Translation of Chávez’s Inauguration Speech

The translation is based on this source text:


Federal Legislative Palace

February 2, 1999

“Fortunate is the citizen, who, under the emblem of his command, has convoked this assembly of the national sovereignty so that it may exercise its absolute will!”[1][2] In one thousand cities, on one thousand roads, during thousands of days touring the country during these last almost five years, I’ve repeated before countless Venezuelans that phrase first uttered by our Infinite Father, the Libertador. That was before another Congress, the Congress of the Great Republic, the Congress of Angostura of 1819, the Congress from which the Third Great Republic was born, the Republic of Moral Power, the Republic of Gran Colombia, of Latin American and Caribbean unity.[3][4][5][6] I’ve repeated that phrase many times, and in the last few months of 1998 during my unusual electoral campaign—because it was truly unusual—I said so, inspired by the certainty of Walt Whitman’s “sure as the most certain sure.”[7] So we traveled down this path, sure that this day would come.

I said with that certainty that this day, February 2, 1999, would come about in this way, and I told the Venezuelan people in many ways and in many places that I was going to begin my speech today assuming the Presidency of Venezuela at the will of the Venezuelan people and by the grace of God, that I was going to begin with that phrase. And I have begun this speech with that phrase. Allow me to repeat it for you now. “Fortunate is the citizen, who, under the emblem of his command, has convoked this assembly of the national sovereignty so that it may exercise its absolute will!”

Now, why that phrase? Where does that phrase come from? Why Simón Bolívar? This isn’t about merely following protocol, quoting Bolívar to quote Bolívar. I remember a soldier from my tank squad some years ago had to give company orders each day, and he had to begin the written orders with a thought from the Libertador to be read aloud in the yard. He had a book of quotes and could choose whatever one he wanted, and one day, the book got lost, so when we were about to get into formation to rigorously read the order, the corporal invented one: Care for the trees, as trees are life. – Simón Bolívar. That’s not what this is about, quoting Bolívar for the sake of appearances here at the Congress of the Republic and before the country and the world. Rather, it’s about acknowledging Pablo Neruda, that great man among us, of our great men, who said, in praise of Bolívar, “He awakens every hundred years, when the people wake.”[8] It’s about acknowledging another great among us, Miguel Ángel Asturias, who praised Bolívar, saying, “Men like your Libertador don’t die Captain, but instead close their eyes and continue their vigil.”[9] Just as Alberto Fujimori acknowledged the Indian, Choquehuanca, who praised Bolívar, telling him, “Your glory will grow with time just like shadows grow as the sun sets.”[10] Or as Fidel Castro, the President of Cuba, acknowledged José Martí, who said, “Now is when so much remains for Bolívar to do in America because what he left undone remains to be done.”[11]

It’s not then mere rhetoric our bolivarianity. It’s imperative that all Venezuelans, and that all Latin Americans and Caribbeans fundamentally, search the past, search the keys or the roots of our existence for one way or another to escape this labyrinth, this terrible labyrinth, in which we find ourselves. It’s trying to arm ourselves with the Janus-like vision necessary today, a vision like the mythological god Janus, who looked back on the past with one face and toward the future with another. So must Venezuelans of today, we must look back on the past to try to unravel the mysteries of the future, to find a way to resolve this grand Venezuelan drama of today. And looking back on the past on this crucial day for the Republic, for the nation, for Venezuelan history, on this day, that is not just another day, in this presidential broadcast, that is not just another presidential broadcast. No, this is the first presidential broadcast of a new era, a door opening to a new national existence. It has to be so, it must be so.

In Venezuela, when examining our recent history, not to mention the more distant past, we could easily carry out a case study, taking our experiences here, continental brothers, brothers of the entire world. An example of what should never happen again, Venezuela seems to have been chosen by some special researcher for the study and application of a subject from political and social theory, called catastrophe theory. Venezuela is the perfect example of catastrophe theory. It’s a theory we know. I’ll just refresh our memories a bit from those days studying political and military science, which in the end are the same thing according to Clausewitz, among the great scholars of military science. Catastrophe theory occurs successively, when a small disturbance takes place in an environment, in a determined system, and the capacity for regulating that small disturbance, which could be regulated through some small action, doesn’t exist. But when the capacity or will for regulating a small disturbance doesn’t exist, later another small disturbance takes place, which is also left unregulated, and these small disturbances accumulate, one on top of another, and the system and the environment continue losing the capacity to regulate them until a catastrophe occurs. The catastrophe is the sum of a group of crises or disturbances.

I was born in Venezuela in 1954, and ex-president Rafael Caldera was the President of the Republic when I joined the Military Academy of Venezuela in 1971. Four years later, ex-president Carlos Andrés Pérez was the President of Venezuela, and from his hands I received, with these same hands, the saber of command of Army Second Lieutenant on July 5, 1975.[12] Something had already begun to smell bad in Venezuela; the ethical crisis began. Let’s acknowledge it; I believe it’s time to acknowledge our faults. We all have them, myself included. Who will throw the first stone? I appeal to you all, and this is my first appeal as President of Venezuela, that we acknowledge our faults as we would in Church, Monsignor, “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” But the most important thing, as I learned when I was an altar boy, and as I was reminded in Military Academy by the Governor of Zulia, Francisco Arias, when he punished me by reading me long texts from the History of Religion, the important thing is not to beat one’s chest, but to beat one’s chest and go forth with one’s spirit, soul and energy renewed, that’s what’s important. I appeal to all Venezuelans to carry out this individual and collective rite.

That moral crisis of the seventies was our greatest crisis, the most profound crisis we still face, the most terrible cancer still present in the entire body of the Republic, the root of all crises and of the entire great catastrophe. As long as we fail to treat this sickness, we’ll continue sinking into catastrophe, even though petroleum has again reached forty dollars a barrel. We don’t want it to reach forty dollars a barrel, but even if it did and even if petro-dollars and money rained down upon us, these too would provide only momentary relief, and we’d continue sinking further, into an ethical and moral bog.

The capacity to resolve that crisis didn’t exist, not the slightest capacity nor the slightest will to resolve it, and it kept galloping along like a small cancer that isn’t removed in time, and so came the eighties and the second great crisis occurred, after a series of small disturbances, Viernes negro took place.[13] Now, it ate away at institutions, it ate away at the economic model, and the crisis became economic in nature, and we began to hear talk in Venezuela of devaluation, of inflation, terms that had remained in the realm of economic studies for many years. But this crisis was also left unregulated, both the moral and the economic, and the sum of these two crises generated a third, horrific because it’s visible, because the others, the moral and the economic crises are like volcanoes that mature underneath until they explode, and bursting become visible, devastating peoples, lives and cities.

Already a decade ago here, within a few days we’ll painfully remember that explosion of February 27, 1989, horrifying day, horrifying week, massacre, hunger and misery, and even then despite the fact that neither the capacity nor will to take the necessary minimal actions toward regulation existed, as could’ve been done, the moral crisis, the economic crisis and the now galloping and terrible social crisis.[14] And the sum of those crises generated another which was inevitable, gentlemen of the world, gentlemen of the continent, the Venezuelan military rebellion of 1992 was as inevitable as an erupting volcano. A rebellion of this kind isn’t mandated, and I’ll take advantage of this moment to give my undying recognition to the military and civilian youth of the rebellions of 1992. February 4 and November 27 of that year will remain in history.[15] Some of them are here with the Governor of Zulia, here I see your face, well-known for many years, Congressman Joel Acosta Chirinos, Jesús Urdaneta Hernández, Hernán Grüber Odremán, of those young military men are watching, Lieutenant Alejandro Andrade, Captain Pedro Carreño, Lieutenant Isea. Young men, among those that had to take a stand, someone had to, others are buried. They don’t have the luck we do in being here today. And others are in the Armed Forces and have born a cross for years.

