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Hugo Chavezs Bolivian Revolution History Essay

Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution relies on the ideas of Simón Bolívar’s “Jamaican Letter” in the refocusing of the Venezuelan foreign policy. Critically discuss.

Simón Bolívar , while in Jamaica had written the now famous "Letter from Jamaica" in which he had outlined his feelings of the situation within Venezuela and his views that were explicitly thorough especially on the independence movement and the form of government to which the country would have been operated under. The letter has been widely recognized as an important political doctrine and that expresses his ideas for a republican government and Latin American unity. The letter was Bolivar's extensive response to a letter he had received from a Jamaican, some historians have claimed that it was the Governor of Jamaica, who had empathized with Bolivar's struggle for South American liberation and had indicated a desire to learn more about the politics and the people of each South American province. Specifically, the gentleman had asked Bolivar to explain such technicalities as whether each country in Latin America had desired for their own republic or if they wanted to form one unified monarchy. Simón Bolívar was from an aristocratic family therefore he had been exposed extensively to European politics and philosophies to which had influenced his patriotic thoughts and gave him a reason to launch into his treatises amongst six Latin American states, including Venezuela his homeland. He expressed that ‘with respect to heroic and hapless Venezuela, events there moved so rapidly and the devastation was such that reduced to a frightful desolation and absolute indigence.’ [1] 

Many have questioned whether or not Hugo Chavez is obsessed with the ideas of Simón Bolívar who is acknowledged as a towering figurehead in Latin America and the Spanish American Revolution to which countries like Venezuela, Panama, Peru, Columbia, Bolivia and Ecuador, had gained their independence and refers to Bolivar as ‘El Liberadator’. Throughout history Bolivar’s legacy has been used both in a progressive and conservative way, and his ideas of actuality have been implemented especially by Hugo Chavez, who, when he went into power had adopted a new constitution, and renamed the country the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, as an couplet to Bolivar. Hugo Chávez’s policies have virtually affected all aspects of Venezuelan life, as these policies are founded on his interpretations of the well-regarded “El Liberdator,” Simón Bolívar. Chavez drew upon the legacy of Bolívar in order to legitimize his “revolutionary” movement.

Simón Bolívar was born on the 24th of July 1783, into one of the most affluent Creole families in Venezuela that had settled there from as long as the sixteenth century. His father came from the male line of the de Ardanza family and his maternal grandmother, was descended from some families that came from  the Canary Island and had settled in the country. Bolivar’s childhood was both “privileged and deprived,” [2] as his parents both died by the time he reached the age of nine, his father died when Bolívar was two and a half years old and his mother when he was approaching nine years of age. At the age of fifteen Bolívar, had not been content with his life in Venezuela and set off for Europe at which time his education had been limited from tutors like that of Andrés Bello and Simon Rodríguez, as well as being a cadet in the elite militia corps which he had passed with a good quality report. [3] This lack of formal education would however prove to be an unworthy opponent for what lay ahead, since his rather unique childhood awarded him a strong will and power of decision as well as the ability to socialize easily with lower-class people. [4] 

The time spent in Europe presented an entirely different world to Bolívar, because it was divided into two distinct segments. In the first segment Bolivar had spent a primarily long period in Spain where he was tutored by the Marquis of Uztáriz, who was another Venezuelan that had gained a good education in Caracas. The marquis was the first stable influence in Bolívar’s life, as he played the role of guardian and tutor. It was under this fatherly figurehead that Bolivar was guided and had access to an extensive library to which he studied philosophy, history, mathematics, and languages, and was able to develop his social skills, to listen and to learn. [5] During his studies Bolivar met Maria Teresa Rodríguez del Toro y Alayza [6] when he was just seventeen years old. The two fell madly in love and returned to Venezuela as husband and wife. However, in 1803 Maria fell ill and died. Incapacitated with grief in 1804 Bolívar returned to Europe, there he experienced a political and intellectual awakening. Therefore personal tragedy not only sent him running back to Europe but it also aided him to acquire knowledge and experience that prepared him for his political role. Bolivar had immersed himself in the enlightenment thought; he read extensively, attended high-society affairs, and made his immortal vow in Rome that he would “not rest body or soul until he had broken the chains binding us to the will of Spanish might.” [7] These experiences transformed him, and when Bolívar returned to Venezuela in 1807, there was no one to equal him. Bolivar found that the population was divided between loyalty to Spain and the desire for independence; he was an intensely driven man ready to diffuse through the desire of his people whose passion for liberty and a free state from Spanish rule shun brightly. In April of 1810, the people of Venezuela declared for a provisional independence from Spain. Simón Bolívar at the age of twenty four was an important voice during this time as he advocated for full independence along with a small delegation. Gaining popular support for an uprising against the Spanish crown was no simple undertaking, but Bolívar held true to his Roman oath. His first effort to take Caracas was mildly successful but led to an embarrassing defeat to a counter-revolutionary force in 1812.

