I think the big mistake Chavez made at the end of his life was not trusting the people – the millions who had spent the past 15 or so years participating in the Bolivarian revolution. After all those years, all those meetings and marches, he could have left it to the people to choose someone to carry on his leadership role, through a proper, participative process.
But he didn’t. He picked Maduro to run in the snap presidential elections after he died. And in doing that, he sent Maduro a message. You are president because I chose you. Your power and your words and actions, instead of depending on the people and on participation, depend on a legacy. And once elected, Maduro quickly abandoned the biggest gain of the revolution: people’s participation in economics and politics.
Inflation, oil dependency, US sanctions, and Venezuelan capitalists’ hoarding all played a massive role in the loss of the most beautiful thing Ill probably ever be a part of. But I insist that it was the diminishing of participation that allowed the simmering bureaucrats and opportunists to flourish and eventually take over.
To lose a revolution. How I have struggled to understand what that meant to me. To lose a fight to liberate a country from the US’s dominance, from consumerism, from apathy, and from the mass disempowerment and material suffering of the poor. The end wasn’t sudden. There was no capitalist flag raised in Miraflores saying, it is over. It was slow. Like a romantic partnership of many years coming to an end. First there are signs, concerns, but it can take months or years to be really sure it is lost. All that among a pro-US international media, so so eager to call the loss back when we doing incredible things, and all the way through to when the poor became poor again.
I gave seven years of my life to Venezuela. Most other people there gave many more. Careers were put on hold, and even, I suspect, child-raising, and it was all about building a new world and from that, a new kind of person. And we were doing it. In a messy, clumsy, militant, organised way.
I was a part of, and I saw, how instead of television and shopping, politics and philosophy and solving collective problems were the discussions on the street, the debates at the bus stop, the opening subjects on dates, the passionate disagreements between housemates.
I watched how people who, when I arrived there in 2007, had typically turned up four hours late to meetings and events, became more and more serious. I saw how, year by year, they took on dignity, owned their streets and communities, and owned the outcomes of economic policy, their constitution, and eventually only turned up 15 to 20 minutes late. Our meetings lasted two days sometimes – morning, to late at night. Chavez’s speeches lasted eight hours sometimes. Because time is a factor in showing how much of a priority something is.
Where I was, we were creating a new kind of learning, a new education system, from scratch. We were turning the upside-down world right way up and involving students in their learning decisions. We were forming new relationships, new ways of being neighbours. There was that time we, community representatives, went to a military barracks and taught soldiers about cooperation. There was also that time the government sent us Barbies and trucks to give the kids in the community for Christmas. Because you know, you don’t just wake up and know how organise this new world, and the Bolivarian revolution was riddled with big and small contradictions. It was a long work in progress. In my community council, we had discussions about what a non-consumerist, collective Christmas looked like, and how to achieve it. And it wasn’t just theory, we agreed on how to do better next year.
Coming to Mexico was a shock for me. This country is abused to the core by the US, and then all over again by neoliberal policies pushed by local elites. The levels of violence, cruelty, corruption, murders, alienation, bitterness, distrust, and fear, were initially alarming to me. And not because I had no idea it was like this, but I didn’t anticipate how living amongst all that would change what I am like.
Materially, we have challenges like water access, unaffordable and dysfunctional health care, and impossible roads. But it is the apathetic climate, the neighbours who plot to steal water rather than meeting to resolve problems together, that hurts. It hurts as in real fucking gut wrenching pain. Because humans shouldn’t have to live like this, and unlike most people here, I have seen that they do not have to. This dog-eat-dog attitude that is pervasive among such inequality is not at all natural or necessary.
It has been alarming to watch myself change. Because of the social and economic climate here, because of the loss of the revolution, and because of repeated personal traumatic experiences, I have lost a certain amount of trust. Not just trust that most people will do their best and try to be good beings, but trust that things can work out. I have always been hopeful, an optimist, a big believer in trying and trying, undaunted by failures, glad to learn. Open to people, feeling at my freest when finding and getting to know new places and new beings, new books and ideas. Utterly unconcerned about social expectations.
In Mexico I have found myself, for the first time as an adult, being cautious. Protective of myself. Not by overusing the reasonable safety tools that I already had, but things like expecting the worst in order to avoid disappointment, very quickly leaving relationships that I could tell wouldn’t ultimately be healthy. Closing up a bit, at least to those I’m not close to. I love how adventurous in life I am; moving to new countries where I don’t know anyone, travelling to places where I don’t speak the language, talking to strangers, dating people. But it is a hard battle to convince yourself to be hopeful after a point. I know that social and personal change is possible because I have witnessed and been part of both. Yet now I struggle to believe it likely that the things I need in my life will eventually find me, and the things this planet and humanity need will eventually take place. At least, I have learnt with incredible clarity, how intricately linked trust, hope, and the social health of a society are.
And meanwhile, an ex told me how he walked all the way from Venezuela to Ecuador to get medicine for his dad. A man with anxiety who never liked to travel. Losing the revolution has never been a blame debate for me. Unlike others who live outside the country and have had no choice but to be confused by the mainstream media coverage, I feel very very clear. The US choked and strangled people until the strongest people I have ever met, didn’t want to do it any more. And from the inside, the local elites strangled too, and the red opportunists swarmed, willing to give up anything that truly matters for a piece of power.
For me, my struggle has been rebounding from losing something so huge, so hopeful, at a time in human history when we need, more than anything, to be organising and removing the elite destructive polluting fuckwits from power. We are out of chances. We all know about the accelerating pace of climate change, of wars, and the ongoing reckless destructiveness of poverty.
And I mean, there’s really no choice is there. Keep going. Try and try again. Learn from mistakes.
Would Chavez learn from his, if he could come back? Most of the people in this burning and agonising world aren’t excellent. Most people are soft and ruined but trying hard anyway. When you’ve been hurt and let down and abused over and over again, it can be the toughest thing ever to trust people. But we must, because the alternative is a sanctioning of one-man shows, a hard policy of being alienated and isolated from each other, fragmented social movements, and a strict abandonment of collective caring.