Gentlemen of the world, gentlemen of the continent, we Venezuelan military rebels of ’92 carried out a rebellion that was without a doubt legitimated by popular support—not so today because I’m now the President of Venezuela, but the day after the rebellion. Of the popular support that brought me here today, a greater percentage supported that military rebellion. That’s the truth. We don’t want to have any more rebellions; I’ve already said so to my brothers in arms. I went to my alma mater and said so there, that I hope it never happens again. I hope we never again have a February 27, and I hope that the people are never again dispossessed of their rights, because if that continues to happen, none can guarantee that another day—tomorrow or past—another unwanted incident won’t occur, like the incidents of 1989 and of 1992.

I was brought here by a tide originating from those facts. I beg you all, supporters of our proposal or our project, adversaries to our proposal, I call upon you all that as each among us plays his part, we think first and foremost of our country’s best interest and the collective’s best interest, and lastly of our own factions, our own parties, our own groups, our own families or our own personal interests. That final one will be the last priority. I call upon you all to make this the standard for our work from this point forward, so that we can polemicize and regulate those disturbances, because as you all know, the moral crisis is there, and the economic crisis is here. Out on the streets, we’ll see and feel it striking our faces and our souls. The social crisis is there, pounding threateningly. Added to all of this is the political crisis which, of course, is here, this crisis is being played out here. This chamber is a box in which the political crisis has been locked away. We’ll open it.

We must find a way to regulate these crises, because that’s how we come to the present, to today, and the worst thing is that behind us in this chamber, that sign of unity, of reunification: 1992. How many beat their chests! How many declarations of rectification! How many oaths and commitments! And nothing. The ship kept on sinking, gentlemen. I’m going to repeat some words that aren’t mine, just like none I’ve said are mine. I instead believe that I’ve picked up a little bit of everything along life’s paths. Words that were spoken here on this same Venezuelan land by another military man like myself, but of course one who was extremely and immensely more glorious. I have no glory, what I have is the desire to be useful. That immense, infinite Venezuelan, Generalissimo Don Francisco de Miranda, when Colonel Simón Bolívar lost the Puerto Cabello Castle, the Puerto Cabello Plaza, which was the last stronghold of the First Republic, when Generalissimo Francisco de Miranda was given notice that Colonel Simón Bolívar had lost the Puerto Cabello Plaza, and along with it the park reserve, Francisco de Miranda, so history tells us, said the following in French. As I don’t speak French I’m going to say it in Spanish, as Spanish is appropriate. Maybe the generalissimo didn’t want those around him to understand him, chances are he didn’t want to demoralize them, I would think, and he said in French, “Venezuela is wounded in the heart.”[16]

Today, after a century and a half I take up these words once again: our homeland is wounded in the heart. We are in a kind of human grave. Hungry children everywhere. Macroeconomic indices, yes, I have some here. I won’t read them. We all know them. We all learned them from books, during our studies, and yet, they feel so cold to me. I prefer to go out on the streets, to see, to feel, to cry as one cries when he sees children cleaning cemeteries. Because that’s how they make their living, as I saw in Barinas on January 2 when I went to the cemetery to put a wreath on my grandmother Rosa Inés’s grave, and some children came up to me and said, “Chávez, there’s no graves to clean, we’re hungry.” These are the children of Venezuela; they’re our children as well. I have five, sitting there, but every child that I meet on my journey—even the children of my greatest adversaries—I consider to be my child as well because they’re innocent of the passions that drive the rest of us.

Today, that’s the way it is in Venezuela, we have a situation, Dr. Ramón J. Velásquez—you know much more about history than I do. One would have to review what Venezuela was like after the War for Independence during those years when Simón Bolívar realized that his uncle, Esteban Palacios, had returned from Europe, and he wrote him that famous, beautiful, painful letter, “Uncle Esteban, you in Caracas again, Caracas does not exist.”[17] I’m not sure, when comparing that time period to this one, in which of the two there was more misery, more hunger, more need, eighty percent poverty, such a shame, gentlemen of the world. And saying this—over in distant Europe where there’s a lot of snow—some don’t believe when one talks about these truths. It’s difficult for them to believe that the sum of all factors, all positive, would yield negative results. So much wealth! You’ll ask yourselves, the largest petroleum reserves in the Americas, the fifth largest reserve of gas in the world, gold, an immense Caribbean Sea, rich and beautiful, that unites us with our many brothers of that mare nostrum, immense, mighty rivers. People have had to make rivers under the desert; they’ve had to build rivers under the sand to carry water to their cities. We’re one of countries with the greatest reserves of fresh water in the entire world, millions of hectares of fertile land, an immense territory favorable to tourism, a young, happy, sociable, Caribbean people, and there I’ll stop counting, and the outcome of all this is eighty percent poverty!? Who can explain that? What scientist could explain that? Galileo Galilei said that God wrote the world with an alphabet that was math. We should call upon him and his advisers to see if they can figure out the mysterious mathematics that we have going on here in Venezuela.

Some time ago, Dr. Arturo Ulsar Pietri said that fifteen Marshall Plans disappeared here in Venezuela, with which fifteen Europe’s could have been rebuilt, including all of the bombings and all of the invasions, deaths and atomic bombs. President of Bolivia, Hugo Banzer, fifteen Marshall Plans disappeared here. Where are they? If anyone knows, tell me. Anyone who has any information on where they are, just let me know. That’s our reality, gentlemen, and although there’s an old, often-cited proverb that says, “Christ died for the truth,” said often by our people, I’m one to believe that if Christ died for the truth, and if another has to die for the truth, well, here I am at your service. But we can’t keep lying to ourselves, we can’t keep deceiving our children and our young people, telling them about realities that don’t exist. One of my primary roles, my dear friends, and here I assume it, is to speak the truths in which I believe, because the truth, the real truth, as we Catholics know, belongs to God. But the truths of which one is convinced, I’m going to speak them, in many ways.

I was remembering just now the “Delirium on Chimborazo,” when Bolívar met with Time, with Eternity, and I’ll never forget one of the things that Eternity said to Bolivar there on the Chimborazo, President of Ecuador, Jamil Mahuad. Bolívar was delirious, and he climbed up and touched Eternity, and Eternity said to him, “You, small mortal, what do you believe? Go and tell men the truth.”[18] That’s the truth, Venezuela is wounded in her heart. We’re at the edge of a tomb, but as the people can’t die because they’re the expression of God, because they’re the voice of God, it turns out my dear countrymen that happily, on top of and beyond this entire immense catastrophe, today in Venezuela we’re witnessing, we’re feeling, we’re living a true resurrection. Yes, in Venezuela, we are breathing the winds of resurrection. We’re climbing out of the grave, and I call upon us all to unite the best parts of our subjective wills because now is the time to climb out of the grave. It’s also time to repeat that phrase, “if we hesitate we are lost.”[19] I call upon all without exception, upon all, together we’re going to climb out of this grave. We’ll argue, but we’re also going to act more quickly so we can climb out of it.

We have a project that’s not new, or original, or even ours. From back in those days in the Yare prison, in the school that was Yare, we began then to try and define some kind of an outline for a project, but not a plan for government, for goodness’ sake, no![20] It’s enough to be stumbling along, to be zigzagging, to be marching and counter-marching like a ship without a compass, without a helmsman, without a captain, where the crew doesn’t know what else to do but survive. Before this tremendous reality we have here, we’ve proposed a project to Venezuelans, one we’ve given a number of names over the course of the years, but by 1995 we were already calling it the “Bolivarian Alternative Agenda,” and we laid out an outline on it for discussion.[21] Later, in the midst of our unusual electoral campaign, we introduced it to the world as a project for transition. But at its heart, it’s the same old Bolivarian dream: a project for comprehensive development in Venezuela.