  In Bolivar’s “Jamaica Letter” published in 1815, may have widely explained what he tried to express in the case of and the need for Latin American integration, it was however a dream that never came to fruition under Bolivar’s dictatorship. For Bolivar, this system was the belief that the government would support a model that was similar to that of the British parliamentary system, and would enter a phase of “guided leadership.” It was Simon Bolivar’s vision that was for Venezuela the Latin American state’s government would become a republic and to which would have a life-term President of the same kind to a symbolic monarchy. Bolivar had stipulated that the legislative branches and cabinet ministers would in turn run the government.

This was previously induced by Bolivar in his letter, where he stated that “from what I have said it is easy to deduce that America [reference to Latin America] was not prepared to secede from the mother country; this secession was suddenly brought about by the effect of the illegal concessions of Bayonne and the unrighteous war which the Regency unjustly and illegally declared on us. Concerning the nature of the Spanish governments, their stringent and hostile decrees, and their long record of desperate behavior, you can find articles of real merit, by Mr. Blanco, in the newspaper El Español. Since this aspect of our history is there very well treated, I shall do no more than refer to it. The Americans have risen rapidly without previous knowledge of, and, what is more regrettable, without previous experience in public affairs, to enact upon the world stage the eminent roles of legislator, magistrate, minister of the treasury, diplomat, general, and every position of authority, supreme or subordinate, that comprises the hierarchy of a fully organized state.” [8] This however, can be said is what Hugo Chavez has claimed that he has and is trying to achieve under his constitution, as after his election, Chavez renamed Venezuela the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and proceeded to nationalize the oil, electricity, and communications industries.

The “Letter from Jamaica” [The Jamaican Letter] was a political noteworthy testimony, as it might have been stated before was written while Bolivar was in exile and the word ‘exile’ had served him as a means of “propaganda and appeal.” [9] The State of Venezuela under Bolivar had gained its independence from Spain, and within his exile Bolivar had tried to convince the British government that they would benefit by unrestricted trade with a free America. Bolivar had been questioned about the future of the South American peoples. The analysis of his letter, it had said that the revolution had failed at one point and that there was the possibility of the lack luster of a future for the South American states. As America had liberated itself and Spain was trying to enslave again, “Its tyrants govern a desert, and they oppress only those unfortunate survivors who, having escaped death, lead a precarious existence. A few women, children, and old men are all that remain. Most of the men have perished rather than be slaves; those who survive continue to fight furiously on the fields and in the inland towns, until they expire or hurl into the sea those who, insatiable in their thirst for blood and crimes, rival those first monsters who wiped out America's primitive race. Nearly a million persons formerly dwelt in Venezuela, and it is no exaggeration to say that one out of four has succumbed either to the land, sword, hunger, plague, flight, or privations, all consequences of the war, save the earthquake.” [10] The people had fought with courage and desperation, accordingly Bolivar said ‘a people that love freedom will in the end be free.’ [11] Hugo Chavez, from the ideas expressed in the ‘Letter’ wanted and ended the central bank’s autonomy to access foreign reserves and spend on social programs for the poor. Bolivar had expressed that the liberation of Latin America was to change international policies from the ground up. It was a farsighted affair that would have recognized the creation of a new era in international relations of the peoples of the world. South America was no longer to be the ‘soil for experimentation’ [12] but that European nations would support the independence and also find sure markets for their goods. The Second World War, proved South America was a vital market to European markets for the European industry.

Masur (1969) had questioned of those who could have understood Bolivar’s ideas then, who could consider the possibilities that he expressed and wanted for his people. Bolivar in his ‘Jamaican Letter’ held firmly to the idea that for the need of a strong and unified government, as he stated that “as long as our fellow citizens do not acquire the talents and virtues which distinguish our brothers to the north, a radical democratic system, … we are ruled by corruption, which must be accepted under the rule of a country which has distinguished itself by inflexibility, ambition, vengefulness and greed.” [13] Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution can be expressed as being an exploration of Bolivar’s own ideas in their political futures of Venezuela.

The Bolivarian Revolution, as coined by Chavez is named after Simón Bolívar, and it refers to the leftist social movement and political process that exists in Venezuela and which is led by the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez. Hugo Chavez is the founder of the Fifth Republic Movement and according to Chávez and other supporters, the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ was meant to seek and to build a mass movement that would implement Bolivarianism. The bolivarianism is defined as being a simple popular democracy that will allow that nation state to be economically independent, have equitable distribution of revenues, and have the hopes of ending all political corruption in Venezuela. Hugo Chavez interpreted Bolívar's ideas as articulated in his letter from a very socialist perspective.

