Venezuela del 04F-92 al 06D-98: habla el Comandante Hugo Chávez

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Wed Dec 11 21:47:47 MST 2002

Hispanic American Historical Review 80.1 (2000) 207-209

Book Review

Venezuela del 04F-92 al 06D-98: habla el Comandante Hugo Chávez

Venezuela del 04F-92 al 06D-98: habla el Comandante Hugo Chávez. By
Hugo Fríaz Chávez. Interviews by agustin blanco muñoz. Caracas:
Catedra Pio Tamayo; ceha/iies/faces/Universidad Central de Venezuela,
1998. Index. 643 pp. Paper.

This book consists of 14 interviews conducted with Venezuela's
current president, Hugo Chávez, between his release from prison in
March 1994 and June 1998, in the midst of the presidential campaign.
The last 70 pages are devoted to issues related to the elections, but
the rest of the book deals mostly with two themes: Chávez's
interpretations of Venezuelan history and the abortive February 4,
1992, military coup that he led. Chávez recalls that his interest in
history dates from his adolescence, when he avidly researched the
life of his great-grandfather, who had participated in a military
movement against longtime dictator Juan Vicente Gómez, in order to
determine whether the rebel leader was a "guerrilla or an assassin"
(p. 58). His investigation did not end with the family's history, as
he took an interest in other military leaders of the nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries. Chávez points out that, with the exception
of Simón Bolívar, historians have dismissed the outstanding political
leaders of the nineteenth century as caudillos. He attributes this
vacuum to "a product we have imported based on the bourgeois
democratic model which includes the elimination of leaders and the
negation of struggles" (p. 103).

Chávez claims that his political movement stands out as unique in
Venezuela in its use of historical symbols to underpin its doctrine.
"If any movement engaged in politics today in Venezuela has been
examining philosophy, denying the thesis of the end of history . . .
[and] the end of ideologies, it has been ours" (p. 451). In
particular, he stresses Latin American solidarity and social justice,
ideals which were articulated by Bolívar and the nineteenth-century
Liberal general Ezequiel Zamora. This search into the meaning of
Venezuelan history in order to inspire revolutionary change resembles
the Zapatista movement in Mexico and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

Chávez also analyzes modern Venezuelan history, specifically the
nation's "pacted democracy" based on consensus among establishment
parties, which emerged at the outset of the democratic period in
1958. In recent years, Daniel H. Levine and other political
scientists who previously praised Venezuelan democracy have viewed
this model as elitist and top-down. Chávez, however, goes much
further than Levine in condemning the nation's pacted democracy for
having been corrupt and clientelistic from the outset. He adds that
the October 1945 coup, which brought the social democratic Acción
Democrática to power, marked the beginning of the populist politics
that has inflicted so much damage on the nation.

At least half the book is devoted to the February 4, 1992, coup
attempt, and here two paramount questions emerge. In the first place,
Blanco Muñoz questions whether the conspiratorial movement that
Chávez formed in 1982 was "civilian-military," as he claims, or
whether civilian commitment was at best "superficial" (p. 336).
Chávez denies the versión of the current governor of the state of
Zulia, Francisco Arias Cárdenas, who was second in command of the
rebel forces on February 4. According to Arias Cárdenas, the
insurgents planned on calling for civilian support on the streets
only after seizing power. Chávez, however, points out that while only
four or five civilians participated in the October 1945 coup, his
movement contacted hundreds and acted on the assumption that civilian
mobilizations would accompany the uprising.

A second issue raised by Blanco Muñoz is the relations between the
military hierarchy and the rebels, all of whom were junior officers.
He asks Chávez how it was possible that a radical subversive movement
with considerable support was able to survive for as long as ten
years without being suppressed. Blanco Muñoz hypothesizes that the
military and political elite tolerated Chávez's group in hopes of
liquidating it once it attempted to seize power. Chávez adamantly
denies this interpretation and claims that his group survived, in
spite of persecution, by taking advantage of divisions and intrigues
involving top officers, some of whom were completely lacking in
ethics. In any case, Chávez's version of events surrounding the coup
attempt is fascinating. As a result of Chávez's election as president
and his efforts to eulogize the 4 de febrero and pay tribute to its
participants, the story has taken on added relevance for those
interested in Venezuelan history and politics.

Steve Ellner
Universidad de Oriente, Venezuela


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