Novelist and poet William Ospina’s recently authored a paean to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that extols him as a hero for the ages. Chavez, ill in a Cuban hospital, is praised for his anti-imperialism. Ospina brings Chavez into the company of deceased Latin American cultural and historical icons, yet the anti-imperialist qualifications he requires for admission into such a pantheon are unclear.

His article appeared in the Colombian newspaper El Espectador and on the Colombian Communist Party’s website.

At the gates of mythology

By William Ospina, January 8, 2013

Some time ago I asked García Márquez if he hadn’t had considerable difficulties back when a good many Latin American intellectuals broke with the Cuban revolution, and only he and a few others were continuing on as its friends.

Rather than offering a theory, Gabo replied with something more visceral: “For me,” he said, “the issue of Cuba was always a Caribbean question.” I think he was saying it was less a question of Marxism or of revolutionary theories than one of a people standing up for their sovereignty and their culture against a siege mounted by invasive powers.

Governments of the United States – They bought Florida, stole from Mexico, took over Puerto Rico, and cut off Panama [from Colombia] – would have annexed the beautiful island of Cuba with great pleasure, had it not always been so indomitable in its rebelliousness and so firm in resisting.

Courtesy of Marti, everything was already set there that would convert Cuba into a country exceedingly jealous of its independence. García Márquez was certainly aware of crimes carried out under the “good neighbor” approach. From childhood on, he knew about the massacre of the banana workers in the plaza of Ciénaga. [1] He knew about how essential it was for that domineering power to arrange to respect the law inside its own borders but quite readily to ignore the law beyond its frontiers.   

The history of Latin America has been the history of nervously bowing down before the northern powers. A little while ago in northern Mexico I visited the Museum of the [Mexican] Revolution in Juarez. Nothing impressed me as much – even more that a cow’s skull on a table under the fiery desert light – as a photograph showing society people in El Paso, Texas: men with top hats and ladies with flowery hoop skirts along the banks of the Rio Grande there, as if they were at a picnic. They were witnessing fighting on the other side of that border where men with big sombreros and double pistols were rising up against the dictatorship. It was almost a living image of a well – off society entertaining itself on the spectacle of far-removed tragedies.  They might have been waiting for the moment to go into action to reap the benefits of whatever the outcome might be.

The best way to admire, to respect, and to honor the United States is to fear the people and government there and always put up with their deceitfulness. For them, we are a different world, one of raw materials, primordial forests, immigrants, and governments submitting to and signing contracts without too many stipulations. And here no one loves them more than those who are the beneficiaries of those contracts.

A lot of the media across the continent have made big efforts to paint naysayers about the United States as totally misguided. They’ve tried to do it with Cuba and more recently with Venezuela, even to the point of casting suspicion on Venezuelan election victories.

It doesn’t matter that in Colombia they buy votes or influence the electorate with promises or threats: democracy there is always above suspicion. It doesn’t matter to them that over a ten year period paramilitaries caused two hundred thousands murders. Their massacres entailed atrocities of every kind. For them, the Colombian democracy is still quite exemplary, and that’s because powerful, plutocratic forces are in charge. But if someone is an enemy, not of the United States but of imperialism and its abuses, that then makes him a most unworthy criminal.

One of the big U. S. enemies is Hugo Chavez. No crimes can be attributed to him that match the ones smearing the hands of so many powerful figures in the world. Yet opinion-makers and the media overwhelmingly see him as a dictator and tyrant. I believe he is a great man, that he has demonstrated love for his people, that he has tried to bring a little bit of justice to a notoriously unjust continent. To do so, he has been quite hard on the traditional owning classes of his country, and they don’t forgive him. But they insist he could be pardoned if he listens to their warnings and postpones all those things needing to be done for the people. Sooner or later, however, new societies will come into being that will be much more accepting of someone like Chavez than Venezuelan society is now.  

A friend assured me a little while ago that this man reelected three times is an enemy of freedom. I don’t share that restricted idea of democracy. Queen Elizabeth of England, elected by no one, has gone on for 60 years. For us, that’s like being sovereign of her land for the whole history of the universe.  I don’t see anyone one protesting against that abuse. In Colombia we carry on for 200 years re-electing the same types, with different faces, all with exactly the same politics. The only one a little different was Alvaro Uribe, and that’s only because he was a little worse. But the problem is not the men, but the ideas that govern. For Colombia, those who govern do so with ideas from the mid 19th Century. Catastrophic consequences are seen everywhere.

