June 20, 2013
‘Cured’ Chávez tries to stay dominant
Venezuelan president has eternal copyright on highway of printed propaganda
CARACAS — "Welcome to Bolívar country!” Sprawling across a gigantic poster (on your left-hand side, of course) the de rigeur greeting meets you the moment your car turns the first bend coming out of Maiquetía Airport . Welcome to Venezuela. In the poster the dapple-grey steed on which the Liberator is mounted rears on its hind legs. Both horse and horseman face right — an exception, an iconographic liberty in this campaign season (not to mention traffic regulations) because a revisionist Hugo Chávez has turned all the mounted Bolívars around so that they face left, as they should.
But just in case the visitor should have any other ideas, the Bolívar statue is barely a small sample. A Chávez procession in all sizes (Chavecitos and SuperChávez, Pantagruelian life-size or in just letters) strategically accompanies whoever takes the highway connecting the airport to downtown Caracas .
Venezuela, the land of Hugo Chávez — present in the history of this country since 1992, when he headed a coup against President Carlos Andrés Pérez and permanently installed in Miraflores presidential palace since 1999, when he was inaugurated for the first of his three terms. A fourth, which could see him ensconced in power until 2018, is being disputed in this Sunday’s elections when Venezuelans will choose between the 58-year-old Bolivarian and his opposition rival Henrique Capriles, 40.
But this time the history could have a new twist — for the first time in the presidential career of Chávez, an opposition candidate of an opposition newly reunited and harmonized in the Mesa de Unidad (Unity Panel) coalition seriously threatens his uninterrupted hegemony.
Meanwhile the highway winds on. “A lorry for Chávez” reads a red, blue and yellow tricoloured graffiti stretching endlessly along a white awl referring to the “Chávezmobile”-style truck transporting the Bolivarian on his campaign rallies. “He needs it (the truck)”, says afterwards Johan who runs a stall in the people’s market of Quinta Crespo. Johan grins as he adds to the Herald: “The president is cured, his run of bad luck is already over for my comandante”.
Johan must be close to the mainstream here since the illness of Chávez has ceased to be a campaign issue for the last three months. (In June Consultores 21 pollsters were already pointing out that 45.5 percent believed Chávez to have recovered from his cancer while barely 16 percent saw him as worse and 33.5 percent considered him “stable.”).
“Onward, people, carrying out the mission” reads the poster (tricolour this time) which heralds the proximity a few blocks later of a CDI (Integral Diagnosis Medical Centre), one of the variables of the social plan Misión Barrio Adentro, dedicated to health care. “Chávez in the heart”, sums up the next poster. Of course.
Onward, the road continues and when the highway steepens as it approaches Caracas , another giant appears. This time it is a gleaming white monoblock apartment building with not very tasteful green stripes. Across the entire face of the highest storeys red letters read “You too are Chávez.”
We are still short of the Quinta Crespo market — the road now enters a couple of tunnels. Time tunnels almost, because first Francisco de Miranda and then Antonio José de Sucre, suspended from a midway arch, look on the motorists passing through. And then, to remain stuck in the 19th century, a historic gallery of independence heroes and revolutions — on the right there is a poster with José Martí’s countenance on a post and on the left , Sucre again and then more Bolívar further ahead. And then suddenly, past and present intermingle in a synthesis (yes, you ‘ve got it, of the Bolivarian revolution of Chávez): a poster with the face of current Haití President Michel Martelly. He is not alone: opposite him is Ecuador President Rafael Correa.
“For us, the fatherland is America”, a final poster with the face of the Liberator Bolívar says in the way of epilogue. Reality then imposes (it has to) itself as an anticlimax. “Always ask for your legal invoice” a wall on the right of the road seems to scream from a neat inscription signed by Venezuela’s Seniat tax bureau.
“In socialism, you are the one to do the Big Works”, says another poster, appealing, perhaps with indifferent luck, to the collective subconscious.
Meanwhile, weren’t we in the middle of a campaign? Because Capriles, at least in printed form, is hardly present on this incoming road into Caracas . Barely one poster, although pretty big, with “My first vote from the heart for the Fatherland,” showing Capriles with a faded beret (and not his trade-mark presidential tricolour cap) smiling from on high. The signature says it all — Partido Primero Justicia, the ticket under which he competed in last February’s primaries to elect the Unity Panel candidate. Three million votes, a record for any primary in the history of Venezuela .
There are no two ways about it — the highway of printed propaganda is like the nationwide broadcast speeches, where the Chávez administration seems to have eternal copyright and property (or so it seems). Passing through the neighbourhoods of Catia, Flores de Catia, San Martin, Paraiso and San Juan , we linger in Quinta Crespo, before continuing through Puente de Hierro, then through Plaza Venezuela and all the time there is nothing more than Chávez, Bolivarianism and revolution.
It is only when entering Sabana Grande, in downtown Caracas overlooking the Hotel Melia (the favourite lodgings of the local and international Bolivariana and Alba elite), that at last we come across a gigantic Henrique Capriles warning that the country is on the campaign trail more polarized than ever and that on Sunday Venezuela will be making its decision.