The cult of Bolivarianism is soon to get its very own temple

Since 1876, the remains of Simón Bolívar rest in the National Pantheon, along with other distinguished Venezuelans. That won’t be for long. A new personal mausoleum, which has been likened to a giant skateboard park, is now being built behind the pantheon and was originally slated to open last December. Now it will be partially ready in April, but it’s facing some serious setbacks to meet the deadline. Experts and citizens’ views are split about its cost and purpose.

Hugo Chavez has used and abused of Bolivarianism to the point of overkill: The country itself and its institutions carry Bolívar’s name; his face and words are incorporated to every single act of government. The fixation long ago took a weird necrophiliac turn: Chavez insists that Simón Bolívar didn’t die of tuberculosis but was really murdered and even ordered his body to be disinterred and tested to prove it. Images of the procedure were presented in cadena nacional, and the whole surreal specticle live-tweeted by the coma-andante/presidente.

In 1969, historian Germán Carrera Damas wrote “The cult of Bolívar”, on the way the thoughts of our founding father has been the ideological backbone not just of the Venezuelan State but of our overall society, becoming a cult in the process. This cultish take on Bolívar has gone freakishly literal in the last 13 years.

To see how far the Bolivarian Government will adapt the image of Bolívar to fit its narrative, just take a look to the mural at the entrance of the Communication and Information Ministry (after the jump.)

(The Frankenstein’s monster, we’re told, represents capitalism.)

Not that the idea is original: after all, there’s a movie coming out soon about Abraham Lincoln hunting vampires. It’s just that that one’s not financed by the White House.

52 thoughts on “The cult of Bolivarianism is soon to get its very own temple

  1. Things (news) comes at us so fast these days that it’s difficult to absorb it all. Dozens of sound bites about the craziness that faces us each day it makes your head spin.

    The corruption news, the threat news, the stupid things the ministers say & now paintings like this just make you shake your head.

    Don’t worry though it will soon pass. Give it an hour & some other earth shaking news item will be here to grab our attention & indignation.

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  2. Manuel Caballero used to point out how it was necessary to autocratic governments to reduce the entire history into a mythology and proclaim itself as the successor of the heroes of yore. Think of Mussolini and the Roman Empire, or (lest to fall into the Godwin’s Law) Hitler and Siegfried or the Tea Party Movement and the Founding Fathers of the United States.

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    • I still miss Manuel Caballero on Sundays. WIth a good venezuelan coffee.

      Yes sir: that would be one rad half pipe.

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    • Bolivar & Friends (Sucre, Miranda, etc.) VS. The Avengers (Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, etc.)

      A Marvel/Villa del Cine co-production. Coming to theaters the summer que nos de la gana.

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      • Absolutely. But I do like that he’s wearing a tie. And that Gordon-Gekko-like slicked hair is a nice, though thoroughly un-Hulklike, touch. Capitalism gotta look good for the ladies.

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  3. All nations and cultures have their myths and heroes. It is the nature of those myths and character of their heroes that define the culture. In this case, the hero is portrayed as a brutal caricature, and the myth is a childish and immature one. So, I think it is an adequate reflection of the current culture of Bolivarian Venezuela.

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    • Pluralistic nations make those myths evolve. Norwegians don’t have a veneration of their Middle Age kings any more. Germany doesn’t describe Bismarck as Übermensch, much less Otto I…at least since WW2. Even admiration for Napoleon in France has been going down.

      You can hear a lot of criticism in normal talk about the people in the lists below (the “greatest”)
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unsere_Besten
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/100_Greatest_Britons

      The cult to Bolivar has been mental since early on. Caballero wrote a couple of good books on that, but he didn’t seem to have seen the cult started much earlier and it was skilfully promoted by Bolívar himself…and then by Páez of all people.
      Guzmán Blanco was not the one starting it.

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      • Antonio Guzmán Blanco did start the cult of Bolivar.

