If history is not reduced to a museum, dates and anniversaries remind of the struggle of the oppressed classes, which have built or suffered its courses and resources. If history is not reduced to parody, it celebrates moments and figures who interpreted its meaning by anticipating leaps and ruptures and 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, young people can raise new flags; even from defeats.
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 constantly makes, and even before that the Cuban revolution, inserted in the course of those that preceded it. Thus we can understand, each year, the tribute to a February marked by revolts, pride and victories. A tribute that is 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 in which, with the Caracazo, the first cry of the people against neoliberalism arose, which had proclaimed itself as the only path after the fall of the Wall of Berlin; a fall that anticipated the end of 70 years of great fear experienced by the bourgeoisie. A date that germinated in the civil-military rebellion of February 4, 1992, and revealed to the world the man who would change the destiny of Venezuela, the then Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez Frías.
The commander who, once released from prison, knew how to gather all the healthy forces of the country, and win the elections of December 6, 1998. A president chosen not by Washington, but by popular enthusiasm that, according to all polls, today would be confirm by even more than the 56.20% of the votes, obtained then compared to the 40% of the oligarchy candidate, Henrique Salas.
On February 2, 1999, Chávez assumed power. Upon receiving the presidential sash from Rafael Caldera, his predecessor; he gave a brief speech that went down in history: “I swear before God, I swear before the country, I swear before my people on this dying Constitution, that I will promote the democratic transformations necessary so that the new Republic has a Magna Carta adequate to the new Times. I swear!”.
That same day he set out 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). A decision that should be 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, already during the month of January, before officially assuming the presidency, the commander had formed the Presidential Constituent Commission, which had the task of guiding the path towards the new ANC, refounding the republic and creating a new legal framework.
But was it legitimate to call for a constituent process without having first reformed the “moribund constitution” that did not contemplate the mechanism? Would the popular decision have more power than the established precedent? Article 3 of the consultative 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, the bases of the electoral process in which the members of the the National Constituent Assembly?”
The first generation Chavistas remember how heated the discussion was, also about the interpretation that should be given to 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. When announcing the style that would always characterize his policy, the commander used that part of the sentence that celebrated the importance of popular sovereignty in relation to constituent power, and exploded the collective force in this political-institutional conflict, which could not end in a simple legal dispute: 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 objective of drafting a new Magna Carta in 180 days. On that basis, Chávez called elections for July 25 of that same year that would elect the deputies of the new parliament. 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, remembering “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, aunicon itoto paparoto mantoro itoto manto”.
The redemption of the helpless above imperialist arrogance. The march of the oppressed 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.
With his firm voice he proclaimed: “We 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, aware of the strength that you have, that we Venezuelans have, call for 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 Lights are the poles of the Republic .”
Then, remembering the Bolivarian oath of Samán de Güere, which he repeated when he was a young officer: “I will not give rest to 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, and that hurricane is none other than the people of Venezuela. So from today I become your instrument; I am only and I will fulfill the mandate that you have given me” ─he said.
After 25 years of obstacles and attacks, which began immediately after February 2, the revolution is still standing and has produced a collective leadership determined to follow in its footsteps, now headed by Nicolás Maduro
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. And 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, like in 1999, there were those who tried to entangle the people in some legal technicality, which was not relevant; but then they evaporated, only to start barking again to follow their master’s voice, always trying to bend the institutions to their personal interests. Throwing the stone and hiding the hand was also the hallmark of politics in the Fourth Republic, as it continues to be in European countries, where States and parliaments are business committees of the international bourgeoisie.
And this continues to be the figure 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, and delegitimizing them a moment later, running to hide behind the American master. And, 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, in the Venezuelan barracks a new revolutionary and patriotic movement began, which Chávez organized “around dreams and the Bolivarian utopia.” A vision that, as his older brother, Adan, then already trained in Marxism, recalled, had influenced him from a very young age, stimulating his sensitivity to social injustices, and leading him to listen to the stories of revolutionaries, and to study the history.
“History will absolve me”, he said, paraphrasing Fidel. And he always fulfilled the concepts expressed in his first speech as president, aware of being an instrument of a great story. Like Fidel, the commander always remembered the importance of having read, secretly, as a cadet, both Mao’s Red Book and Lenin’s What to Do. 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 in Peru; and Omar Torrijos in Panama. For this reason, together with his companions, he decisively fought the media’s attempt to assimilate them to the South American “gorillas” in the pay of Washington. And, for this reason, since February 4, he has built an anti-imperialist Armed Force in civil-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 Military Academy. And, in 1994, in Yare prison, when he wrote a first draft of the Programmatic Declaration of the MBR200, he stated: “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 Filven 2023, the book of interviews conducted with José Vicente Rangel. Not just anecdotes, but lessons to learn and books to write so that they can train other generations of revolutionaries.
Previously published in spanish on CuatroF, official organ of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela here. Translation by UWI.