With no fear of attack

Thanks to Talk Politics, I’ve recently read – or at least glanced at – some remarks made by Hugo Chavez, Constitutional President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, on Christmas Eve 2005. Here’s the passage which has excited most comment (my translation).

I became a rebel and I dedicated myself to the true Christ – and this is the true Christ, I have no doubt about it. He is not that idiotic image with a stupid face that you can see in some churches, as if he were an idiot. No, Christ was and is one of the greatest revolutionaries in history and the first socialist of our era – the first socialist, and for that they crucified him.

There is enough water in the world for all of us to have water; there are enough lands, enough natural riches in the world to produce food for the whole population of the world; there is enough stone in the world and enough building materials to ensure that nobody is without a home. The world has enough for everyone, but now a few minorities, the descendants of the people who crucified Jesus, the descendants of the people who threw Bolivar out of here and crucified him in his turn, in Santa Marta over in Colombia… a minority has taken charge of the riches of the world, a minority has taken charge of the world’s gold, silver, minerals, water, good land, oil, all its wealth, and it has concentrated that wealth in a few hands. Less than ten per cent of the world’s population has charge of more than half of the wealth of the whole world. More than half of the world’s people are poor and every day there are more poor people in the world. We, here, are resolved to change history, and every day we are joined and will be joined by more heads of state, presidents and leaders. Look at how the Bolivian people… Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, one of the poorest countries in the world, that republic founded by Bolivar and Sucre, which took the name of our own Bolivar – Bolivia is very rich: minerals, gold, silver, tin, oil and gas, fertile land, great mountains. It’s certainly one of the poorest countries on earth, Bolivia, but the poor are waking up and they’ve just elected an Indian as President of Bolivia, for the first time in history. A true Indian – I’m half Indian, but Evo Morales is an Indian and a half.

I don’t think this is as much of an open-and-shut case as Talk Politics suggests; it may not make much historical sense to blame the Jews for crucifying Jesus, but there are certainly those who do. (Russell Hoban riffs on this in Pilgermann, where his narrator visits an alternative reality in which, in 29 CE, a Roman prophet is executed in one province of a Jewish empire. The Jews still get the blame.) That said, Norm has this flat wrong. This isn’t “the socialism of fools” – just socialism.

(But oh, how convenient it would be for some people if Chavez could be labelled as an anti-semite – not only would it divert attention from the substance of his comments, it would delegitimate him for ever after. We may not have heard the last of this.)

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8 Comments

  1. Unity
    Posted 1 January 2006 at 01:44 | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks for the much better translation.

    I’ll return to this in a day or so but your translation has certainly strengthened my view that Chavez did not make an anti-semitic comment.

    Taken out of context his reference to the ‘the descendents of the people who crucified Jesus’ could be misinterpreted that way, but taken as a whole the passage clearly shows Chavez using the language of Liberation Theology to cast himself and Morales in the role of political heirs to Bolivar, Guavara et al.

    The historical argument I used is, in hindsight, a tad weak (it was late when I wrote that). The better argument against interpreting his comment as anti-Semitic is that such a view relies on entirely the wrong set of cultural reference points and places his comments into an entirely incorrect context.

    You’re right to highlight the ‘risk’ here – it would be all too convenient to smear Chavez with a charge of anti-Semitism and negate entirely and positives that may, and are, coming out of South America at the present time.

  2. Martin Wisse
    Posted 2 January 2006 at 14:07 | Permalink | Reply

    What your translation makes clear is that Chavez was not talking about, you know, any actual descedants of those who crucified Jesus, but rather their spiritual descendants.

  3. Phil
    Posted 2 January 2006 at 20:47 | Permalink | Reply

    Martin – exactly. I’m not sure if this is a Catholic trope, a Latin American trope or neither, but there’s a very similar construction in a song by Victor Jara:

    Again, they want to stain my land with the workers’ blood
    Those who talk of liberty but have stained hands

    Those who want to divide the mother from her children
    And rebuild the cross where Christ hung

    They want to conceal the infamy attached to them for centuries
    But they’ll never change their faces, the faces of murderers

    …and so on. There’s a strong association (as in Chavez’s lines) between ‘rich’, ‘imperialist’, ‘ruling minority’ and ‘enemy of Christianity’ – which, if you think of Chavez and Jara as South American Christian socialists, isn’t entirely surprising.

  4. Martin Wisse
    Posted 3 January 2006 at 08:57 | Permalink | Reply

    I grew up in a Protestant Christian tradition which uses that kind of language as well, using terms like Pharisee to call out the kind of people Jesus would’ve recognised as Pharisees, so the meaning was clear to me from the start.

  5. Justin
    Posted 4 January 2006 at 22:10 | Permalink | Reply

    Here you go, Phil – the Simon Wiesenthal Center get the ball rolling

  6. Phil
    Posted 4 January 2006 at 22:16 | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks for that, Just. Bloody hell.

    “The influential Simon Wiesenthal Center promotes tolerance”

    Indeed.

  7. Neil Harding
    Posted 10 January 2006 at 08:21 | Permalink | Reply

    It’s pretty clear some people will find anti-semitism anywhere, especially if it helps smear people they don’t like.

    We all know it was the Romans who crucified Jesus. I learned that at school when I was about 10.

    Only Europeans could make up around 10% of the world’s population. Even an over the top estimation of the number of Jews would make them only around 1% of the world population.

    Lets talk about what the real message is rather than the smokescreen.

    There is enough resources for everyone and Jesus’s message was communism. Chavez is a God.

  8. Anonymous
    Posted 10 January 2006 at 11:46 | Permalink | Reply

    Not the sort of comment one could wisely make in a US/UK context. This usage seems a little naive as it is clearly giving a hostage to fortune. Not anti-semitic at all in fact though.

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