A decade after his death, RFI spoke with Venezuelans about the memory and legacy of the former president in the crowded 23 de Enero sector of Caracas. The report from the RFI correspondent in the Venezuelan capital.
“This has to be ready by March 5, because that day is Chávez’s death,” explains a soldier while workers are heard working inside the place. During the last two weeks, the so-called Cuartel de la Montaña has been closed to the public.
The site, converted into the mausoleum of Hugo Chávez, located in the populous 23 de Enero sector of Caracas, is being renovated for the events that will take place on Sunday, March 5, the 10th anniversary of the death of the former Venezuelan president.
“At 4:25 in the afternoon, today, March 5, Commander President Hugo Chávez Frías has died,” Nicolás Maduro announced that Tuesday afternoon in 2013, through tears. It is an emblematic date, but not everyone has the day so present. In the very surroundings of Chávez’s mausoleum, merchants like Griceida Mariño had forgotten about it even though they had noticed movement of personnel in the place.
In fact, the chapel “Santo Hugo Chávez del 23” that supporters of the former president installed a decade ago, no longer shines with flowers, candles, or messages as in another era. It is only taken care of for emblematic dates.
“They are conditioning it, they put some (floral) arrangements on it and that. On February 4 – when the 31st anniversary of the attempted coup d’état led by a young Hugo Chávez was commemorated – they lasted one day. A girl approached me to ask if I knew who took those arrangements,” says the merchant.
Nicolás Maduro has asked to keep the former president present as an emblem of his Bolivarian revolution. “The best way to remember Commander Chávez is not by crying. I stopped doing that a long time ago. It is not remembering him as the past, but as the present, as a challenge for the future. Remembering him as a commitment to honesty, ethics, being loyal to the people” Maduro said.
In Venezuela, Hugo Chávez continues to be valued positively by at least half the country, according to the pollster Datanálisis. The government continues to incorporate him into his discourse, even though his actions now contradict decisions made by the “president commander” at the time.
For example, Maduro has thanked God that dollarization has advanced in Venezuela, he has been proud to meet with envoys from the White House and has even begun to privatize food outlets that 10 years ago were sold subsidized and with government control. A change with respect to that Chávez who sent “the gringos” and private initiative far away.
In 10 years the economy has reduced its size by 80%, political prisoners have increased to 300 between civilians and soldiers, there was hyperinflation for five years, there are more than 7 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees, and they have lost alliances with sectors of the left and Chavismo itself.
Sergio Sánchez accompanied the “Bolivarian process” until a few years after Chávez’s death, when he became a dissident. Today he is the leader of the Movement for Democracy and still values the legacy of the former president.
“Among the positive is the visibility of the poor as human beings and social subjects and not only as statistics. The second is the claim for sovereignty, independence, the Latin American union…”, details Sánchez.
But they are principles that have been swept away, in his opinion, by those who today claim to represent that legacy: “Chavismo has degraded itself to an authoritarian movement, with hegemonic and very patronizing features, which reduces the role of the people almost to servitude, which is absolutely intolerant of dissidence and criticism, which became what he denounced and worse,” says Sánchez.
Tomás Guanipa, one of the directors of the Primero Justicia opposition party, believes that the man who died a decade ago achieved almost absolute control of the country thanks to the oil boom, at a time when adversaries against him were less dangerous. “Chávez, having a very important popular connection, did not need to be the authoritarian, persecutor and violator of human rights that Nicolás Maduro has ended up being.”
But the figure of Hugo Chávez is more than an analysis. For those who remember it fondly, it is a feeling. “For me, Chávez is not dead, but he is alive in my heart. I feel Chávez as if he were a relative, as if he were my father, my brother,” says Mayra Rodríguez.