Starting today we’ll begin to apply the measures that, as the National Executive Power, correspond to our posts. But clearly, that won’t be enough. That won’t be sufficient. It will be necessary—I insist—for each person here to assume his responsibilities, especially those of us whose responsibility it is to run public, private, religious, economic, social and educational institutions, among others. We’ll define the course, leaving our children and our grandchildren with a country that we don’t have today. I’ll never forget the verse by Pedro Mir, that great Dominican poet, “If someone wants to know which is his country, don’t look for her, he’ll have to work and fight for her.”[22] I call upon all Venezuelans to fight so that we have a homeland, so that we have a true Venezuela, a true democracy.

As for politics, our proposal and from this day forward our actions will be oriented toward a transformational transition, because that’s also prudent to say so, gentlemen. We must give direction to a movement that runs through all of Venezuela. That resurrection I was talking about has a strong moral and social charge, a people that has recovered through its own actions, through its own pain, through its own love. They’ve recovered a self-awareness, and there they are, clamoring from the outskirts of the Capital, where they want us to go. That can’t be called by any other name than a revolution. As the twentieth century ends and the twenty-first century begins, here in Venezuela a true revolution has been unleashed, gentlemen, and I’m certain that we’ll give that revolution a peaceful course, that we’ll give that revolution now running unbridled through all of Venezuela a democratic course.

I have great faith we’ll be able to direct that revolution, just as waters and rivers can be redirected to flow to the sea in an ordered way, bringing life to their shores and to the people, but that denied assumption, I say denied, and let’s hope, my God, that it is denied. In the denied assumption that the leaders of today, that we can’t give direction to that unleashed force, just as the flooding rivers, like the Arauca in the winter or as rivers flood anywhere, devastating crops and taking men’s lives instead of giving them life. That people needs direction, and we can’t disappoint them again. We can’t deform the process. We’ll assume with courage and bravery the task of giving direction to the Venezuelan revolution of our time, or the revolution will pass us over. We have two alternatives, there are two options we have: we either give direction to that cause or that cause will run us over.

I’m sure that the resurrected people out there will look for their own paths. Today, they recuperated credibility in an offer, in a proposal, in a path, and if they lost that strength tomorrow, just like water, they’re going to look for a way out. So I implore you for your will, for the good will of all so that together we can give direction to that necessary revolution, which is socially necessary, economically necessary, and politically and ethically necessary. We ourselves must revolutionize, including those of us here. The hour to hear Bolívar once again has arrived, and now is when Venezuelans will hear me talk about Bolivar, because he’s the beacon. On July 4, 1811, there were also debates here in Caracas—how history repeats itself, Mr. President of Argentina, Carlos Menem—between the revolutionaries of the Patriotic Society who clamored for independence and the indolent conservatives who recognized the rights of Fernando VII.[23] And Bolívar, among the leaders of the Patriotic Society, gave that memorable speech: “They ask for calm? As if 300 years of calm is not enough? As if we should wait to see what decision Spain makes, what does it matter to us whether Spain sells her slaves to Bonaparte or retains them, if we are determined to be free?”[24] Today we have the same dilemma. We’re in the middle of the same dilemma.

We of course, and I, without a doubt, am with the Bolivarians. If we hesitate we are lost. We cannot hesitate. For my part, you can all be certain that I, as I am sure many Venezuelans, but I speak on my own behalf right now as the President of Venezuela. I will not hesitate for an instant to do what needs to be done; there’s no going backward. Consensus yes, I want to have it, but not a consensus that moves us backward, because, now that I think about it, Bolívar said in that same speech, “The question is not whether or not there are two congresses. We want union. We can’t be divided, but Congress must hear the Patriotic Society.”[25] And then Bolívar went on to say, “Uniting to avoid exertion, uniting to become onlookers to the unfolding of events, before this was a disgrace, today it is treason.”[26] Today gentlemen, uniting with those who want to keep things as they are; seeking consensus with those who oppose necessary changes; today I, like Bolívar, say it’s treason! And if there’s anyone who should see this clearly, it’s the one who’s here speaking to you all, because I’m not here on my own behalf. I’m here because of a commitment. I’m not the cause, I’m the consequence. So, God forgive me, I’ve always said I prefer death to treason; and so I’ll declare it before the world and so I’ll declare it before Venezuela: there’s no going backward in this political revolution, which we must drive forward and for which the people are clamoring in the streets in all of this land of Bolívar.

Therefore, within that political proposal that is, as you all know, the central idea of that project politically speaking, there’s also a strong impact on the economy, on society, on morality, on the law and on everything. I’ve been very pleased with the changes in position, and at times it’s difficult to understand, but that’s fine, we’ll move on. I sometimes have trouble understanding, but I’m not going to try to find an explanation either for how less than a month ago people were referring to the Constitutional Assembly as chaos, as the malevolent work of a Satan re-born in Barinas and walking about Venezuela smelling of sulfur, a preconceived plan of that tyrant Chavez to establish a dictatorship in Venezuela and end democracy. And now today with happiness I see they’re saying, “Here’s to the Constitutional Assembly,” and some here in Congress have said, “I’m all for the Constitutional Assembly.” Get behind it! We’re all going to get behind it. Now of course, when people get behind an idea, I’ve learned from obligation and necessity, when people get behind an idea, they should have a good parachute. They won’t step forward into the void without one. We’ll get behind this idea together then, as that’s what’s wanted.

Now, it’s only prudent to note that this process has its own rhythm, its own march. We can’t stop it, much less divert its course so it turns upon itself and sinks back once more. We won’t let that happen, and as much as I am able, I won’t let that happen. And I’m sure that the more than at least twelve million Venezuelans aren’t going to let that happen. That being said, my suggestion for everyone, for all of you and for the various political parties and tendencies, is that we follow the process, that we nourish it, giving it the strength to create, but always hearing what’s out there. We won’t commit that flagrant error of hearing only ourselves. Now is the hour to hear the voice of the nation, to hear that ringing that runs throughout the country, to rope it with a lasso and make it reality.

From within this political proposal, I should now recognize, as the President of the Republic, the Supreme Court of Justice, because we also have to remember this, gentlemen, with that triumph of the people that occurred December 6, opinions began shifting among those who had once said that the Constitutional Assembly was a jump into the void, that it was ridiculous. Then they started saying other things—I knew what they were up to.[27] It’s no longer a jump into the void, and it’s no longer ridiculous; but now to have a Constitutional Assembly, we must first reform the Constitution. In due time, we’ll show this to be a “constitutional trap,” the same thing Adolph Hitler did with the Weimar Republic in order to halt political process. Entrapment through a self-interested, inflexible and rigid interpretation of a Constitution, which is certainly, as I said when I was sworn in, moribund and which is going to die so that another can be born. It must die, and along with it the detestable political model to which it gave birth during the last forty years. It has to die, and it’s going to die, gentlemen. Accept it. And it must die, but clearly, at the same time, another model must be born in its place.

