‘Determined to be Free!’: Hugo Chávez and the Anti-Imperialist Struggle. By Aaron Kelly
The independent Irish filmmaker Kim Bartley travelled to Venezuela as part of an emergency response team from the Irish charity Concern Worldwide in the wake of the Vargas floods in 1999 and the resultant human catastrophe. Along with her colleague and fellow filmmaker, Donnacha Ó Briain, she then returned to Venezuela for two weeks in 2000 to make plans for a biographical documentary film about President Hugo Chávez. Kim Bartley and Donnacha Ó Briain finally set about making the full documentary upon their next arrival in Caracas in September 2001.
Of course the planned documentary was overtaken by events and by the US-sponsored coup in April 2002. What had begun as a biopic about President Chávez became a lasting document of the efforts of the golpistas to overthrow democracy in Venezuela and, more importantly, to the capacity of people to change the course of history and to resist imperialism. The hundreds of hours of footage became the 2003 film The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (sometimes broadcast in edited form as Chávez: Inside the Coup). A number of potential broadcasters for the film had wanted to edit or censor it, to insert the voices of oligarchs and golpistas by way of ‘balance’. Thankfully, the filmmakers resisted such pressures.
When the film was released, screenings in western countries were disrupted by the globalised bourgeois, exile community, by the oligarchs and their friends. The film was given a public showing at the Féile an Phobail (The People’s Festival), the largest community festival in Ireland. Part of the foundational purpose of the Féile an Phobail, or the community’s festival, was to counteract propaganda and lies about West Belfast, the heartland of the Irish Republican struggle against British rule in the north of Ireland. Notably, not one golpista was brave enough to come to the Falls Road in Belfast to protest about the screening of the film there and to encounter Irish anti-imperialists face-to-face.
I still vividly remember watching the film with hundreds of others at the festival. The eloquent, humane brilliance of President Chávez connected immediately with the audience and the screening was very much an active and participatory experience, as we all cheered at the people’s victory, we jeered the US state department words about Venezuela’s democracy not acting in the interests of the empire, we were enthralled by the courage and resilience of the Bolivarian people as they took to the streets to defend their sovereignty and to fight against the oligarchy and the empire. I remember being embarrassed and turning my head away from my friends and the rest of the audience when, as I watched the people joyously singing ‘He’s back, he’s back, he’s back!’ upon President Chávez’s return by helicopter, I could not stop warm tears from flowing from my eyes. Sometimes the heart is surprised by being risen, by hope’s open-armed, egalitarian embrace.
Irish Republicans and anti-imperialists know both instinctively and through trained, political education what it is to be lied about, demonised and attacked. They know just as surely, and through the same interpretative means, what struggle, justice and freedom look like. We owe a humanitarian debt to the people of the Bolivarian Revolution, who have held the frontline in the fight against US imperialism and its neo-liberal hegemony. At the very core of the Bolivarian Revolution and its project of placing power rightfully and directly into the hands of the Venezuelan people is the Eternal Commander Hugo Chávez. President Chávez was the embodiment of Simón Bolívar’s vision of continental unity. He also the perfect embodiment of the unity of a great human being: a soldier and warrior, a self-taught intellectual and thinker, a man of mixed-race threads of indigenous, Afro-Venezuelan and Spanish descent who could galvanize peoples with synthetizing solidarity, his greatness found in his humble origins and his humility in his greatness, a towering giant in the struggle for a better world who combined strength and resolve with what his own grandmother called his ‘pure love, pure kindness’.
President Chávez’s living legacy – since someone who has so influenced the course of history in the progressive ways that he has can even be said to have truly died – is an unending lesson and a generous gift to all anti-imperialists in the world. Our task is to cherish and defend his living legacy and hence to defend the Bolivarian Revolution and the struggle of all oppressed peoples against imperialism. President Chávez offered a voice for the oppressed, he electrified and energized the people and popular struggle in undying ways that helped the oppressed gain their own voice and to make it heard. In his great speech against US interventionism, in addition to famously telling the empire ‘Váyanse al carajo yanquis de mierda’, President Chávez affirmed the dignity and sovereignty of the Venezuelan people, and thus the necessary, inalienable dignity and sovereignty of all peoples threatened by imperialist tyranny: ‘here we are the children of Bolívar, the children of Guaicaipuro, the children of Tupac Amarú, and we are determined to be free […] we are determined to be free, no matter what and whatever it takes us.’ The Irish Republican hero Bobby Sands once wrote, even as he knew that death awaited him at the end of his Hunger Strike, that ‘they won’t break me because the desire for freedom, and the freedom of the Irish people, is in my heart. The day will dawn when all the people of Ireland will have the desire for freedom to show’. President Chávez also had the desire for freedom in his heart and he gave his heart and its message of freedom to the peoples of the world. It was an honour to share the world with people like President Chávez and, since his physical passing, our mission is to create a better world, of freedom and equality and justice and solidarity, and to overturn the hegemony of a world based on greed, imperialism and oppression. That better world, no matter how dark the times may be, is always visible and President Chávez is part of its light that beckons us, its torch of hope that guides us in his footsteps to where his embrace awaits in a fully realized vision of human equality and justice. Today and all days, Chávez lives! ¡Viva Chávez y viva la Revolución Bolivariana!