        Paez basically made Bolivar somewhat as cool as he had been before the Great Colombia contrivance by throwing a state funeral. The key thing is canon José Alberto Espinosa’s eulogy, in which he washed away Bolivar’s sins and declared him divine in nature.

        Any smart guy could take advantage of that foundation to create a cult, especially when he realized his political interests could be attached to Bolivar’s legacy. Guzmán Blanco wasted no time in doing just that during the centennial of Bolivar’s birth.

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        • Do you think Bolivar was that cool before that event? I believe that’s what school books in Venezuela, based on a handful of “cronistas”, say.

          Bolívar became rather unpopular soon with large segments of the population. Only after 1817 he got some momentum with the masses – after he had Piar executed. When Bolivar came to Caracas in 1821 the city had been abandoned by a large part of the population – virtually all “white”, who were as a whole a minority but very much present there plus a lot of pardos – over 20000 leaving much less than a third of that. Same thing happened all over the coast. And after the years things went worse, as Bolivar, thanks to his British mercenaries and the Llaneros, marched to the South and kept the pantomime of being an “unwilling dictator”.

          After Páez came to power and a brief improvement in the economy, things started to get grim in the early forties due to a dramatic fall in the price of coffee and similar products on a worldwide scale. And then Páez decided to start a huge campaign for the repatriation of Bolívar’s bones…sending emissaries all over Venezuela to that end.
          He did not see that as those bones came just after he had left but during those frantic couple of years he fought against the members of the Congress who did not want a cult to be in place, until lots of monuments, specially marble sculptures from Italy, were brought to the Palace and to other places in Caracas.

          Páez himself propose to change the name of Caracas to Bolívar, but he couldn’t make it, but still he worked for some city to get that name and then Angostura did.
          Funny…in spite of Páez antagonizing Bolívar for so long. But he knew: a dead strongman portrayed as a hero is good for PR.

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          • And actually: the personality cult started with Bolívar himself. The guy didn’t declare himself king because his role model, Napoleon, had been totally defeated when he got to power. Role model? Yes, Bolívar admired him. Not for nothing he went not to the first coronation but two both of Napoleon’s coronations.
            Bolívar insisted in calling himself Libertador as early as 1812, which was preposterous, to say the least. He organized “triumphant receptions” and introduced the first Orden del Libertador and the Legion of the Libertador.
            The reason why he manage to become the leader was 1) because among those with some education and leadership he was the only one who could speak to different groups and unite them and 2) (and this was the initial thing), because he had a big money provider Brión.
            Brión and some others knew how to entice several thousand of recently unemployed
            soldiers who had nothing more to do after the end of the Napoleonic wars.

            The vast majority of the masses in Venezuela was completely indifferent to the Independence wars, as constantly reported by more independent observers. They wanted peace, they wanted troops from one or the other sector to keep outside their region. That’s all they wanted.

            Their veneration towards Bolívar came later, when things kept running down and Bolívar was dead and the military in power decided to portray themselves as the real interpreters of Bolívar’s wishes.

            Venezuela’s independence was won by virtue of the Llaneros under Páez plus – perhaps most importantly – the 6000 primarily British mercenaries who put some order into the mayhem. Hadn’t it been for them, we would have lost Carabobo.
            Bolívar had to tolerate Páez because 1) Páez kept himself happy with being commanded by Bolívar for a long time, unlike Piar and 2) Páez was adored by the Llaneros, who had seen how effective and courageous he was.
            Páez was no saint. He became one of the most corrupt presidents…

            Interesting reading is what Henri La Fayette Villaume Ducoudray Holstein wrote about Bolívar. Many Venezuelans reject that account “because he was angry with Bolívar”.
            That is no argument. You start to get similar visions of Bolívar when you see other accounts by minor figures who were there at that time, like some of the few mercenaries who survived, not just Gustave Hippisley

            Look in Google books for books that were published in the XIX century and have such words as Bolivar Orinoco Andes and can be fully downloaded.

