There was laughter, music, poetry, passionate speeches and many shouts of affirmation in the annex to the Venezuelan Embassy last night, as Caribbean nationals gathered to commemorate the legacy of late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
Yesterday marked the fifth anniversary of the passing of the charismatic leader who spent much of his lifetime battling in the name of his people and those across the region, but fell to cancer.
The gathering of revolutionaries in the courtyard of the Venezuelan Language Institute created an atmosphere of left wing Caribbean and Latin American zeal that gripped the group strong enough to last well into the night, despite the frequent bursts of rain.
Veteran Caribbean civil rights fighter Bobby Clarke, who rubbed shoulders with the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro and represented Grenada’s late Maurice Bishop in legal matters, said that the deceased Venezuelan President, who ruled with transformation from 1999 to 2013, was a man from and of the people who took some of his greatness from Castro, and “copied a lot of the bearing of [late South African freedom figher and president Nelson] Mandela, with the understanding that you don’t struggle for yourself”.
Contrasting the selfless life of Chavez to many other leaders across the region, Clarke said, “We have a political system in the Caribbean that has a nothing to do with people. It has to do with, ‘when is my five years? The next five years is your five years.’”
He spoke of an unwritten agreement among leaders that says, ‘I will not talk about your thieving in your five years, and you don’t talk about my thieving in the next five years’.
Clarke went on to contend that such selfish leadership had led to the circumstances of today’s Barbados.
“If we can’t have a discussion going on with how we deal with sewage in Barbados, how do we move to where we understand the kind of shooting and the barbarity of 13 and 14-year-olds?”
President of the Friends of Venezuela Solidarity Committee David Denny said, “when you speak about President Chavez, you speak about a defender of the poor within the Americas; about a man that committed his life, developed ideas for the liberation, freedom and empowerment of the poor”.
He spoke of the PetroCaribe special oil supply concession arrangement that Chavez introduced for Caribbean countries along with a free eye care programme for the needy in Barbados and the wider Caribbean, and said, “President Chavez came at a time when the poor needed that kind of personality to revolutionize the Americas”.
Cuban Ambassador to Barbados Francisco Pena twinned the revolutionary work of Chavez in easing conditions of the poor and integrating the Caribbean with that of Fidel Castro, a mentor to the Venezuelan leader.
“Our commitment has to be to follow his legacy,” Pena said.
Addressing the current distressing situation in Venezuela, the blame for which is placed on outside interference, the ambassador said, “unfortunately we have certain governments in our region that don’t understand why we are fighting for Venezuela and with Venezuela today”.
He warned, “it is not only about Venezuela. Today is Venezuela . . . and today is Cuba, but it is about all of the region, our independence.
“Our independence is not complete if we don’t believe in the revolutionary ideas of transforming our societies. So, we have a lot of work to do in our region.”
Dramatist Winston Farrell ignited an anti-colonial sentiment by reading Kamau Brathwaite’s poem Negus.
Spoken word artist Adrian Green added to the night’s revolutionary atmosphere with another piece of his writings. One extract said: “We better be careful children, cause it’s like the want make we slaves again . . . they got people in this world bent on total domination and the don’t care if you starve or eat as long as they got you on the ground at the bottom of their feet . . .”
Barbados Cultural Ambassador Gabby hailed Chavez for his sincerity, explaining that Chavez had once called him to apologize for being unable to meet him during a tour of Venezuela which took place amidst an election campaign in another part of the country.
“We must not let anyone tell us who our leaders are and who are the leaders that are great for us, because they will deliberately mislead us,” Gabby said in affirming that Chavez was a true leader.
“We are about supporting those who put their lives on the line for us,” he added.
Divisional General and the Embassy’s Defence Attaché Cesar Martinez recalled that Chavez grew up in the slums and had no shoes for school. However, he said he was able to successfully turn around his fortunes and give hope to the poor in Venezuela.
“The question we ask ourselves today, has Chavez been understood. I think not yet. There is still much to explore and change,” Martinez said.