The late Venezuelan leader—or strongman, or dictator, if you like—tells all.
Chávez’s first life is over and done with, ended by a long bout with cancer in 2013. But before it ended, inspired by his friend Fidel Castro to do so, he sat down with French journalist Ramonet for what was supposed to be a “100 hours with…” portrait but wound up filling twice that many hours of tape. Ramonet is nothing if not admiring: he heralds Chávez as an intellectual who “picked out concepts, analyses, stories and examples which he engraved on his prodigious memory, and then beamed out to the public at large through his torrents of speeches and talks.” He also knew his way around a machine gun (and coup d’état, of course), a “Belorussian tractor” or Picasso-an canvas or García Márquez–ian manuscript or baseball diamond, and all with a native cunning born of desperate poverty and a sharp ambition to make something of himself. Here, prompted by Ramonet’s sometimes-softball inquiries—“Did you pray at night before going to bed?”; “Despite your political activity, you didn’t give up baseball”—Chávez recounts his rise to the head of the Venezuelan government, a career trajectory helped along by a willing army and inspired by Bolivarian heroes such as Ezequiel Zamora, who “wanted to change Venezuela and make it a fairer, more just country.” Thus it ever is with reformistas, and so it was when Chávez, early on, declared, “one of the main aims of our revolution was to distribute Venezuelan land in a fairer, more harmonious way.” Venezuela’s 1 percenters and the yanquis who backed them notwithstanding, Chávez seems content to have put an end to the previous oligarchy, which, in terms Castro would doubtless applaud, he calls “a false theoretical construct.”
Monster or savior? Norteamericano leaders accustomed to the view of Chávez as evil incarnate may value this alternate, assuredly self-serving presentation of facts and events.