Gordon Robinson, Contributor
It's a measure of how pathetic we've become that we cant't even express sadness at the passing of a great regional leader without wondering out loud how much foreign exchange his death will cost. us.
There are too many important lessons to be learned from the life and death of Hugo Chavez and his impact on Venezuelan history to waste time crying in our gas tanks about how much petrol will cost now.
Hugo Chávez first came to worldwide attention in February 1992 when he led a doomed coup attempt to overthrow the government of Carlos Andres Perez. Chávez, an army man and military paratrooper, had joined with fellow army officers to form a secret movement named after Simón Bolívar.
The first important lesson for Jamaica is that the political environment that gave birth to Chávez's movement and fuelled his fateful coup attempt was the growing anger in the country at Perez's economic austerity measures. It was felt that those measures were resulting in sacrifice only by the poor, while leaders of all sectors continued to enjoy luxury.
Chávez spent two years in a military prison, which is where he was residing when his associates attempted a second coup in November 1992. That also failed, but Chávez was pardoned in 1994 as his mission gained popularity in Venezuela.
You pick him up, you lick him down
Him bounce right back.
What a hard man fe dead! (Hard man fe dead!)"
RISE TO POWER
Upon leaving prison, Chávez's Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement became The Movement of the Fifth Republic, and Hugo Chávez, the guerrilla, became Hugo Chávez, the politician. As Venezuelans became more sick and tired of the old order, Chávez was swept to power in 1998, at which time Venezuela, despite being surrounded by South American instability, had enjoyed unbroken democratic government for 40 years.
But, as Bob Dylan might've commented, the old order was rapidly fading.
The line it is drawn; the curse it is cast.
The slow one now will later be fast.
As the present now will later be past.
The order is rapidly fadin'
and the first one now will later be last.
For the times they are a-changin'.
Despite the façade of democracy, the popular consensus was that the two main parties that had alternated in power had built, developed, encouraged, presided over and benefited from a corrupt system and squandered the country's vast oil wealth. Sounds familiar?
Chávez promised 'revolutionary' social policies, and characterised the Establishment as corrupt servants of international capital. Putting on his best Michael Manley impersonation, Chávez was never reticent in making public pronouncements in support of the nation's poor and disenfranchised. Unlike elsewhere, his actions spoke even louder than his words.
Hugo Chávez was no friend of the United States. He would never consider putting the interests of international capital markets ahead of those of ordinary Venezuelans. He refused to kowtow. He lashed out at every symbol of the Establishment. Oil executives were described as "predatory oligarchs" who lived in "luxury chalets where they perform orgies, drinking whisky"; the Church, who he accused of turning its face against the poor, failed to "walk in ... the path of Christ". The USA was accused of "fighting terror with terror" in the Afghanistan war.
To nobody's surprise, a coup attempt soon followed (in 2002), which removed him from office for a couple of days but he survived to win a referendum on his leadership in 2004.
Them seh, the cat's got a nine life
but this man got ninety-nine life, cause ...
Them pick him up, them lick him down,
him bounce right back.
What a hard man fe dead! (Hard man fe dead!)"
The people of Venezuela repeatedly supported Hugo Chávez. They voted in a referendum in favour of permitting unlimited presidential terms, and it's my own view, had his health held out, that he would have been president of Venezuela for as long as his good friend Fidel Castro was president of Cuba.
This is not to say that all Venezuela's problems were solved by Hugo Chávez. Widespread poverty remains. But what has been at least temporarily removed from the Venezuelan landscape is the contempt in which both traditional political parties held the electorate and the corrupt system of governance that had prevailed for decades.
Cancer struck in 2011 but, once again, Chávez prevailed after surgery and chemotherapy in 2011 and further surgery in February 2012.
The last time I heard them say
that this man was dead (this man was dead).
They find a block a ice
and them lay it all upon his head (the man was dead)
Now the procession leads to the cemetery
The man holler out 'Don't you bury me'
You pick him up, you lick him down
Him bounce right back,
What a hard man fe dead!
In October, he comfortably won another six-year term as president, albeit with a reduced margin. The election victory, obtained in an 80 per cent voter turnout, silenced his critics' accusations that he was an autocrat and cemented his status as a left-wing Latin American political icon. Looking distinctly unwell, he pledged to deepen the "Bolivarian socialist revolution". In December, he announced that the cancer had returned and flew to Cuba for further surgery.
Them boil one pot o' chocolate tea
and all the fry fish they caught in the sea.
They also got six quart o' rum
saying that they waiting for the nine-night to come.
The story of the rise and rise of Hugo Chávez is a dire warning to all political systems that concentrate power in the hands of a few political oligarchs. These so-called democratic systems leave little space for infrequent and limited input from the people, who are only courted twice per decade to decide who will wield the awesome power of government and acquire the next round of luxury SUVs.
What Venezuela's recent history (and, more recently, upheavals in the Middle East) teaches us is that we, the people, won't be taken for fools forever. We will watch, beset and bide our time. Soon enough, with or without a catalyst like Hugo Chávez, a passive citizenry will turn proactive as soon as one straw too many is piled on their backs.
At that time, those who sell out our national birthrights at the whim and fancy of the IMFs of this world will be brought to book. The nation will rise up. Constitutional change will come. Governments will be held accountable. And history will judge very harshly indeed those who ruled by bluster and platitude while collecting various 'perks', even as corruption and poverty grew exponentially and economies contracted.
Cecil Bustamante Campbell, OD ('Prince Buster'), whose deeply provocative lyrics were decades ahead of their time, started out singing as a young schoolboy at the famous Glass Bucket Club (became VIP Club) on Half-Way Tree Road. After he left school, he was drawn to and learned at the feet of Tom the Great Sebastian, one of Jamaica's earliest sound-system icons.
Fiercely nationalistic and independent, Buster continued to learn when he began working for Clement 'Sir Coxson' Dodd for whom he provided a variety of services. As Dodd's jack of all trades, Buster provided security, handled ticket receipts, identified and sourced music, as well as working in the essential role of selector. All the while, he was soaking up every aspect of the music business he could learn from the great Coxson.
Eventually, Buster started his own sound, Voice of The People, and, when he was denied the US visa he needed to follow his mentor Dodd's method of using the farm-work programme as a platform from which to purchase records, he decided to record his own songs.
Using a 'studio' band built around drummer 'Drumbago' Parks, guitarist Jah Jerry and trombonist Rico Rodriquez, Buster released his first single in 1961 and proceeded to give his old boss Coxson a good run for his money in the sound system wars that followed until Coxsone, recording a little-known group calling themselves The Wailers, applied the knockout punch with a tune called Simmer Down.
Still, Prince Buster, whose contribution to the foundation of the local recording industry was a seminal one, continued to record prolifically during the 1960s. In 1964, he met heavyweight boxing champion, Muhammad Ali, and, at his invitation, attended a Nation of Islam talk. Later that year, he joined the Nation of Islam and took the Muslim name Muhammed Yusef Ali.
His Hard Man Fe Dead, recorded in 1967, was of the 'Rude Bwoy' genre which Buster bestrode like a colossus. The song pays tribute to 'rudie', who never backed down and was very difficult to damage. Maybe Buster was a prophet who foresaw the coming of Hugo Chávez.
Peace and love.
Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to email@example.com.