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On Sunday Venezuelans will vote in a referendum that could make Hugo Chávez president for life. Tension is high, there are demonstrations, impassioned speeches for and against and even riots with people getting killed. Chávez himself is doing all he can to raise the tension by seemingly picking a new fight with someone every day. There is a significant detail here. Watching it all on the television news with the sound off, you can usually guess who is pro or anti-Chávez just by the color of their skin.
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, only a fifth of Venezuela’s population is of white European descent. This makes it very difficult to trust media reports of the situation. White faces read the news on TV. Most Latin American commentators whose views reach us are members of the white. middle class, as are those that own and run the poll taking organizations. And not just in Venezuela, even in Castro’s socialist, afro-Cuban, Cuba, the leadership cadres are overwhelmingly white. Chávez’s support comes from what a Los Angeles Times editorial calls his, “brilliant instinct for rallying the country's disaffected poor.”
In 1952 an African-American author, Ralph Ellison published a ground breaking novel, “The Invisible Man”, whose title many critics feel defined the experience of people of African descent in the Americas: that of being invisible and voiceless. In the years that followed, the people of color in the United States raised their voices and became visible, to the great and continuing discomfort of many whites. The white people of the US south who once voted solidly Democratic have punished that party’s leadership of the civil rights movement by voting solidly Republican ever since… the key to the victories of Nixon, Reagan and Bush. The “Conservative Revolution”, that only favors the rich, is based on the resentment of poor whites.
North America and Latin America are very different, but perhaps the oppression of people of color is the experience that they most share in common. In North America, white people are a majority, but in most of Latin America the opposite is true. Now it appears that the people of color of Latin America: African, indigenous and mixed race are also finding their voices. Chávez is riding that wave. The more resistance he encounters the harder he’ll ride it
Every fight Chávez picks, every shouting match he gets into is meant to cement the empathy that people of color feel in seeing any person of color confronting a white man. This explains many things. For example: nothing in the third world of European ex-colonies could symbolize “whiteness” more than a member of European royalty. If that empathy translates into votes it will give him victory, its absence will sink him. DS