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Monday, July 8, 2013

George Ciccariello-Maher says 'We Created Chavez'

In his book We Created Chávez: A People's History of the Venezuelan Revolution, George Ciccariello-Maher seeks to clarify a few things about the former President's rise to power and the many political battles that led to his control of the country. To do so, he spent years researching the political history of Venezuela and interviewing many of the leftist militant groups, guerilla fighters and grassroots activists that, for decades, have been instrumental in developing a political system for the Venezuelan people. Ciccariello-Maher goes to great lengths to show how Chávez is less of the creator that many people have made him out to be and more the created.

George Ciccariello-Maher discussed his new book with CL via email as he prepared for his upcoming reading in Atlanta.

You've conducted many interviews and have amassed a large amount of historical information that adds a significant amount of context for Chávez's rise. How long have you been doing research for this book?

GCM: I first conceived the book while living in Venezuela in 2007, so it has been in the works for quite some time. However, the bulk of the interviews were conducted between 2008 and 2009, although I returned more recently to cover the October 2012 elections. When I go, my emphasis is always the same: to focus on the revolutionary grassroots perspective and movements.

Chávez died in March this year. Did you want to wait until he passed away to release the book or was the timing a coincidence?

GCM: The timing was a sad coincidence, although we sped up the release because we felt it was important that this view be present in the debates that followed Chávez's death. Unfortunately but predictably, most of the coverage focused on Chávez the individual, presenting the Bolivarian Revolution as a sort of one-man-show, when nothing could be further from the truth. This is a process that has been going on for decades, and is far from over.

You seem to be setting the record straight about Chávez's rise to power and his impact on Venezuela, "a defetishization, a demystification" as you call it. Why do you think there has been such fetishization and mystification around Chávez's reign?

GCM: I think this is something that we see generally: a focus not only on individuals but also on the state as the center of power. This is even more pronounced and caricatured in mainstream representations of Venezuela, because we have a tendency to view Latin Americans as irrational subjects of charismatic dictators. The antidote both generally and specifically is to defetishize the state and the role of individual leaders, to show the forces operating from below that make both more complex, and to show that in some senses that is where power truly lay.

Why do you think there has been less emphasis on "the people's history of the Venezuelan Revolution" up to now?

GCM: A lack of information and access to that history is certainly part of the story, but even those who supported Chávez abroad often simplified the history to his exceptional role as an individual. Both his opponents and supporters therefore made the same mistake. But the reality is that there are hundreds of thousands and even millions of revolutionaries today in Venezuela who are doing their best to chart a new and better future.

George Ciccariello-Maher will be reading from We Created Chávez on Tuesday, July 9 at the Carter Library. 7:00 p.m. Free.

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