When I see you, when you see me, I feel something that tells me: Chávez, you are no longer Chávez. You are the people. Chávez has been transformed into the people (…) I am no longer (…) I am a people, and that is how I feel, I have reincarnated in you.
While driving I had to stop at a red light. Some street artists were doing tricks with tricycles, fireballs and the like. Once the quick entertainment ended, there was little time for the performers to go around the cars and collect a small tip. One of the guys approached me and I noticed that his sleeveless, worn-out red shirt exposed three words written in black marker: “I AM CHAVEZ”.
I am Chávez, I am Chávez. It is nothing I haven’t heard before, but I cannot help my astonishment when those three simple words appear before my eyes. I start thinking. Chávez is just one. A person can only be one person, as it is a contingent being that exists or existed. I imagine that when someone says he or she is another person, is when he or she feels that that person lives in spirit or in ideas within him or her.
During the 14 years of the late President’s government, it was obvious that one of the most fundamental premises that sustained chavismo was that “Chávez is the people”. If I am not mistaken, this means that the President incarnated his people. His followers identified themselves with him, and in exchange he defended them and fought for their interests.
Oscar Schemel, director of the Hinterlaces polling company, has manifested that not only affective bonds link the popular social classes to Chávez, but that the leader has turned into this religious figure that empowers the poor and shelters hope for a better future. Schemel also states that there is a rational and political dimension to this support based on the identification with the government model that chavismo promotes.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, the main slogan was “Chávez, heart of the people” (the theme song was really catchy as well). Here the bond between the chavista people and Chávez was reinforced; an emotional relationship in which the love for the poor and the needy was fundamental.
10th of January, 2013. If the personality cult towards the President was underestimated, on this day one could no longer doubt that it is alive and well. Anthropologist Michelle Ascencio, expert in studying religiosity as a popular phenomenon, addressed the topic. A concentration meant to symbolize the inauguration event of Chávez’s presidency was carried out. This turned into a ceremony that had the objective of “enthroning” the deity represented in Chávez. There was a kind of mystic trance, in which every participant received a bit of the President. “I AM CHAVEZ”. Chávez entered the people, and therefore the people could rule and legitimize this unusual inauguration.
Let’s examine the funerals. Despite the withdrawal of the proposal, Nicolás Maduro (the Vice-President/President in charge/candidate/whatever), announced that President Chávez’s body would be embalmed so that it would be eternally “opened” for his people in the Revolution Museum. During these days the leader also earned epithets such as “The Supreme Leader” in multiple ceremonies (Kim Il-Sung, the Eternal President?). Chávez’s subordinates also declared that the late President became the father of all the Venezuelan people. And as the empirical evidence demonstrates -the 18 hour long lines to pay respects to Chávez’s remains- the personality cult has been effective.
I agree with Schemel that chavistas also sustain their allegiance in rational reasons related to the political project. However, it cannot be denied that the strategy advanced by the government of exalting Chávez as a supreme being and deity has inspired a sort of supernatural devotion. Whether it is for pragmatic means to stay in power or whether it is because they truly believe Chávez deserves a seat next to Jesus and Simon Bolivar, I could not tell.
Words’ effects long laster than the moment they’re expressed.