Indoctrination and slow engravement in the memory of the people through propaganda, where no other past is remembered or imagined, was the goal of the Bolivarian Revolution. In the evening of December 6, 1998, the electoral ballot was released where Hugo Chávez won with a 56.20% of the vote. Following political turmoil from the national political disaster of the Caracazo protests, Venezuela voted for a movement which called for extreme changes in the systems of the nation. Through this, Bolivarianism was born.
The Bolivarian Revolution represents a new system of government, backing away from the United States and its Western thought, based off of Simon Bolívar’s vision of a unified South America led by a “strong but compassionate caudillo.” Once Chávez was sworn in as President, he promised “a radical redefinition of the relationship of the media system of mass communication with the sphere of political power and beyond, with the State itself as controller and regulating agent of society.” Does this mimic any Orwellian figure? How would the redefinition of the media affect the later perceptions of society and their cultural memories?
By using the term “participatory democracy,” Chávez called forth for complete mastery and control of the media in order to win successive elections and turn the administration into a legitimate revolution, exploiting his charismatic legitimacy in order to justify his propaganda program and power his voter base; this was further expanded by promoting his populist message through government-based programs and legislation, loyal bishops in the Catholic Church who originally supported his doctrine, modifying laws to require citizens to report any disloyalties from other citizens, and even closing Radio Caracas Television (RCTV)—the oldest and most viewed TV station in the nation.
According to Tomas Straka from the Universidad Andrés Bello, the cult of personality of Chávez started not soon after the failed coup d’état he lead in 1992—part of the aftermath of the public disobedience case of 1989 of the Caracazo. This directly connects with the wants of Hugo Chávez and the slow engravement of his figure into Venezuelan minds: Venezuelans did not see any other solution to their fundamental problems and viewed Chávez as a savior, the redeemer of those who had no more hope. Social programs, a failed coup d’état against Chávez in 2002, international condemnation, only further increased the sympathy the people had for Chávez, all as propaganda, posters, murals, and the voice of the TV and radio lured over their heads—there was only one savior, as if he were a God looking over.
Following the death of Chávez, reactions were quiet similar to those of Kim Jong Il in North Korea. His cult of personality was so well engraved and staged that it lead to a creation of a mythical figure through religious sentiments towards him. The populist Bolivarian government created a cult where Chávez’s figure was not only used for strategic and political gain, but where it gave a feigned legitimacy to the government almost comparable to a religious legitimacy.
Slow steps from the beginning of his regime lead to widespread outcry and denunciation, yet in the long-term, Chávez was achieving what he wanted to: to territorialize his propaganda and memory in the country, engraving it into the minds of people, where nothing else is imagined or remembered. It is impossible to remember or think about anything else because his eyes are always watching you.