“The road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.”
St. John Chrysostom
President Hugo Chavez has routinely trashed Venezuela’s Catholic Church hierarchy for years.
However, Chavez doesn’t hesitate to misappropriate Catholic symbols – a cross with Jesus crucified, a priest wearing the vestments as if saying the Mass – when it serves his personal ambitions.
Chavez was the star on 27 February at what regime propagandists (and self-censoring news media) described as “an ecumenical gathering” which just happened to be officiated by Catholic priest Adolfo Rojas – presumably without the approval of the Venezuelan Conference of Bishops, hence the “ecumenical” tag.
The climax of the “ecumenical” memorial service came when Father Rojas ordered everyone present to swear the following oath aloud:
“Juro por el Dios de mis padres, que no daré descanso a mi alma ni a mi brazo ni a mi mente, hasta que no profundice el socialismo que necesitamos, y que acompañemos en la lealtad, antes muertos que traidores, a este comandante en jefe que Dios nos ha puesto para conducirnos al socialismo que necesitamos”.
The unholy father led the gathering in an oath of fealty for life to Chavez – but never mentioned the Republic of Venezuela, its constitution, laws and democracy and its people.
It was all about Chavez, and simultaneously messianic and gladiatorial.
Those who swore this path pledged to sacrifice their lives, if necessary, for Chavez who was given (to Venezuela) by Almighty God, the Creator and Lord of the Universe:
“…antes muertos que traidores…este comandante en jefe que Dios nos ha puesto…”
The event passed largely unnoticed by the news media and the political opposition. But it was one more confirmation of Chavez’s strong grip on power, and his persistent appeal to over half of the populace (almost all, 99.9% easily, of whom are poor)…a deeply emotional appeal verging on spiritual worship.
Critical observers of the Chavez decade can point to Andean-sized “cordilleras” of evidence that Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution have been lethal to Venezuela’s democracy, and to its social and economic development. This is an empty house of cards erected on stilts of rotten balsa wood in a quicksand bog.
“Este revolucion no tiene vida en el tiempo, pero todavia le queda tiempo,” says a friend who farms for a living and knows poor Venezuela intimately.
But the true believers discard all negative information about Chavez immediately it’s presented to them. This is not speculation.
Polls and focus groups done by one of the country’s leading thinkers (we must withhold his identity for now because he hasn’t authorized us to use his name) have demonstrated empirically that Venezuelans who described themselves as committed chavistas do not believe any negative information about Chavez.
For this group, at least, Chavez apparently is more infallible than the Pope, and so high in the celestial firmament that “El Comandante” sits nearer to God than JC and the Holy Spirit combined.
And that’s something intelligent critics of this “proceso revolucionario” should consider when thinking about the different scenario possibilities that will evolve in Venezuela during the course of 2009, which certainly will be the harshest year, economically and socially, which Venezuelans have experienced since the mid-1990s.