criollo independence generals, indigenous, and Afro-descendant leaders that fought for independence and freedom.
Jose Leonardo Chirino was a free zambo (African and indigenous) fighting for independence and freedom for slaves. The paracaidista (paratrooper) refers to Hugo Chavez, a paratrooper along with 4F for the Feb. 4 attempted coup.
“Land and Free Men” is written above an image of Ezequiel Zamora who led peasants in the civil war by the liberals against the conservatives after independence.
Coming from Korea, I admire and envy Venezuela’s rectified history. In South Korea, it is not the names of independence fighters and guerrillas, but those of the collaborators with Japanese colonialism that are honored. U.S. intervention and occupation and the Korean War immediately after independence from Japan, smashed all possibility of punishing collaborators and setting history right.
As we approach the Cuartel, Chavez looks over us.
The mausoleum not only honors Chavez, but also his vision of Venezuela. I am fortunate enough to be included into the guided tour of a group of Bolivarian university students.
Outside the mausoleum, the flags of CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) represent Chavez’s tireless efforts for the politically and economically integrated Grand Nation of Latin America.
Chavez’s famous Feb. 4 words. Our guide, a middle aged indigenous Afro-descendant woman and member of the militia, uses Chavez’s words to explain to students the importance of taking responsibility as Chavez did and being loyal like Chavez’s men.
Since Chavez was Christian, there is a little chapel where people can pray for him on Sundays. Our guide points to one of the Virgin Marys, simpler and coarser than the rest, and mentions it was given to Chavez by a woman in the street, an example of Chavez’s love for the people.
In an exhibits, a wall is lined with Venezuela’s diverse regions inscribed with Hugo Chavez’s words. On the other side are photos of Venezuelans: Afro-descendant, indigenous, men, women, children, farmers, workers. Further along is a woman in a wheelchair and a man with a mental disability. “This person, he may be a little slower than everyone else, but it doesn’t mean he does not matter. He is a part of the diversity of Venezuela,” speaks our guide.
The mausoleum also honors those that inspired and shaped Hugo Chavez’s vision of the Bolivarian Revolution and an integrated Latin America. The Bolivarian university students listen carefully as the guide explains passionately her love for Hugo Chavez and his vision.
An image of Simon Bolivar in the middle. The Bolivarian Revolution receives its name from the great liberator Simon Bolivar. Venezuela’s official name as the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is a nod to its larger vision of a Grand Bolivarian Nation of a politically and economically integrated Latin America.
Midway our guided tour, the changing of the guard takes place.
Elementary school children sit down waiting for the ceremony to start.
“Can anyone guess who these are?” asks our guide. The Bolivarian university students with me easily identify Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, but timidly guess Salvador Allende in the middle.
I take a photo with the next generation of Chavistas. By their age, they have all grown up during the revolutionary process, and as the teacher proudly responded to the guide, they are all from the barrios.
Even in his death, Chavez inspires a new generation towards Chavismo by pointing the way towards that better world that is possible. As Chavistas say:
“Chavez didn’t die! Chavez became a million! Chavez is me!