The decision made by the Supreme Court of Justice will remain in history, President Cecilia Sosa; without a doubt it will remain in history, setting a precedent for what original Constitutional Authority is, for what sovereignty is. As Rousseau said, and as Bolívar also said in that quote with which I began, “let us convoke the representatives of national sovereignty so that they might exercise their will, which is absolute.” But I guess we’re afraid of national sovereignty!? We’re not speaking of democracy then? Sovereignty is not ours. The President of the Republic is not sovereign. The Congress of the Republic, although called sovereign, is not sovereign. The Supreme Court and lesser courts are not sovereign. The only group that is sovereign here throughout our lands and our cities, throughout all of Venezuela, is the people; there is no other. That’s a universal and fundamental principle, and after the historic decision made by the Supreme Court of Justice, the voices of those who clamored every day for the reform of the Constitution have quieted, and now the dynamic has changed as well. The decision made by the Supreme Court of Justice has accelerated the process, and for that reason we must recognize its historical importance, because everything happening in Venezuela, hour after hour, compatriots, day after day, remains recorded in the pages of history.

When the grandchildren of our children study the History of Venezuela they will undoubtedly linger on these finals years of the twentieth century, on these congressional sessions, on this inauguration, on the elections that took place, on the decision made by the Supreme Court of Justice, on the stance that each person takes. This is a great moment. This moment we’re living is preeminent. It isn’t just any moment and it’s important that we say so, because even more important is that we’re each aware of the magnificence of our existence in this land of Bolívar, so that we honor our land, our spirit and our heritage. We’re among the freedom-loving peoples of the world. We’re a people made up of creators, poets, fighters, warriors, workers, and the history that shows that is there. We’ll honor that, we’ll honor the spirit of our aboriginals, of our liberators, of our women, and of our young people in La Victoria. We have all of that running through our veins and in the essence of the earth from which we were made, and now we’ll show it. Now is the time to show it. So the decision made by the Supreme Court of Justice will remain there in the pages of history, and thanks to that just, opportune and wise decision made by the magistrates of that court, things that were said and that were read just two weeks ago can’t be heard anywhere, that calling a referendum was a violation of I don’t know what law, that it violated such and such article of the National Constitution, all of it quibbling, when now isn’t the time for quibbling; it’s the time for history and the time for great political decisions.

Now after that decision, those voices have quieted, along with the voices of those who made threats. I myself have already been threatened by some political sectors, who’ve made those threats to dissuade me, and I confess, with all possible humility, that since I’ve already been through so much, I cannot be dissuaded. I fear nothing but God, not even death. I’ll say it again. I don’t believe that death exists. It’s a lie, just like “Silbón de la Sabana” or “La Sayona,” who came out by the corner of the Caña de Raya of the Boconó River.[28] That doesn’t exist. They were already preparing an action against President Chávez to remove him, President of Colombia, Andrés Pastrana. I talked with you, and with Ex-President César Gaviria, about the similar constitutional process that took place in Colombia, and the decision made by the Colombian courts was like the one made here in Venezuela now, setting a precedent. But they were already planning their next moves for removing President Chávez for having violated the Constitution if he convoked the referendum. All that’s behind us, thank God, thanks to the process itself, thanks to the Supreme Court and thanks to the people. In less than a week, political and social leaders collected more than a million and a half signatures in the streets. Who can oppose that, if it’s the will of the people, if it’s the will of the sovereign?

Now, in the last few days we’ve heard the argument that Congress can call a referendum. Certainly, and as I’ve said over the course of my electoral campaign, hopefully Congress will call a referendum. Hopefully, Congress will take up the torch. Clearly, discussing this matter during the electoral campaign would’ve been much better. How much further would we be at this time, on this day, if instead of demonizing the Constitutional Assembly and the proposal for that assembly, we had called upon all of the candidates at that time, the parties, on Congress itself and other institutions to discuss what a Constitutional Assembly would involve? But no, the idea was to demonize it and avoid debate, to sidetrack debate. Time was lost, and now we can’t afford to lose any more. The process has accelerated thanks to the court’s decision and thanks as well to the clamor of the people.

Myself, as I’ve been listening and discussing, listening to positions here in Congress or of those that are present here in Congress, and also in the streets, and this has now led to—and by this I don’t mean to say that this is the intention of some here in Congress—but in the streets an array of opinions have formed on a kind of rivalry between myself and Congress and who will be the first to convoke the referendum. That’s what’s going around on the streets, and wherever I go, people tell me, “Chávez, don’t surrender the flag,” “Chávez, be careful because in Congress, they’ll manipulate the referendum to suit their own needs and purposes to try to stop the process,” “Chávez we believe in you.” Well, as I’m committed to the people, I’ve decided to move forward with the signing of the decree convoking the referendum. I’m not going to wait until February 15, as I had said. No, that clamor running through the streets is the clamor of the people. So, within a few minutes, I’ll swear in the next Cabinet and immediately convene the first Extraordinary Council of Ministers at the Governmental Palace in Caracas, at Miraflores.[29]

This very day, before leaving the Palace, at the popular meeting at Los Próceres, I’ll sign the presidential decree calling for a Referendum of the Venezuelan people, which is not just some simple promise, but the will of the people.[30] I’m here to be the instrument of the collective, and for that reason, gentlemen of Congress, Mr. President of Congress, Mr. President of the Chamber of Representatives, honorable senators and representatives, I believe that I’m taking some of the effort and anxiety and contention and worries out of your work.[31] The referendum will move forward, and this very day I’ll have pleasure of submitting a letter to the President of the National Electoral Council, asking for the necessary actions to be taken for preparing the referendum within the time period required by law, which is between sixty and ninety days. And I’ve given instructions to the next Minister of Defense, so that starting today, the General of the division, Raúl Salazar, and the next Head of United Command of the National Armed Forces, General Marín Gómez, will begin preparing a Republic Plan, so that we have a Referendum that’s comprehensive, in which everyone has the chance to participate.[32] No one will be excluded. Don’t trust in just ourselves. Trust in the people. Be true democrats, all of us. All together, “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa,” and move on. Now, my suggestion is that Congress, and I borrow a phrase of Bolívar’s: “The question is not whether or not there are two congresses.” No, I don’t want to hinder or interfere with the deliberations or the freedom of the legislative branch. Fulfill your responsibilities, Legislators, as such. Do so; the country clamors, but in your work, listen always to the clamor of the people. Don’t lock yourselves away only to listen to yourselves and give great speeches. Discuss what’s necessary.

Within a few hours, my government will introduce here in Congress a proposal for an Enabling Law, an Enabling Law for dealing with things on a short-term basis because the people can’t wait for the Constitutional Assembly, and that’s an absolute truth. The Constitutional Assembly isn’t a panacea; we’ve never claimed it to be. Its fundamental objective is to transform the foundation of the state and create a new Republic, to recreate the foundation of the Republic, to re-legitimize democracy. That’s the fundamental objective of the Constitutional Assembly. It’s political and it’s macropolitical, but it’s not economically or socially geared in the short term, and the government that I begin to lead today—that I’ve already begun to lead—has to confront the terrible situation that we’ve inherited, a deficit that’s almost nine points of Gross Domestic Product. In just cash expenditures, in just payments so they don’t shut off the lights and so the people don’t leave, for just the first quarter of the year, we’re short almost 800 billion bolívars, just for that, just for payments so we don’t have to leave.

On top of that, official figures point to eleven to twelve percent unemployment, but other figures out there point to twenty percent, and underemployment is nearing fifty percent of the active economic workforce. Almost one million children are in a state of survival, almost one million children—like my daughter Rosinés, who’s a year and four months old—are living in a state of survival. Venezuela’s infant mortality rate is twenty-seven. Nearly twenty-eight in every thousand live births, among the highest on the continent. The infant mortality rate, or the incidence of malnutrition in the infant mortality rate, is nearing fifteen percent of children who die, and the cause of the death: malnutrition. We can’t wait for the Constitutional Assembly for that. Housing, there’s a housing deficit of almost a million and a half homes in all of Venezuela. More than fifty percent of children, and this is the most barbaric—I don’t have any other word, you’ll have to forgive me—barbaric! That’s what Pope John Paul II called neoliberalism and that’s what I’ll call it as well, allow me, Your Holiness, to do so.[33] Knowing that more than half of pre-school aged children aren’t going to pre-school in a country like ours is barbaric; knowing that only one in every five children enroll in pre-school and that only one in five finishes elementary school is barbaric, and it’s barbaric because that’s the future of our country.

