Venezuela's Revolution? Pretty, it ain't.
By John | Reason Over Might
07.02.05 | During a speech on 23 January 2005, President Chávez addressed some
remarks to Condoleezza Rice, who had referred to him as "a negative
influence" for the region during her Senate confirmation hearings for
the post of U.S. Secretary of State. Repeating earlier statements, he
called her "illiterate"; on this occasion, he elaborated further by
speculating that her statements about him were motivated by sexual
frustration. He suggested that some of his minions could provide Dr.
Rice with some relief, as he himself was too busy and was in any case
unwilling to "make the sacrifice" for his country.
Here are some excerpts from Chávez's speech in translation (source: transcription on the homepage of the Venezuelan Ministry for Propaganda, Minci). Note the rambling nature of the diatribe (which was edited in this case); Chávez's speeches typically go on for hours without going anywhere.
"First she [Rice] said that she was very irritated, a few days ago, by Chávez, by the tyrant Chávez, the caudillo, that he was a threat to the people of the world and of America. Afterwards, the next day, they asked her again, seems like she's dreaming about me.
Well, even if she's the foreign minister of that imperialist government and it's doctor Alí Rodríguez's [the Venezuelan chancellor, or foreign minister] turn to meet her, I'm capable of inviting her to a meeting to find out, well, what's this thing that you've got with me? We're going to arrange this, let's see. Do you [the audience] want me to invite her? I'll do what you tell me to. A short while ago, someone suggested to me: 'Look, why don't you ask her to marry you to see if this will sort itself out?' Should I propose marriage to her? [Audience: Nooo.] What bad luck this lady has! You said no. Well, but really she first said she was very irritated, the next day she changed, it would be good for a good psychiatrist to analyze this, because the next day they asked her again and what she said was that she was not irritated, no, but that now she was sad. Oh daddy! She was very sad and depressed because of Chávez, because of this tyrant. Afterwards she went on to say that Chávez is a bad influence on the continent.
Mister Bush, now accompanied by a new Secretary of State, the Mr. Condolencia Rice [sic], Condolencia Rice. I am sorry not to have sent her Fidel, send me, please, the method "Yo si puedo" [a basic reading course] to send it in English to Condolencia Rice, I forgot to send it to her again, one has so much to do, because she is showing a complete illiteracy with regards to what's happening in Venezuela and to what's happening in the world and to what's happening in Latin America.
I can't marry Condolencia because I have a lot of work to do, she'll have to look for some other options, she should forget about me for a while. Alí Rodríguez could do it, Cristóbal Jiménez is there, available; well, Juan Barreto is single; somebody else should make this sacrifice for the fatherland, you can ask me to do anything, but don't ask me to do this. Nicolás Maduro, Pedro Carreño."
The following text by sociologist Tulio Hernández sums up pretty well what Chávez's statements reveal about his sexist and chauvinist mindset.
Rural Machismo as a Political Problem
by Tulio Hernández
I ask the reader to imagine for a moment what would have happened if President Chávez, instead of targeting his rage -- disguised as a taunt -- against the person of Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State of the United States government, had aimed it at President Bush. Let's picture for a moment what would have been the outcome if the Venezuelan president, with his [guachamaronería] as always, had developed a sequence with the following tone in front of the hypnotised multitudes that venerate him, like they once venerated Perón, as they still do with Fidel in Cuba, as they did with Hitler: "Ooooh baby, Dubya, you've really got it in for me, you don't like anything I do, perhaps it's because you want me to give you what's coming to you? But I won't sacrifice myself, let Juan Barreto do it; he's single".
We can imagine it, but we know that this would never have happened and is never going to happen. Because President Chávez, as he has shown during his six long years in government, does not consider the qualities or defects inherent in the male condition to interfere with the work or behaviour of rulers. Those of the female condition, on the other hand, do.
When the Venezuelan president -- with this unmistakable culture of a rural adolescent who has not managed to understand the progress the democratic world has made in this area with regard to differences, be they of gender, politics, nationalities, ethnicity or sexual preferences -- plays with irony based on the hypothesis that Condoleezza Rice is in love with him and begins with her verbal harassment when her love is not returned, he is sending a very concrete message. He is saying, with the ancestry, the authority and the persuasiveness that his condition of being president and exalted communicator confer on him, that Doctor Rice is acting not because she is a high-level government official, because she has a high capacity for discernment, or because she is employing her personal analytical ability based on her beliefs. No, Condoleezza Rice is acting like a woman, and therefore, her motivation is neither political nor intellectual: it is rather derived from an eager and unsatisfied vagina that is waiting for a tropical "bull" and third-world man like himself to give her the satisfaction she needs. You don't have to be Roland Barthes to understand that this is the message being transmitted.
