February 2, 4, and 27: The Voice of Chávez and the Path of the Bolivarian Revolution

Geraldina Colotti, Orinoco Tribune, February 7, 2024 —

If history is not reduced to a museum, dates and anniversaries denote the struggle of the oppressed classes, which have built or suffered their courses and resources. If history is not reduced to parody, celebrating moments and figures who interpreted its meaning—anticipating leaps and ruptures—adds new pages to the book of the future, and new flags are raised.

If the history of revolutions or their attempts is not handed over to the courts or to specialists in conspiracy theories, as is the case in “very civilized” Europe, even in the face of defeats, young people can raise new flags.

This is how, on the centenary of Lenin’s death, we can understand, follow, and value the effort to remember history, as a teacher of struggle and life, that the Bolivarian Revolution, and before that, the Cuban Revolution, constantly makes, inserted in the course of those revolutions that preceded it. Thus, we can understand, each year, the tribute to a February marked by revolts, pride, and victories. A tribute not a ritual, but a guide for action, a warning not to forget the days 2, 4 and 27 of February.

The calendar of the years would require reading them backwards, starting from that February 27, 1989, on which, with the Caracazo, the first cry of Venezuela’s people against neoliberalism arose. Neoliberalism had proclaimed itself as the only path after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a fall that anticipated the end of 70 years of great fear experienced by the bourgeoisie. The civil-military rebellion of February 4, 1992, revealed to the world the man who would change the destiny of Venezuela, the then Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez Frías.

The Commander, once released from prison, knew how to gather all the healthy forces of the country and win the elections of December 6, 1988. Chávez was chosen not by Washington, but by the popular enthusiasm that, according to all the polls, gave him more of that 56.2% of the votes.

On February 2, 1999, Chávez assumed power. Upon receiving the presidential sash from his predecessor, Rafael Caldera, he gave a short speech which went down in history: “I swear before God, I swear before the country, I swear before my people, that on this dying Constitution I will promote the democratic transformations necessary for the new Republic to have a Magna Carta appropriate to the new times.”

That same day, he prepared to fulfill the main promise of his electoral campaign, issuing Decree No. 3 which called for a consultative referendum so that voters could decide on the need to convene a National Constituent Assembly (ANC). This decision, rightfully, was made through new means, without going through a reform of the Constitution, as provided for in the Magna Carta of 1961, according to the criteria of representative democracy. For this reason, during the month of January, before officially assuming the presidency, the Commander had formed the Presidential Constituent Commission with the task of guiding Venezuela’s path towards the new ANC, refounding the republic, and creating a new legal framework.

However, was it legitimate to call for a constituent process without first having reformed the “moribund constitution” that did not include provisions for this process? Would the popular decision have more power than the established precedent? Article 3 of the advisory referendum provided for two questions that had to be answered with a “yes” or a “no”.

The first said: “Do you convene a National Constituent Assembly with the purpose of transforming the state and creating a new legal system that allows the effective functioning of a social and participatory democracy?” And the second asked: “Do you authorize the president of the Republic to establish, through an act of government, after hearing the opinion of the political, social, and economic sectors, in which the population elects the members of the National Constituent Assembly?”

The first generation Chavistas remember how heated the discussion was and recall the debate about the interpretation of two rulings of the Political-Administrative Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice on the advisory referendum and its jurisdiction, issued on January 19, 1999. It would have been enough, said Chávez, for the people to demonstrate in favor of the Constituent Assembly to convene it, and the National Constituent Assembly would have had plenipotentiary powers superior to those of all existing powers.

It was approved by 88% of citizens in the referendum of April 25, 1999, with the aim of drafting a new Constitution in 180 days. On that basis, Chávez called elections for July 25 of that same year that would elect the constituents of the new Constituent Assembly. The Constitution was ratified by a second referendum on December 15, 1999, and presidential and parliamentary elections were held in July 2000 on the basis of the new Magna Carta.

Three seats, out of 131 parliamentarians, were reserved for Indigenous delegates, who also obtained the votes for two more. Chávez had already paid tribute to the Indigenous peoples in his presidential inauguration speech, recalling “the cry of the Caribbeans, the cry of the Indians of our race who knew how to defend their dignity with courage and bravery: ‘Ana karina rote, aunikon itoto paparoto mantoro.’

The redemption of the oppressed is above imperialist arrogance. The march of the last on the palace of the powerful. In his memorable inauguration speech, the Commander recalled Bolívar’s path and thus announced another great axis of his policy, based on Latin American integration and anti-imperialism, clearly present in each of his speeches and in each event organized to bring together and multiply forces at the international level.