An old Chinese proverb says, “If you’re planning for the short term, go fishing; if you’re planning for the medium term, plant a tree; and if you’re planning for the long term, educate a child.” We can’t let this barbarism go on here right under our noses. Good God! Forty-five percent of adolescents not in high school. They’re out there surviving and many of them turn to delinquency to survive because man is not bad by nature. We’re the children of God, not children of the devil. I’m inheriting that situation here. Here it is, in my hands, the accumulation of all the crises to which I referred a short time ago.

A few nights ago a group of my friends told me that it’s like if someone was handed a time bomb—tick tock, tick tock, tick tock—and when offering to disarm it, there’s a great risk that the bomb will explode in one’s face. The Venezuelan social bomb is ticking, compatriots, and that’s why I think Congress, instead of debating on things that have already been debated on months ago—that debate is already over—instead of debating on how to carry out the referendum, no, accept the truth. Almost 60% of the Venezuelan people who went and voted elected Hugo Chávez so that he would fulfill his promise to convoke a referendum for the Constitutional Assembly. That’s the truth. Accept it, gentlemen, don’t doubt it. It’s a truth like the sun in the sky. My suggestion to Congress, devote yourselves to studying the possibility of giving the government that begins today an Enabling Law, directed especially toward the economic realm, because as far as the economy goes, resolving the deficit is urgent, as you all know, and to do so we need sweeping fiscal reform. As has already been announced in a few different settings in a fragmentary way, the Minister of Finance, Maritza Izaguirre, has been explaining to Venezuelans in one way or another the measures found in the financial order that we’ve already begun preparing, a reduction of taxes on sumptuary consumption and on wholesaling, for example, which is one of the highest on the continent. But transforming it into a Value-Added Tax and expanding the collection base is something urgent. According to our calculations, based on those changes, we could collect or increase collection at almost one point of Gross Domestic Product, to begin making that immense fiscal hole that we’re inheriting manageable.

On the other hand, we need to make reforms—so we believe it to be necessary—to income taxes, to extend the payments of legal entities and not wait until the end of the year, or else payments will continue to be canceled as the months pass. We also have plans ready for temporarily re-applying the Bank Debit Tax, and with these, according to our calculations, we’ll be able collect approximately 1.5% of Gross Domestic Product and reduce the fiscal deficit in this first year of government by at least half. But on the other hand, we’ve traveled around the world and gained, as I’ve said, understanding, and we hope to continue to do so, from his Majesty the King, Juan Carlos of Borbón to the Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien; from the President of the Spanish Government, Don José María Aznar to the President of the United States, Bill Clinton; the President or Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund, Mr. Michel Camdessus; and on to the Director of the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, of the Paris Club. We’ve been talking with all of these people during the last forty days. We haven’t rested, as you all know; we’ve been searching, traveling, talking, trying to convince everyone, first, that I’m not the devil, because due to the barbaric campaign against me, many abroad in those cold lands came to believe that Hugo Chávez really was all but the devil, and second, explaining our truth.

We want to pay our external debt, but we simply can’t pay it in the way in which it was designed and as I’m receiving it, with a debt profile that accounts for a great share of the National Budget, more than 30%, which is the accumulation of interest and capital. And so we have a firm hope, and I’ll say so to the world, and we’ll continue working with great intensity, now much more so than before, to refinance our external debt in the shortest time period possible, in such a way that within this same year of 1999, we’ll be able to reduce by at least two points, 1.5 or two points, the terrible weight of debt on our damaged Venezuelan budget. Some of the points that I’ve mentioned, measures dealing with the economy in the short term, internally, we believe that Congress must discuss and decide on an Enabling Law, as has occurred on previous occasions. It’s also urgent for us, and this is the other strategic direction we have for transforming the economic model in the short, medium and long term, we must diversify the economy and propel the productive apparatus, because this is something that has been discussed a lot in Venezuela, but almost nothing has been done.

To do so, we’ve also called upon investors around the world, during those trips we made to South America, to North America, to Europe and to the Caribbean. We’re an earnest people. The government that I begin leading today is an earnest government that will respect agreements it signs and international investments originating from whatever part of the world, especially those geared toward the productive sector that generate employment, add value to production and have the technology to drive the development of the country. We can’t continue to depend solely on the price of a barrel of petroleum, an external factor that fell back down as we all know, and all signs indicate that the price will stay between eight and nine, possibly reaching ten at some point, not during the next year, but during the next two or three years. Let’s get used to that idea because we’ll have to regardless.

That being said, the transition teams and the government project and development teams that we’ve been putting together for some years, well, we’ve decided to begin by driving private investment. And we’ve also called upon national investors with whom we’ve had fruitful, extensive and diverse conversations, in which we’ve clarified, explained, and questioned them as well, hearing their opinions on private national investments. I’ll call upon all Venezuelans with capital outside of the country. Think about it! Our country needs capital. Invest here! Of course, I refer to legitimate capital. The others will meet difficulty when they come, unless they truly make a mea culpa. I hope they do, and I’ll also call upon them: come, return what you’ve taken and assume your responsibility. I think I have the moral basis to ask that. I did something one day. I handed in what I carried, my rifle, and here I am. “I assume my responsibility, do with me what you will.” Each person assumes his or her responsibility. We urgently need an economic process for accumulating national capital. We’re losing our assets, gentlemen.

Honorable dignitaries from around the world, from the continent, from Europe and Asia and the Caribbean, from wherever you’ve come, this message is for investors, like the message I shared in Santo Domingo, in Havana, in Buenos Aires. I haven’t gone to the Andes Mountains yet, but soon I will go to Guyana, to Central America, and to Colombia, Madrid, Paris, and to the Canary Islands. I hope to go to Peru soon, and also to Nicaragua, to reach all investors, the oil companies in Canada. I was very pleased after a meeting in Canada with some businesses dealing in gas and petroleum. They came to Venezuela and are making plans to invest in gas, petrochemistry, and tourism.

In Europe, various missions are being prepared, in Spain, France and Germany. We’ve tried to motivate them, to call on them and to attract them. Venezuela can be a gigantic emporium of riches. She already is, but potentially. Develop. This project of ours isn’t a nationalist project, but neither is it the extreme of neoliberalism. No, we’re looking for a point between the two, as much state as necessary and as much market as possible. The invisible hand of the market and the visible hand of the state, like the President of Ecuador, Jamil Mahuad, said when he assumed his dignified position there in our sister Republic of Ecuador. We welcome all investment, to the forward movement of a project. We’ll announce some parts of that project, and I’m announcing it and inviting everyone to participate in what we’re doing, in sentiment and in action. Agriculture is a strategic sector for the county and criteria for that sector should be moved to a constitutional level, and we’ll aspire to include it in the Constitutional Assembly, whose members will be elected in the next few months.

For now, for the short and medium terms, we’ve selected four flagship projects in agriculture: a rice growing project—Venezuela has great potential for rice. An African Palm project, another of the great projects for which many studies have been carried out, but we’ve lacked the will, capital, and the technology to carry them out. We want to bring all of those things together and inject them into our projects for national development. A sugarcane project and a fishing project, at least these four flagship projects, according to the studies carried out by our experts, which indicate that we have immense comparative advantages in those areas and that they could be competitive for development, for job creation. How can it be that the children of the Apure River are dying of hunger, and on the banks of the immense Apure, or the immense Arauca, or the children to the east, along the Orinoco River or those from Guyana? And the peoples of the coast? With so much fishing wealth, so much maritime wealth, and it’s the same for people in the country. We must return to the land, but for real.