            Of course, Damas did a great job in providing a clearer picture of Bolívar, but the details all those British soldiers and some other observers give are impressive.

            http://books.google.be/books?id=NwRUAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA196&dq=holstein+Bolivar+orinoco&hl=nl&sa=X&ei=DepqT4CHK5TX8QPzoZ2BBw&ved=0CDwQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q&f=false

            I hope one day we will get a much better picture of what really happened during the independence.

            The liberator of Venezuela was the Venezuelan people, hundred of thousand of persons who fought against mostly other Venezuelans who were not better or worse than themselves but who believed in a system that was not ready for change.
            Unfortunately, the change they all got was for another kind of submission and underdevelopment.

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          • To clarify: the emissaries were for informing about the plans of bringing the bones from Santa Marta, obviously.

            You can find some basic information here

            http://books.google.be/books?id=nyYYAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA252&dq=Paez+bolivar+1842+Santa+Marta&hl=nl&sa=X&ei=OA5rT_LNHobf8APPj9XlBg&ved=0CE4Q6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=Paez%20bolivar%201842%20Santa%20Marta&f=false

            but there is a lot more.
            Yeah, Guzmán increase the personality cult on our first caudillo, but that was there from early on.

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  4. Does Marvel know about this use of The Hulk? Can you guess what character they ripped off to draw Bolivar? Guesses off!

    Now, seriously, were I chavista or even superstitious, I would find this more than a little ominous, in the sense that it forebodes something. A giant tomb being projected in this period, of all times, for Bolivar… :-0 Nah, I don’t think that even they are that mad. What they are not is self-conscious, that I give them.

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    • “Can you guess what character they ripped off to draw Bolivar?”

      My first thought was Captain America (which would be the height of irony), but it could have been just about any of the Marvel Comics super heroes.

      I think that to represent Venezuela better, they should have used this one as a model:

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  5. Anybody notice a resemblance between the defeated villain depicted and Alberto Federico Ravell? Intentional? Coincidence? I think not….

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    • Hulk is published by Marvel. Of course, M. Bison! One of the versions with blanked-out eyes, or alternatively M. Bison in some “rage” mode… I don’t know, I scarcely ever played the Street Fighter series.

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  6. Both topics of the posting just make me feel sick.

    The whole exaggerated cult of Bolivar is simply embarrassing. It’s absolutely over the top.

    But that “building”…es un bodrio tan horroroso que insulta profundamente mi vena profesional.
    If they wanted to make one bigger and showy that’s ok and consistent with the stupidity of the cult to Bolivar, but for Gawd’s sake, why tie this horrendous bodrio to the original pantheon, not even caring a little about the vicinity, the streetscape, the historical meaning of the existing building? Couldn’t they have done it somewhere else and keep the pantheon for the other independence heroes?

    the of course, the other questions to which I already know the answer: was there a public competition of ideas? Was there a qualified jury? Was there a tender process?

    Regarding the painting….sorry guys, brb. I’m going to puke.

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  7. I love the fact that the guy in the mural that supposedly represents “socialism” has more gold on him that the evil capitalist. It is a pretty accurate self-portrait of how the robolution sees itself.

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    • He’s got bling and a terminal ‘roid rage. Bolivar as a Jersey Shore style douche, who would have thought that… Rather, unreasoning worship has a way of thoroughly digesting and then excreting all the dignity and consistency that the object of worship might have had before… it began to be worshiped irrationally.

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  8. Question for lawyers: can anybody go to trial post-mortem?

    It’s occurring to me that they will want to put in here Chavez’ coffin after he passes, and the only way to take him out of there would be to find him guilty for so much damage to the nation.

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    • If this happens, the next government just has to expropriate Chavez coffin, clothes (it will be a military uniform with medals attached everywhere), gold sword, and leave his bones out in the open for dogs to find.