But this is not the first time that the president has acted out his mysoginist sexual exhibitionism in front of the spellbound faces of his numerous followers. A long time ago, when he was just beginning his period of government, he surprised the country by announcing, live and on national TV, to his wife, the then Mrs. Marisabel de Chávez, that that same night, upon returning to La Casona, he would "give her what she had coming to her" ("darle lo suyo"). In popular Venezuelan speech, darle lo suyo, just in case we have any foreign readers, is a typically macho phrase that refers to the sexual act, understood as an offer of satisfaction that the man makes to the woman to calm her yearnings. Therefore, if one wants to denigrate the behaviour of a woman who, for instance, is very demanding at work, one would say: "What she needs it someone to give her what she's got coming to her!" (“¡A esa lo que le hace falta es que le den lo suyo!”), or, a bit more crudely, "to give it to her where she needs it" (“que le den por donde es”). There is, conversely, no equivalent disqualification that could be used to attribute the same motivation to a male behaviour.
What the president has not realised -- on the whole, his life has been very much centered on political conspiracy and military discipline -- is that there are countries where a person could be sued or even jailed for offending someone publically on the basis of their personal traits deriving from gender, race or sexual preference, and that rude remarks like the ones he has been aiming successively at Doctor Rice -- calling her an illiterate, firstly, disqualifying her actions based on the supposed condition of being a besotted woman, secondly, and thirdly, adding an ambiguous and contemptuous suspicion ("let someone else sacrifice himself"), thereby referring -- one can't be too sure -- to her supposed ugliness, her condition of being Afro-American, or simply to her being an agent of imperialism -- could come at a high price in legal terms in the United States or Europe, where the offense of sexual harassment includes verbal harassment.
All this is without even mentioning that in any decent country gestures such as this would not provoke knowing little laughs and applause, as we saw on the part of his ministers and mayors on Sunday, including some female ministers; instead it would produce embarassment in all social and political sectors in response to such a testimony to backwardness, vulgarity, and immaturity on the part of the authority that offered them publically.
That's why I believe we should not take the incident as a joke. Nor should we belittle it, as was tried by certain common ignorants, who used the argument that the offended party is a very powerful woman, a figure of imperialism and savage neoliberalism, and that therefore it is acceptable to insult her, because in the end, she can defend herself. The militant machismo, the public display of bad manners and the emotional outbursts of the president, which are comparable only with those of Governor Acosta Carlez (king of the burp)*, should be treated as a political problem that muddies the relationship between the president and those opposing him as well as with the governments and authorities of befriended countries.
In his private and personal life, Hugo Chávez as an individual has the right to express himself as he pleases regarding women and those opposing him. But as President of the Republic, he has a duty to maintain a minimum of decorum and respect for others, because when he took on these functions he stopped being free; he cannot act according to his personal judgment because he holds an office that obliges him to place the national interest and collective respect above what he does and says in public. At the end of the day, he is the spokesperson for all Venezuelans on the international stage, and that is how he should behave.
You might ask yourself what's the use of such a display of the virtues of the Ley Resorte (media gag law) for protecting children from the pernicious effects of television, when it is the President of the Republic himself who, on national TV and during children's hour, takes it upon himself to communicate three types of values that more advanced society nowadays are trying to banish forever: hate between human beings, contempt for and underestimating the female condition, and machismo as the foremost principle governing the relationship between men and women.
There is definitely a ghost haunting Venezuela: the ghost of backsliding and regression to the myths, the ethics and aesthetics characteristic of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th, to the times of rural caudillos who based their power on the enormous size of their testicles.
* During the 2002 national strike, then
General Acosta Carlez led an army unit to secure the strategically
important Coca Cola deposits at that company's plant. Live on camera,
the General took a swig from a bottle of Coca Cola, looked into the
camera and offered a long and resounding burp. Since that day, he has
been associated by all parties with burping; even Chávez himself calls
him the general of the burp. Acosta Carlez was rewarded with the governorship of Carabobo state for carrying out this brave and dangerous mission.
A Cuban journalist, Carlos Alberto Montaner, described the scene as follows:
We thought that Venezuelans were hungry, but it wasn't true: they were thirsty. And so it came that colonel Chávez sent his best men to occupy the Coca-Cola and beer depots by military force in order to mitigate this terrible scourge. Rum will probably be the next objective. What could be more patriotic for a Bolivarian government than handing out Cubalibres to the thirsty and starving masses?
At the head of the hardened anti-Coca-Cola troops there marched a young general, Acosta Carlez, tall and haughty, notably portly, who opened a bottle, bravely swallowed its contents without even bothering to measure its content of carbohydrates -- the chavista soldiers don't know the meaning of fear -- turned his gaze to the television cameras and launched a prolonged and devastating burp that sent tremors through the precinct. "A terrible spectacle", said analyst Joaquín Pérez later. "It could have been worse", responded the brilliant writer Carlo Raúl Hernández laconically. "Imagine what would happen if he raided a avocado or black bean warehouse..."