As I’m also a farmer, and I was one, and that’s how I was raised and taught, I’ll be at the forefront of those projects, as much as time and strength allow me. But you, more than just talking about those projects, God willing, you’re going to see them. And I’ll be a soldier, the first to the battle. I’ll try to be everywhere, speaking with farmers and workers, with governors and mayors, with business owners and politicians, with soldiers and majors and generals, with everyone, to give each other our hands, so that these projects, when I have to hand over the government in five or ten years, I don’t know how many. One or two, nobody knows how many, one or ten. I don’t want to have to come here and read you a statement or tell you, “I did what I could but the country has sunk.” I’d prefer, truthfully I’ll tell you, to hand over the government, which is the least important thing, believe me, in two years, in one year, even this year, if these six months or these two years serve to leave the past behind, to sink it and truly start a new national engine. “Paris is well worth a Mass.”[34] Truthfully, I care least about my personal destiny. What’s important is that we start a new national engine, a new long-term project. Like the sailor who can’t see the port as he travels, but even as he sails each mile and each kilometer, knows that he’s going in the right direction because he has a compass and a map to guide him. We need a national map. We need a compass. We need a helmsman. And here I am, I’ll try to be the helmsman for a time, and I ask for all of your help. I ask for all of your help because we’re all in the same boat, and the most horrible thing about it is that our children and our grandchildren are in the boat with us. We have to move the ship forward. It’s our responsibility and later others will be charged with sailing it.

Now, within that social viewpoint, I declare before Venezuela and the world, being the interpreter I always hope to be for the sentiments of the Venezuelan people, an immense majority of that people living below humanitarian thresholds, interpreting that reality, I declare to the world that Venezuela is in a state of social emergency, as would any captain of a boat or plane in a similar state. We have to confront the social emergency, but not to restrict or to do away with guarantees. Who’s going to do away with guarantees in Venezuela, if all guarantees have already been done away with? How can we suspend what’s already been suspended? What other guarantees can we take from the people? No, and listen, in my opinion, that’s one of the aberrations of the moribund Constitution written by the Punto Fijo Pact, in which emergencies are planned for with all possible formality.[35][36] I won’t hold onto that formality. I’ll hold onto the reality of the situation.

The Constitution says that a state of national emergency can be declared, and that guarantees can be suspended based on that declaration. This is a horrible way of looking at an emergency and a repressive, unilateral point of view, anticipated in law. That’s how the constitutional guarantees of those living along the borders were suspended due to the difficulties along the Colombian border; and I’ll take advantage of this moment to expressly acknowledge, from the heart, the President of Colombia, Dr. Andrés Pastrana, who is here with us now, despite the Colombian people’s pain, resulting from the tragedy that occurred just a few days ago.[37] Brother, I embrace, we collectively embrace you and your people. We count Colombia among our friends, Colombia being another Bolivarian land. Our regrets, our pain, our support for you and your people, who are our people as well, part of our essence.

In Colombia, we must do everything necessary so that there’s peace. So I’ve told him, so I’ve told President Pastrana, said so publicly. We spoke in Havana with President Fidel Castro. I’m prepared, Andrés—allow me to address you as I would in private—to go where I need to and speak with whom I must to try to contribute just a grain of sand that might save a drop of blood, for a people as beloved as the Colombian people. And the regards I’ve given in the name of the Bolivarian people of Venezuela to the Colombian President extends to all and to each one of you. We must recognize each other’s efforts because our tragedies are so similar, the painful earthquake in Colombia, like the painful earthquake that took place in Brazil, also financial, and the reason why President Fernando Henrique Cardoso couldn’t be here today. The same to you all in Nicaragua, to all of you all representing the peoples and countries that are here represented by presidents, heads of state or prime ministers. The President of Guyana, Janet Jagan, our sympathies for your fight, your efforts and your difficulties. For everyone, President Banzer, our friend, all friends; for the President of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández, for the President of Cuba, I confirm my friendship and our solidarity with our brothers, the people of Cuba. His holiness, Pope John Paul II said it well: Cuba is a part of this world, and the Cuban people are our brothers, a Bolivarian people.[38] The same regards to you. I embrace the Cuban people, and my affection goes out to them, the people of José Martí, and to all peoples and all nations.

Getting back to the social emergency that I declared as the President of Venezuela. I haven’t done so to suspend more guarantees, my brothers. I’ve done so to take emergency action to reinstate guarantees, and one of my suggestions for the new Constitution or for the Constitutional Assembly would be that within the next few months this would be a very good place for the Constitutional Assembly to work, if you’ll allow it, gentlemen of Congress.[39] I think that would be the most appropriate. You could also, as some have said, refuse to begin the process for a Constitutional Assembly, but wherever the Constitutional Assembly meets, I think this is something that should be discussed there. An emergency for reinstating guarantees. Not every emergency can be seen as the time to suspend constitutional guarantees.

Along those lines, and to signal for an immediate start, when we look at the state of society, we can’t wait even an hour. Saturday and Sunday don’t exist for those of us living in a state of emergency. And we have a great responsibility, a gigantic responsibility, with so many millions of human beings who—at this very moment while we’re here—don’t have anything to eat, or a school to go to or a park to go to play at or a roof to sleep under in peace. When speaking of honorable people, the great José Martí said, “To be honorable, it’s not enough to feel or to say that you haven’t harmed anyone.”[40] No, that’s not enough. To be truly honorable men, women, human beings, if they know of someone suffering near them, they must do everything in their power to prevent the suffering of that human being. That’s the only way to be honorable, and it’s more than being Christian, because the first of God’s Laws says, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” I have sometimes dared to share my opinion that for the first of God’s Laws, I would recommend—God forgive me—that in this time of emergency, we Catholics and Christians should better say: “Love your neighbor more than you love yourself.”

So, to continue in that vein, a true war against those social wrongs begins today, a true battle. As of today, I’ve given instructions to the new Minister of Defense, General Raúl Salazar, to the new majors, my brothers in the Armed Forces, I send my regards, and I ask also for your forgiveness, and for the forgiveness of those at our military bases, and I do so now in front of the nation. My apologies for all the pain caused, my apologies for so many years together. Thank God and the Venezuelan people that we’re together again. We’ve returned once more with our heads held high, but now I return as Commander in Chief, and I’ve learned to be a commander from some of you here, and I believe I was a tolerable leader. A true commander has to be in the hearts of the people, a true commander has to be inclined to fulfill a mission and the well-being of the people, of those under his command. I aspire to be a better commander now than I was before. I hope I’ve learned from the seven years that have passed since I left the command of my Paratrooper Battalion. I hope those years have given me more resources and the energy to be better than before.

But I come now as the Commander in Chief, not to lead paratroopers, whom it was an honor to lead. I come now as the Commander in Chief to drive a process that would incorporate Venezuelan men and women in uniform into this emergency process for social recovery. And for that reason, I left instructions this morning for a Unity Parade to take place on February 4, a parade for the future.[41] And this isn’t like what some have said our there, to pay tribute to the armed rebellion. No, it’s not like that, that’s in the past. It’s so we can come together for a parade directed to the future, and that same day, I’m going to reactivate the Paratrooper Battalions, who should continue to wear the names they always wore, like Antonio Nicolás Briceño and José Leonardo Chirino.[42][43] Moreover, we’re going to order the activation of a Special Brigade during this month of February, a Special Brigade geared toward development, because development is part of our defenses. We can’t shut our brothers in arms in the barracks and naval bases and high-capacity aerial bases, such great human assets and great quantities of resources, unused there as if they were inactive, in another world, separate from a shocking, bloody reality clamoring for the introduction of resources and morality and discipline.