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      • No! Just take everything of historical value out of the building . And insist that every chavista “procer” be buried there. Then leave the thing JUST as well guarded and cared for as Venezuela was during chavismo’s rules (hehe!). The many thugs, thieves, vandals, and witch doctors that have proliferated under that same rule shall take care in no time, of ALL the contents of the building and probably of the building’s structure itself. It will be a fitting monument to chavismo and poetic justice, all in one nice package.

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    • You can sue the successors of someone in some private law matters (civil, commercial) under the time frame of the statute of limitations. But criminal liability ends with death.

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      • He should be buried (disposed of?) just like Bin Laden. Wrapped with a white sheet, in some undisclosed location in international waters. We DO NOT want pieces of the guy floating around or some burial site that people can visit, otherwise history will repeat itself and in 100 years Hugo will have replaced Simon as the cult object.

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        • But in 100 years, Hugo’s body can be exhumed and generations later will finally find out what kind of cancer he died of.

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  9. Hey come on guys we all know the key schedule driver to this project is having it ready for Chavez to be entombed, and no other driver exists. He knows he’s going to croak, probably had this in mind from the beginning when he planned to rule another 30 years but now the pressure is on. This is not about Bolivar. This is about Chavez.

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  10. And yet, I’m the only one who, seeing that picture, is able to recognize:
    a) the art being quite similar to the pics of one Omar Cruz, talented albeit very leftist artist, who used to draw for the dissapeared humor weekly magazine El Camaleon (what, you forgot his one-panel “El Ranchito”?), a dude who latched on the revolution since February 4th at 4 a.m in the morning, who has got several helpings from the regimen, and that has been pushing his pet superhero idea “El Patriota” for about two decades or so (alas, the closest he has got to that has been being the cartoonist on some government pamphlet, sorry, “newspaper”, and the incredibly sexist superheroine thing punningly titled “Victoria sin sostén”, who adorned the last page of El Camaleón for about six weeks back there in some moment between 1994-1996)
    b) that the Hulkesque green thing down the floor looks too much like the late ex-president Caldera.

    By the way, I happen to pass from time on time behind the new temple of the Bolivarian Admiration. Believe me, at 50 meters of you in the bus the abomination is even more fugly than the drawing shows.

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  11. And yet, I’m the only one who, seeing that picture, is able to recognize:
    a) the art being quite similar to the pics of one Omar Cruz, talented albeit very leftist artist, who used to draw for the dissapeared humor weekly magazine El Camaleon (what, you forgot his one-panel “El Ranchito”?), a dude who latched on the revolution since February 4th at 4 a.m in the morning, who has got several helpings from the regimen, and that has been pushing his pet superhero idea “El Patriota” for about two decades or so (alas, the closest he has got to that has been being the cartoonist on some government pamphlet, sorry, “newspaper”, and the incredibly sexist super-heroine thing punningly titled “Victoria sin sostén”, who adorned the last page of El Camaleón for about six weeks back there in some moment between 1994-1996)
    b) that the Hulkesque green thing down the floor looks too much like the late ex-president Caldera.

    By the way, I happen to pass from time on time behind the new temple of the Bolivarian Admiration. Believe me, at 50 meters of you in the bus the abomination is even more fugly than the drawing shows.

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  12. Lia,

    Yes, you are absolutely correct. Which is not to say that Omar Cruz didn’t “borrow” from Marvel, in terms of the style, but the clothing scheme and colors are identical except for the addition of the cape, and the lack of a mask. He may even have been the “artist” for the mural.

    And, yes, I would definitely say that the vanquished figure is a caricature of Caldera.

    Also, out of shear curiosity (partly puerile, I admit), I googled “Victoria sin Sostén”. Well, that search generated a LOT of hits having nothing to do with Venezuela including titillating photos of Victoria Beckham. However, even after search refinement, it appears that Victoria, with or without her bra, never made it into the internet or flies well under Google’s radar. If anyone has any links to images of the “El Ranchito” panels, I would appreciate it.

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