“The República Bolivariana de Venezuela is a distant country you need to cross vast stretches of land and sea to reach. More than 10 thousand kilometers away, on the far side of the Atlantic, lies the birthplace of Simón Bolívar… in that continent of which people hardly know a lot more than Shakira and Ricardo Kaka… on the turquoise beaches of the Caribbean where all what comes to your mind is tropical fruits and exotic carnivals. A country of Spanish-speaking Catholics, what could it possibly have in common with that part of the world which calls itself Arab except a few borrowed words during the occupation of Andalusia? A socialist president whose outspoken animosity towards the sole super power gives him enough battles to fight, why would he add to his enemies for the sake of a tiny strip of no more than quarter the population of Caracas? Walk in the streets of Gaza and ask passersby what Venezuela is and they would probably think it is a cartoon character or a designer brand. After all, it is just a mass of 920,000 m² that only came to existence when some Italian adventurer decided he knows a shortcut to India, and it only became a country in the early nineteenth century when other countries have already been there for thousands of years. Why would they know of these new additions that haven’t yet made it to their history textbooks? They only know of ancient civilizations that enlightened humanity in its quest for grandeur and gave history a mystery that has always been baffling the entire world. They know of Egypt…
“I wish they had never known!”
I posted this note on Facebook on January 8, 2009 in an attempt to come to terms with that peculiar mixture of euphoria and disillusionment that had swept me the moment I knew that Venezuela withdrew its ambassador to Tel Aviv in the aftermath of the brutal Israeli aggression on Gaza. This action only added to my admiration of that man who I had been looking up to since he came to power for the way he sided with the poor, resisted United States subjugation attempts, and called for a unity of Latin America that exists independently from the hegemony of all Western powers. Hugo Chavez was an emblem of the Pink Tide that caressed the shores of a continent which had finally decided it was done with the backyard role assigned to it for several decades by its northern neighbor. The Bolivarian leader was, for me, the perfect example of what a country like Egypt needed in order to take its first toddler steps towards social justice and I remember how I used to defend him fervently when people accused me of supporting a Communist whose role model is a dictator like Fidel Castro. “Communist, Castro, I can’t care less,” I used to yell at them. “He is a democratically elected president and that’s what matters.” Even when I had my doubts after he announced holding a referendum on making presidential terms unlimited and even as reports of a tyrant in the making swept the media, I kept saying to myself, “It is a referendum after all. He won’t do anything against the will of his people.” I won’t claim that I wasn’t alarmed by his desire to stay in power for much longer than originally stipulated, but I tried to see his point as far as the time required for implementing his socialist reformation program is concerned. When he won, I thought, “Well, that’s what the people want then.” This is the same sentence I repeated to myself when the referendum to recall Chavez from office was also resolved in his favor.
The note, which was simply and predictably entitled “Venezuela,” was not a childish attempt at proving how insightful I had been when I joined the ranks of those who rallied under the “Amèrica Latina Avanza” banner. True, I found Latin America “the” true example of the struggle for freedom in contemporary history, yet that was not my point then. I was, in fact, quite bitter when I wrote this note. As much as I admired Chavez, I had always envied every step he took towards liberating his country and empowering the disenfranchised and I lamented the fate of Egypt as I saw its president doing the exact opposite. Yet, when he chose to take the side of the Palestinian people at a time when we were closing the Gaza crossing and reportedly sanctioning the war on its people, this envy turned into fury. For me it felt like my mom stood watching me dying while a total stranger decided to take me to hospital, and I was so ashamed that I hesitated for a while whether I should post the note. As if not posting it will make the disgrace any less!
It is not why I wrote that note that matters here. Why I remembered it two and a half years later is what I assume makes a difference now. I have for a while been engaged in contemplating the way consecutive revolutions in the Arab world have succeeded in snatching several of the masks behind which a couple of leaders in the region were hiding and I specifically wrote about Hassan Nasrallah and Recep Tayyip Erdogan and their stance on the Syrian uprising and the way it was in stark contradiction with their reaction to the January 25 Revolution. Although I was quite shocked by the two men’s take on the massacring of Syrian civilians at the hands of Mr. Assad’s regime, my shock was much more intense with Chavez, possibly because I had already had reservations about the first two and almost had none about the third one. While for me Syria marked the fall of Nasrallah and Erdogan, Libya pulled Chavez to the Hades of my esteem.
Armed groups affiliated to Al Qaeda are attacking military barracks, was Chavez’s analysis of the situation in Libya, which he saw as blown out of proportion by the West and whose gravity he apparently decided to overlook when he offered to mediate between Muammar Gaddafi and those “civil war” instigators. There were even rumors that the Libyan leader had fled the brutality of those militias’ attacks on his and his army and sought refuge in the arms of his cross-Atlantic “revolutionary” friend. Of course, Chavez vehemently objected to the NATO strikes on Libya, not like many of us for fear it would turn into another Iraq, but simply because he wanted to protect his ally and naively thought that the imperialist conspiracy rhetoric can work this time. Do you think he was worried that the Hugo Chavez Stadium would be renamed? Well, tough luck! It was renamed anyway, a name that should have put him to shame—does he have any left?— “The martyrs of February.”
I am fed up with examining political alliances and analyzing the kinds of strategic ties that would push world leaders towards such a dishonorable exposure. I will not talk about oil or anti-US discourse or any of the other things that constitute this inseparable between the alleged champion of social justice and the butcher of his own people. This is not important at the moment, not for me at least. What matters more is the way I am starting to become concerned over the public figures I choose to respect and sometimes tend to iconize. It really bothers me whether it’s my fault or that of politics. Am I too stupid to make the right judgment or is politics too dirty for me to grasp? Most importantly, who can I trust? Or is it better if I assume all politicians are criminals until and if ever proven otherwise?
Until I find answers to those existential questions, I have decided to stick to the three that have so far not let me down: Mahatma Gandhi, Che Guevara, and Nelson Mandela. At least the first two are already dead and the third is too old to change his principles and too honorable to mar his history.