I told General Salazar a few nights ago to get me a list of all active military men and women who are engineers. The list surprised him as much as me: hundreds of active officials who are engineers, from nuclear engineers—there are many in the Armed Forces—to civil, electronic and electric engineers from various branches. Not that being at the barracks all day is something undignified. No, commanding a platoon, commanding a battalion is very dignified for an official, and that’s what we’re trained for. But a Lieutenant Colonel who’s also a nuclear engineer, a Colonel or Captain who’s an expert in agricultural production specializing in buffalo, for example, who has taken courses abroad over the years, or a sergeant who’s an expert in telecommunications at this critical moment for the country, and as Commander in Chief, without abandoning, of course, basic military functions, I believe that a good number of them should be incorporated into developmental projects through Specialized Units.

In Barinas, within a short period of time, a Special Brigade will be operational, where there’ll be a body of Military Engineers, and where men and women from the various technical branches can be incorporated into volunteer services, there’ll be a body of engineers. We do so little with the engineering equipment we have here in Caracas, and I gave an order that on February 12, La Victoria will again hold a parade. That day, a military company will march, but not with tanks, a company should never march with tanks again. The companies will march with work equipment instead, which will be driven by soldiers toward the fields and cities of Venezuela. Youth Day, I’ll begin by doing that. We’ll also be forming agricultural and health battalions, but not to give out treatment for a day and then not return for another six months. These battalions will open operations in the war against misery and malnutrition and the demoralization of a people. Now, those military men and women will not get very far alone. I invoke our national spirit. I invoke our national soul. I invoke the goodwill of all. The Catholic Church. Let’s go! Priests and bishops on the road. Let’s go! The path of the people is the path of God. The Evangelical Church, business owners, youth, medical students. Let’s go! Students in their last year of medical school are already trained to fight the war against the diseases that are killing our people, university students. Let’s raise the battle flags and leave the classroom to join the social fight! We can’t wait to have a title and wait and see who will give us a job. Look for jobs and look for work. That’s the Venezuelan way. That’s the Bolivarian people’s way, compatriots, for that social emergency to which I’ve referred.

I’ll also ask for all the efforts of the country, governors, mayors, legislative assemblies, representatives of different regions. Let’s work for the people, so that the country can recover its credibility. I repeat, I’ll be the first full-time soldier in this battle, a battle that I’m sure we’re going to win, against lack of development, misery and hunger. And within this same vision, we’ll be extending the macropolitics of the Constitutional Assembly beyond Venezuela, economically creating a process for the development and dynamization of national production and a project for macroeconomic stabilization, and of the measures for this purpose, the country already knows about the strengthening of fiscal discipline, which is also an international project.

The pressing and urgent negotiations in our international policies will be oriented first toward the Caribbean, the Andes and the Amazon. This is one of the old dreams of Bolívar’s, and Martí’s, Sandino’s, O’Higgins’ and Artigas’.[44][45][46][47] That dream is the union of all, union within each county, the strengthening of our ties to one another, but at the same time, the consolidation of a great block of influence in this part of the world. Thank God and history that the world of the 21st century won’t be bilateral or unilateral. It’ll be multilateral, and just as a united Europe serves as an example to the world, we’ll too serve as an example to the world. We’ll move toward a unifying process, and that’s my appeal, and my cry, which will be so because of the people and countries and friends and brothers that we visit and know.

Negotiations among the Andean Community and Mercosur should continue.[48] We advocate for its continuation, for its acceleration. But we must step on the accelerator, and within this mechanism for unity our government has considered the possibility of creating a free trade agreement with Mercosur—as Chile and Bolivia did—but with the sole intention of accelerating the unification process of the subcontinent, along with Central America, along with the Caribbean. I’ll be an advocate and an accelerator for the integration process as much as I can. Senator Luis Alfonso Dávila said so in his speech: that it was the dream of the Congress of Panama, Bolívar looking at Panama the same way the Greeks looked at the Isthmus of Corinth, “The Isthmus of Panama is for us what the Corinth was for the Greeks.”[49][50][51] The time to resume that has arrived. The time to resume that dream of union among us and to introduce a Latin American and Caribbean currency for the next decade has arrived. We’ll look for and fight for a common currency. The time to introduce a confederation of nations in this part of the world, to introduce a sense of unity that goes beyond commercial trade has arrived, because it seems that some tend or we tend to focus on nothing but commercial trade. Unity is much more than that, much more complete, much more extensive. It’s unity among what was once united.

So I’ll end my message today before the Venezuelan people, before you all, I’ll end, for now, invoking that same message that I invoked at the beginning.[52] Because when one speaks of Latin American and Caribbean unity, of participating in the world of social projects, when one speaks of humanist economic projects, of stable political projects, quite simply we’re in this Caribbean Venezuela, this Amazonian Venezuela, this Andean Venezuela and this universal Venezuela. We’re resuming the Bolivarian dream. We’re resuming authentic Bolivarianism, and Bolívar said so: “To form a stable government, we must establish a national spirit in an all, a national soul in an all, a spirit and a body of laws in an all.”[53] Unity, unity. That must be our motto.[54] May God help us, not just President Chávez, but all Venezuelan people in this outstanding moment in which we’re living, in this time of resurrection. A warm embrace for you all, and thank you very much for your attention. A solidary embrace, a Bolivarian embrace. And so we go on our way, if we hesitate we are lost. Ladies and gentlemen.

[1] Chávez’s inauguration speech lasted approximately one hour and forty-five minutes. He appears to have prepared notes; however, the speech was delivered extemporaneously. The source text from which this translation is based does not correspond exactly to the speech delivered by Chávez, although there are no major discrepancies between the two versions. For spoken source text, see “VIVENCIAS DE CHÁVEZ, Discurso pronunciado el 02 de Febrero de 1999.” For written source text, see Chávez, “Discurso del presidente de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela, Hugo Chávez Frías, con motivo de la toma de posesión.”

[2] Chávez begins his speech with the opening statement from Simón Bolívar’s 1819 Angostura Address. Lewis Bertrand’s translation of this remark has been used here, from Selected Writings of Bolívar. See Bolívar, “Address Delivered at the Inauguration of the Second National Congress of Venezuela in Angostura,” Simón Bolívar El Libertador Writings of Simón Bolívar, Trans. Lewis Bertrand, 173.

[3] Simón Bolívar inaugurated the February 15, 1819 Venezuelan Congress of Angostura with his Angostura Address, during which he discusses the necessity of building a system of government corresponding to the unique circumstances in Venezuela, rather than simply adopting a federalist system similar to that found in the United States. See Bushnell, “Introduction,” xxxviii.

[4] Venezuelan history is understood to be divided into periods corresponding to “Republics”. The First Republic began with the July 5, 1811 declaration of Venezuelan independence, enduring until just after July 25, 1812, when Francisco de Miranda negotiated the surrender of the patriots to the Spanish forces. The Second Republic lasted approximately from 1813-1814, during a military campaign during which Bolívar was able to regain some Venezuelan territory and for which he received the title, Libertador. Gains were eventually lost due to disunity amongst Americans. The Third Republic began by Bolívar’s declaration on December 31, 1816 upon invading Venezuela from Haiti and lasted until the 1819, when Venezuela was consolidated into the greater Gran Colombia. See Lynch, Simón Bolívar A Life, 55-61, 72-81, 102-131. Venezuela’s Fourth Republic is generally understood to have begun after the dissolution of Gran Colombia, lasting until Chávez took power in 1999, although in the Endnotes to Venezuela Speaks!, Martinez, Fox and Farrell note, “most Chávez supporters now use the term ‘Fourth Republic’… [to] refer… to the forty-year period immediately preceding Chávez’[s] rise to power beginning with the Punto Fijo Pact.” See Martinez, Fox and Farrell, Venezuela Speaks! Voices from the Grassroots, 299. Chávez’s political party was called the Movimiento Quinta República (Fifth Republic Movement), and the period beginning with Chávez’s 1999 election came to be known as the Fifth Republic.

