His roots grew deep and can still sprout
Granma | 01 August, 2016
CARACAS.— A man, like a tree, leaves something of his roots in the place where he was born, and can sprout again, if the legacy of his work on earth creates hope, and the times after his death demand his presence.
Hugo Chávez, the Eternal Comandante of Venezuela, was a great man, and his greatness is reaffirmed today as the roots he left pulsating just inches below the ground.
In Sabaneta de Barinas alongside the River Boconó, where he was born, they say that the men on horseback of local legends can still be heard in a distant thunder that comes and goes.
Based on the sound’s intensity, there are residents who say they can recognize the galloping of Ezequiel Zamora’s horse; other times when the sound is slower, close to the town, they say it is the followers of the rebel Maisanta; but for a while now, a growing number attribute the quaking to the unstoppable spirit of the town’s dearest son, the second of the Chávez Frías family, Huguito, the President.
When he was born on these plains, July 28, 1954, when daily life was precarious and families were obliged to make great efforts to raise their children, they said that the goals of these legendary heroes were still pending.
Hugo, as his mother Elena tells it, had an easy birth, entering the world relaxed, without any special gifts that would make him stand out, except for being “very likeable, very affectionate with others, despite his strong character,” she said.
Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, a boy like any other in town, was at the mercy of tradition, the family hearth, and local dynamics. Growing up fanatical about sports, baseball figured among his first projects as an adolescent. With a strong left arm and sure pitch, he was respected on the field, and began dreaming of better stadiums and the Major Leagues.
But his sensibilities exceeded these boundaries. His interest in history, piqued by the stories his grandmother told about the rebel heroes in his family’s past, his penchant and ability to draw anything, and recite epic traditional verses, sharpened his eye and his critical thinking about the reality in which he lived, in a Sabeneta which epitomized how poor families lived all over Venezuela.
In his native land, Chávez heard, lived, and learned; his character and personality were forged early on in the heat of real life. The boy was happy playing baseball, and listening to his grandmother’s stories about Zamora – whose troops his great-great grandfather had joined – but he also suffered the internal injury, the first day of school, of being turned away because of his old canvas shoes, and busied himself between classes selling sweets Rosa Inés made and arranged in a glass case.
In many ways, his childhood shaped the man that was to come. He fought over those sweets with a boy who knocked the case over and broke it, and on another occasion, after two little girls ate them all when he was distracted, he went home sobbing, not because he was afraid of punishment, but out of shame, knowing how much effort his grandmother put into those sweets.
In the town’s Julián Pino School, Hugo showed that he had a knack for what he had learned on his grandmother’s knees. His teacher, Egilda Crespo, recalled that along with geography, Spanish, and other subjects, he was fascinated by history.*
It is well-known that Hugo and his brother Adán were enthralled by the stories of heroic battles told by their grandmother, who was a second mother to them. The older brother headed off to the University of Mérida, while Hugo made his way to the closest military academy, in Caracas.
Within the heart of his family, Hugo also met his first intellectual challenge. As a matter of elementary justice he wanted to learn more about Pedro Pérez Delgado, the legendary Maisanta, his mother Elena’s paternal grandfather. Local history, as was convenient for the regimes of the time, had him labeled as a murderer, “who killed people, cutting their necks, and then putting the head atop a chair. But who was going to believe that? Avemaria!” Elena said.
She herself said that his maternal grandmother had commented in front of the children, “Hugo doesn’t like the way they talk to me, and I think that had something to do with his decision to look for the true story of Maisanta.”*
As an adolescent, after graduating from the military academy, and then as President, Chávez followed the path of the plains hero, looking to totally vindicate the fighter who had been slandered for no reason, other than his rejection of the era’s injustices.
The most important thing about this passion was that it put Chávez on the road to understanding the history that was most important to his family, to his people, and later to his homeland.
Perhaps his path to Bolívar’s ideas began with this preoccupation with Maisanta, his family and his people’s legacy. Thus his childhood and his native land are tied to his personal history as a great leader committed to the emancipation of his country, and hope for the continent.
His roots were always present in different ways, like in the case of Gilberto Lombano, the direct grandson of Maisanta, who left his position to take charge of Chávez’ food in prison – there were plans to poison him – and later became his personal guard during the first presidential campaign. Another case was that of the soldier who entered his cell when he was abducted during the 2002 coup and said, “Look, Comandante, I am Corporal Rodríguez. I’m from Sabaneta, a relative of your uncle Antonio Chávez. My Comandante, did you resign?
“No, nor am I going to resign,” Chavez responded.
The corporal stood at attention and saluted, saying, “Then you are my President! Don’t resign because we are going to get you out of this mess!”
It was this same son of Sabaneta who risked his life to smuggle out a note from Chávez, to let the world know he was alive and had not resigned – an episode that led to a massive mobilization of the people in the streets, and the defeat of the oligarchy’s plans.
On another anniversary of Chávez’ birth, with the country again subjected to the conspiracies of the bourgeoisie and its allies, perhaps the sounds heard beneath the soil are his roots moving, germinating, coming to life – like those of Bolívar – as the people awaken.
* References and quotes from Chávez Nuestro by Rosa Miriam Elizalde and Luis Báez