If new elections had to be called, probably the Chavista majority would be bigger even than in past elections. They are already celebrating that in his absence.  

And perhaps it will be our lot now to be at Chavez’ passing from history to mythology, to that fantastic Latin American mythology. It’s joined in equal measure by Maria Lionza and José Gregorio Hernández, Rubén Darío and José Martí, Carlos Gardel and Eva Perón, Martín Fierro and Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, Simón Bolívar and Túpac Amaru, Frida Kahlo and Pablo Neruda, Eloy Alfaro and Salvador Allende, Che Guevara and Emiliano Zapata, Vargas Vila and Jorge Luis Borges, Benito Juárez and Morazán, Pedro Páramo and Aureliano Buendía. [2]

The only parts of that mythology still with us today are Fidel Castro and Gabriel García Márquez


1. In 1928, The Colombian Army killed unknown hundreds of striking banana workers. Nine months later Congressman Jorge Eliécer Gaitán castigated the government with “its tremulous knee on the ground before Yankee gold.”

2. 16th century Venezuelan María Lionza founded an indigenous religion. Venezuelan physician José Gregorio Hernández, born 1864, possessed legendary healing powers, treated the poor. Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío (1867-1916) was the “prince of Spanish letters.” Poet, journalist Jose Marti organized the Cuban independence movement, was martyred in 1895. Argentinean singer Carlos Gardel died in plane crash 1935. Argentinean first lady Eva Peron, singer, actress, labor and women rights activist, died in 1952, age 33. Martín Fierro is the gaucho hero of an epic poem by Argentinean José Hernández.  Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, Colombian populist leader, was assassinated in 1948. Civil war, starting then, continues. Simón Bolívar – Venezuelan, independence leader, sought Latin American unification. Túpac Amaru was the last Inca chief, executed in Peru 1572. Frida Kahlo, Mexican painter of revolutionary bent, died in 1954; Pablo Neruda – Chilean poet, diplomat, and communist, died in 1973 shortly after Pinochet coup; Eloy Alfaro was liberal Ecuadoran two-term president, late 19th century.  Salvador Allende – socialist Chilean president, was killed at onset of Pinochet coup, 1973. Che Guevara, Cuban revolutionary, died in 1967. Emiliano Zapata – Mexican revolutionary chieftain, was treacherously murdered in 1919. Vargas Vila, anti-imperialist, anti-clerical Colombian writer, died 1933. Jorge Luis Borges, Argentinean writer of magic realism, died in 1986. Benito Juárez, five time 19th century president of Mexico, was indigenous, a reformer and nationalist. Francisco Morazán, Honduran President and would-be Central American unifier was executed in 1842. Pedro Páramo was the protagonist of short, influential novel by Mexican author Juan Rulfo, 1955. In Garcia Marquez’ novel “Hundred Years of Solitude,” Aureliano Buendía was the patriarch.

(Translated by W.T.Whitney Jr.)

Comment: Ospina associates Chavez with a phalanx of heroic figures many of whose trajectories were far removed from that of Chavez.  He thus creates a misty aura of warm feelings and generalities allowing critical thinking to take a vacation. He does cite U.S. economic interests in Latin America, U.S. “deceitfulness,” and “owning classes.” Mainly, however, Ospina regards Chavez as hero because he defended national sovereignty and independence.

That plus the boundlessness of the author’s adulation invite stirrings of patriotism, even of nationalism. Former high military officer Chavez is an unseen presence. Chavez the socialist is somewhere else.

The whole story of President Chavez as anti-imperialist hero might have recalled how European and U. S. monopoly capitalists’ dealt with declining profits associated with exploiting their own workers. They expanded their venue of exploitation to the nether ends of the world. There, local ruling groups were ready and willing to serve as collaborators. Taking on the local enablers is part of the anti-imperialist job description.

President Chavez tried to, by strengthening the Venezuelan workers’ movement.  Workers’ councils, nationalizations, a mass socialist party, much improved access to health care and education, and ties with revolutionary Cuba are parts of the process. Chavez’ leadership of a mass popular movement is basic to his anti-imperialist bona fides.