“We,” he proclaimed with his firm voice, “are a people of liberators and now we have to demonstrate it again before history and before the entire world. That is why I say that we have a way to accomplish the task, we have the strength that we bring from centuries; we have the accumulated courage of many years and now I am aware of that strength that you, that we Venezuelans, have, I call on all of us to vigorously apply our strength to save the Homeland, to rebuild it, so that a broad and solid democracy is truly born, so that lights and morals flourish in Venezuela. As Simón Bolívar said in Angostura: Morals and Lights are our first needs. Morals and Enlightenment are our prime necessities.”

Then, remembering the Bolivarian oath of Samán de Güere, which he repeated when he was a young officer: “I will not rest my arm nor rest to my soul until we see broken the chains that oppress our people: the chains of hunger, the chains of misery,” Chávez promised that, as president, he would assume that commitment as another soldier—not for himself, but as an instrument of history. “Pushed by a hurricane, a beautiful hurricane, a hurricane that will build a new Venezuela,” said Chávez. “And that hurricane is none other than the people of Venezuela. So I, from today, become your instrument… and I will fulfill the mandate that you have given me.”

Listening to his words again today, we understand why, after 25 years of obstacles and attacks, which began immediately after that February 2, the revolution is still standing and has produced a collective leadership determined to follow in its footsteps, now led by Nicolás Maduro. Furthermore, we understand where Nicolás found the strength to entrust the destiny of the revolution and his own life in the hands of the original power when, in 2017, he appealed to a National Constituent Assembly to restore peace in the country.

Even then, as in 1999, there were those who tried to entangle the people in some legal technicality, which was not relevant, but, as then, they evaporated, and then began barking again to follow the voice of the master. Throwing the stone and hiding the hand was also the hallmark of politics in the Fourth Republic [Venezuela from 1958-1998], as it continues to be in European countries, where states and parliaments are business committees of the international bourgeoisie.

This continues to be the stance of the Venezuelan extreme right, which also presents the same faces of the coup as before: throwing the stone and hiding the hand, attacking the institutions and then resorting to them, delegitimizing them a moment later, and running to hide behind the US master. Therefore, the people fully understood the “for now” pronounced by Chávez after the defeat of the February 4 rebellion. For this reason, he recognized and rewarded the sacrifice of those young officers who always knew how to assume their responsibilities, putting collective interests before individual ones.

Five years after the Caracazo massacre, while capitalism announced the “end of ideologies” and the end of a horizon of redemption for the popular classes, a new revolutionary and patriotic movement began in the Venezuelan barracks, which Hugo Chávez organized “in around dreams and the Bolivarian utopia.” A vision that, as his older brother, Adan, then already trained in Marxism, recalled, had influenced Hugo Chávez from a very young age, stimulating his sensitivity to social injustices, leading him to listen to the stories of revolutionaries and revolutions and to study history.

“History will absorb me,” he said, paraphrasing Fidel when he stated “History will absolve me.” Chávez always complied with the concepts expressed in his first speech as president, aware of being an instrument in a great story. Like Fidel, the Commander always remembered the importance of having read, secretly, as a cadet, both Mao’s Little Red Book and Lenin’s What Is To Be Done—a book, he said, that he would have liked to give to Obama.

At the Military Academy, he reflected on what had happened and was happening on the Latin American continent, from the coup d’état in Chile against Allende to the national liberation processes led by Juan Velasco Alvarado and Omar Torrijos in Peru and Panama, respectively. For this reason, together with his colleagues, he decisively fought the media’s attempt to assimilate them to the South American “gorillas” in the pay of Washington. And, therefore, since February 4, he has built an anti-imperialist Armed Force in the civic-military union, based on a new military doctrine and the concept of Comprehensive Defense of the Nation.

Although it was in 2004 when the anti-imperialist character of the Bolivarian revolution was decreed, as can be seen from his speech on February 2 and from all the statements he made previously, the Commander was already a convinced anti-imperialist from his time at the Academy. In 1994, in Yare prison, when he wrote a first draft of the Programmatic Declaration of the MBR200, he wrote: “We contemplate a contradictory world, tripartite in the economy, unipolar in the military. How long can this contradiction exist? It is difficult to answer this, but the impossibility of knowing allows the diversification of contacts to stop any hypothesis. There is something that seems urgent to us. It is the search for popular allies in the developed countries of the world. In all of them there is a left in essence already, or potentially, that will sympathize and help the insurgent movements of Latin America…”

Regarding February 4, “there is still a lot to remember and a lot to write,” said Captain Diosdado Cabello when presenting, at the last FILVEN book fair, the book of interviews conducted with José Vicente Rangel. This book not only included anecdotes, but lessons to learn and books to write so that they can train other generations of revolutionaries.

Meanwhile, on day one the FILVEN book fair began, which will bring the spirit of this anti-imperialist February to all of Venezuela, where the Bolivarian Fury is deployed against the new imperialist aggressions to the Bolivarian process.

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