Rafael Rojas: The revolution as Hugo Chávez never told it | Culture

Fidel Castro and Salvador Allende in Havana, Cuba, in 1970.
Fidel Castro and Salvador Allende in Havana, Cuba, in 1970. Anonym (Getty Images)

Régis Debray went into exile in Chile after three years in a Bolivian prison and met with Salvador Allende. By 1971, Che Guevara had been dead for three years and Allende had been in power for four months. The French intellectual, one of the most visible theorists of the guerrilla focus after the Argentine revolutionary, had just been pardoned for participating in the failed guerrilla that Guevara wanted to raise in southern Bolivia when he visited the president. “With you, the Chilean people have chosen the path of revolution, but what is revolution?” Debray asked him, and he answered himself: “The revolution is the substitution of the power of one class for another. It is the destruction of the bourgeois state apparatus, and nothing of the sort has happened here ”. Allende defended himself. For him, another type of revolution was possible and that the overshooting of the capitalist system could come by reforming the Constitution. They were comrades, but Debray’s belligerent tone revealed the rift between the panacea of ​​the Cuban revolution and the electoral route that the Chilean president, assassinated in 1973, briefly inaugurated.

The historian Rafael Rojas (Santa Clara, 56 years old) remembers the interview as an example of the multiple perspectives on the concept of Revolution in 20th century Latin America. Few words had been as used as misunderstood in the region. Given this, in The tree of revolutions (Turner, 2021), the author of some twenty books on Latin American history traces paths that diverge between the nationalisms of the late nineteenth century, agrarianism, progressive militarism and guerrilla organizations in the time line of three essential revolutions: the Mexican, that of Fidel Castro in Cuba and the Sandinista in Nicaragua. “The expansion of the revolutionary ideal in Latin America has to do with the heterogeneity of the ideas and practices of the left,” says Rojas in an interview with EL PAÍS. “The richness of his legacy is in the diversity, and not in the persistent homogenization in which Allende and Guevara are put on the same level, when they had such different projects.”

Rojas poses revolutions as a paradox that challenges modern thought: if revolution accelerates change, it also accentuates aspects of the old regime. “To speak of a revolutionary tradition implies agreeing that it was not linear or homogeneous,” writes the historian, and takes the concept for a walk. If 19th century liberalism posed the Revolution as an ephemeral revolt to reform the State, the landing in the Sierra Maestra raised it as a modern political metaphor: it is already an “autonomous agent”, a “historical necessity”. “The concept of Revolution in Cuba has a degree of metaphorization that we have not seen in any other,” says Rojas. “The word revolution is synonymous with the State, the Government, the country itself. The official discourse is still understood as a revolution today, 63 years after the triumph ”.

The Cuban Revolution is still the symbolic storehouse of a tradition, but its method was not totemic. “The idea that the Cuban revolution exports the guerrilla model is increasingly questioned by the new historiography because we also saw many urban guerrillas very different from that of Guevara,” says Rojas, who also recalls that the transition to communism on the island took place. it went hand in hand with Allende’s election in Chile –and the inauguration of an electoral path towards a socialist project– and progressive militarism in Los Andes.

“The two great revolutions, the Cuban and the Mexican, have very different forces of radiation,” says the historian. The agrarian reform was an apex that shaped the two great revolutions that occurred between the fall of Nazism and the Cold War: Bolivia and Guatemala. For this reason, in one part, Rojas defines them as daughters of the Mexican Revolution, although the constitutions of both countries after the revolt opted for multi-partyism and elections. “They should be studied as part of the consolidation of a non-communist left in Latin America,” says Rojas, who recalls that while Jacobo Árbenz’s Guatemala expressly prohibited “caudillos”, Víctor Paz Estenssoro’s Bolivia ended up subduing almost a third of its budget to the economic aid of the United States.

After the end of almost two decades of hegemony of a certain socialism and before the rise of a radical right in the region, Rojas sees “an abuse of the value and symbols of the revolution” in which “the left took advantage of its symbolism without being really revolutionary and the right recapitalized the anti-communism of the Cold War without those left really being socialists or communists ”. The historian ironically acknowledges that he believed that the polysemy around the Revolution had been saturated in that speech, until the 2018 protests broke out in Nicaragua, and those of last July in Cuba.

“These protests have given it a twist and a reappropriation of revolutionary mythology,” he says. “I have been surprised to see groups of young people who return to a somewhat romantic idea of ​​the insurrections of the 1950s against the Batista dictatorship. The same in Nicaragua. There are many young people who identify Ortega with Somoza, and not a few young Cubans who observe more analogies between the government of Díaz-Canel and Batista than anything else ”.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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