Simón Bolívar, as stated previously has been a prominent and important figure in Venezuela's history. According to one historian there was a spontaneous and enduring popular cult of Bolivar as early as 1842, and who has been highly thought of in parades, speeches, ceremonies, competitions, inaugurations, commemorations, unveilings of monuments, official publications, and other formal events, as well as by Chavez when he was a military cadet was expressed as being a vibrant celebrant of the Bolivarian passion story. [14] Chávez relied upon the ideas of Bolívar, and on Bolívar as a popular symbol, as early on in his military career. The revolution under Chávez was meant to refocus Venezuelan foreign policy on the Latin American economic and social integration by enacting bilateral trade and reciprocal aid agreements, including his so-called ‘oil diplomacy’ that would provide oil cheaply to neighbouring nations that were and are poor. Chávez has portrayed that his movement's objectives are being in intractable conflict with neo-colonialism and neo-liberalism.

There have been concerns however on Chavez’s proposal to change a specific article of the constitution from two six-year terms to indefinite seven-year periods, in spite of popular elections. This is however was something that Bolivar had expressed and hoped for in his letter of whether or not the Latin American States were ready for a ‘guided leadership’ which Chavez had hoped to enforce. These constitutional changes would allow a nation state like Venezuela to expand their foreign policy that would not only benefit the developed countries but also the developing countries as well.

The Bolivarian Revolution has aided the foreign policy of Venezuela as the oil ‘black gold’ production when Chavez went into power was suffering at its worst as the prices had collapsed in at least fifty years. The oil production had begun as early as the 1920s during the dictatorship of Juan Vicente Gómez. Also, in that period oil had come to represent over 90 percent of the country’s income, starting from one point nine percent in 1920s. The oil revenues were constantly rising, and by the late 1930s that revenue largely flowed into the coffers of two major oil companies, Shell and Standard Oil, which much of the profits remained in the hands of the foreigners who were even given major tax breaks by Gomez. [15] The money was however not re-invested into the Latin American state which in the long run proved as a loss. Production levels rose again in the 1950s, between 1958 and 1998 Venezuela’s total income from oil was over $300 billion.

The global figures conceal peaks and troughs which produced both economic and political crises, yet throughout the country’s dependence on oil revenues became more and more pronounced. Chavez had the idea from the ideology of Simon Bolivar to ‘drum up’ interest within foreign investments that would help in the Venezuelan economy. This had manifested from one of his trips to Asia. Especially China that was a place that had successfully combined capitalism and socialism, and whose mixed economy had shaped a model that he had hoped would serve as a counterweight of the dominance of the United States of America’s influence in the Latin American region.

The Venezuelan Oil Corporation was created in an attempt to force the foreign corporations who extracted the oil to pay more to the state. But the first great oil boom had passed and the military ruler that had overseen it fled to Miami with several hundred million dollars safely ensconced in US banks. According to Jones (2007), Caracas itself was the clearest testimony to the massive speculation and graft of those years as their modern centres of concrete buildings were aesthetically exciting, but represented the squandering of oil revenues. [16] 

The shanties clinging to the hills around the city said all that needed to be said about who had been the beneficiaries of the boom. While production rose steadily between 1960 and 1964, it was significant that only 8 million cubic metres were consumed within Venezuela (in 1964) and nearly 187 million exported. Those who gained from the boom bought their imported goods and services at a high price thus the cost of living had risen to the point where it was said that Caracas was a more expensive city to live in the period than that of Chicago. This pact was apprehended for the next thirty years until 1989, as the key to that economic ‘stability’ was the judicious use of oil revenues.

Chavez proved to be a fierce believer in the words of Bolivar , who he said had taught him not to serve the interest of others, but to however to make their own decisions, both political and economic revolution and to unite the continent [South America] against all empires. [17] As some have commented that Chavez’s rule of the state was run like that of a sergeant- major in a military barracks, and others as though of a devil characterized as that of a mix between Hitler and another tyrannical world leader. Chavez on the other hand does not describe himself as such but is more so of a leader that is vested in the deals that will be beneficial to his people, like that that was expressed by Bolivar in the Jamaican letter, that vetted for open markets available to European industries other than America’s. offering to the world a deep neo-liberal understanding that removes them from suffering daily from military and economic depredations the new order.

In the words of Simon Bolivar and Hugo Chavez, the continent is full of echoes from the past struggles therefore there should be a new wave of leaders. As throughout history, Venezuela's foreign policy also has been infused with Simón Bolívar's ideal of promoting the political and economic integration of Latin America. History cannot be repeated, but it should notwithstanding be ignored either. It should instead be assimilated and understood before further steps are taken. Hugo Chavez thinks of himself as being revolutionary Bolivarian and has placed his personal stamp on the diverse mix of the greater state intervention in the economy, the reform of the constitution as well as the radical rhetoric that infused his movements that frequented the reference to Simon Bolivar.


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