[5] In his Angostura Address and accompanying Constitution, Bolívar proposed the creation of a fourth branch of government, a branch of Moral Power, charged with “training people in public spirit and political virtue.” While the Congress of Angostura would adopt many of the features of Bolívar’s constitution in their own document, they did not include the branch of Moral Power or the hereditary Senate proposed by Bolívar. See Lynch, Simón Bolívar A Life, 121-122.

[6] During the wars for independence, Bolívar consolidated regions including Venezuela, New Granada (present day Colombia), Ecuador and Panama into an autonomous republic known as Gran Colombia, which found its origins at the Congress of Angostura in 1819 and lasted until 1831, by which time Venezuela and Ecuador had seceded. See “Gran Colombia,” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

[7] See Whitman, “Song of Myself, 1855,” Whitman’s “Song of Myself”—Origin, Growth, Meaning, 6.

[8] From Neruda’s poem Un Canto para Bolívar (A Song for Bolívar); Bolívar “narrates” the last line of the poem, saying, “Despierto cada cien años cuando despierta el pueblo.” See Neruda, “Un canto para Bolívar,” Residencia en la tierra, Trans. Donald D. Walsh, 336-337.

[9] From Asturias’s poem Credo: “[C]reemos…/ …en la vida perdurable de los que como Tú,/ Libertador, no mueren, cierran los ojos y se quedan velando.” See Asturias, “Credo,” Bolívar, 5.

[10] When Bolívar passed through the Peruvian village of Pucurá, José Domingo Choquehuanca ended his speech in honor of the Libertador by stating, “Vuestra fama crecerá, así como aumenta el tiempo con el transcurso de los siglos y así como crece la sombra cuando el sol declina.” Vélez Picasso, quoted in Puertas Castro, “Choquehuanca y Bolívar,” Testimonios peruanos sobre el libertador, 231.

[11] From Martí’s “Discurso pronunciado en la velada de la sociedad literaria hispanoamericana de Nueva York en honor de Simón Bolívar el 28 de octubre 1893,” Chávez paraphrases Martí, who said, “¡Pero así está Bolívar en el cielo de América, vigilante y ceñudo, sentado aún en la roca de crear, con el Inca al lado y el haz de banderas a los pies; así está él, calzadas aún las botas de compaña, porque lo que él no dejo hecho, sin hacer está hoy: porque Bolívar tiene que hacer en América todavía.” See Martí, “Discurso pronunciado en la velada de la sociedad literaria hispanoamericana de Nueva York en honor de Simón Bolívar el 28 de octubre 1893,” Obras completas, 74.

[12] Chávez’s 1992 coup was attempted on Pérez as well.

[13] The 1970s were a period of economic prosperity in Venezuela, thanks to oil wealth. However, the early 1980s drop in oil prices worldwide led to an economic crisis in Venezuela. The beginning of that crisis was marked by what is known as, Viernes Negro (Black Friday), or February 28, 1983, when “President Luis Herrera Campins devalued the bolívar,” Venezuela’s currency. See Nichols and Morse, Venezuela, 83.

[14] February 27, 1989 was the first of five days of widespread riots in Caracas and other major Venezuelan cities. These riots, known as the Caracazo, were the result of austerity measures implemented by President Carlos Andrés Pérez to secure IMF loans, including his February 1989 decision to increase domestic gas prices by thirty percent. The doubling of public transportation fares on February 27 incited the five days of rioting, during which constitutional guarantees were suspended, allowing the military and police to fire at will on rioters without fear of recrimination. Official figures put the death toll of these riots at 277, although unofficial figures point as high as 2,000 deaths. Ibid, 79-80.

[15] The “military rebellions” to which Chávez refers were actually coup attempts, the first of which was led by Chávez on February 4, 1992. Chávez was imprisoned as a result, and a second coup attempt on November 27 was also unsuccessful. Rory Carroll notes the irony of Chávez leading a coup against the same president from whom he received his military academy graduation saber (President Carlos Andrés Pérez). Carroll also notes that this sanitized portrayal of the coup attempts would continue long into Chávez’s presidency, with, for example, “[s]chool textbooks… [even being] amended so the coup became ‘a rebellion that changed the destiny of the republic’.” See Carroll, Comandante: Myth and Reality in Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, 3, 194.

[16] According to John Lynch, Francisco de Miranda put Bolívar in command of the strategically important Puerto Cabello in May of 1812. After a traitor among the ranks of those forces at the Puerto Cabello Fort of San Felipe released and armed Spanish prisoners held at the fort, Bolívar was able to hold off their forces for six days before having to make a retreat. Miranda’s forces would further weaken, and he would eventually surrender to Spanish forces, signing a pact for the surrender terms on July 25, 1812. See Lynch, Simón Bolívar A Life, 59-61.

[17] Chávez paraphrases Bolívar’s July 10, 1825 letter to Esteban Palacios. In Lewis Bertrand’s translation of that letter, Bolívar writes, “‘Where is Caracas?’ you will ask. Caracas no longer exits. But her ashes, her monuments, the ground on which she stood, have been lighted by the lamp of liberty and covered with the glory of martyrdom.” See Bolívar, “To Esteban Palacios,” Selected Writings of Bolívar, Trans. Lewis Bertrand, 515.

[18] Chávez paraphrases Bolívar’s 1822 “Delirio sobre el Chimborazo” here, the phrase “di la verdad a los hombres” [tell men the truth] being the only portion directly quoted from Bolívar’s poem. See Bolívar, “Mi delirio sobre el Chimborazo” and “My Delirium on Chimborazo.”

[19] In his July 4, 1811 “Address to the Patriotic Society of Caracas,” Bolívar urged for the declaration of independence from Spain, saying “vacilar es perdernos” (if we hesitate we are lost). Lewis Bertrand’s translation of that phrase has been used here. See Bolívar, “Address of the Patriotic Society of Caracas,” Selected Writings of Bolívar, Trans. Lewis Bertrand, 5.

[20] Chávez spent two years in the Yare prison for his 1992 attempted coup. President Rafael Calder released Chávez and his co-conspirators were released early by President Rafael Caldera. See Carroll, Comandante: Myth and Reality in Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, 40, 284. See also Nichols and Morse, Venezuela, 86.

[21] In 1996, Chávez published his “Agenda Alternativa Bolivariana,” in which he outlines the principal problems facing Venezuela, poverty and denationalization, and eight areas for reform, including the role of the state, oil policies, investments in and ownership of modes of production, education, culture, science and technology, external debt, macroeconomic and macro-social equilibrium and the dynamization of production. See Chávez Frías, “Agenda Alternativa Bolivariana,” 27, 30.

[22] See Mir, “Si alguien quiere saber cuál es mi patria,” Poemas, 41-49.

[23] Chávez refers to the July 4, 1811 debate in which Bolívar delivered his “Address to the Society of Caracas.” Before the July 5, 1811 declaration of independence, in Venezuela there existed the congress, “thirty-one deputies from seven provinces, all from great landed families and the majority favouring the ‘autonomist’ position and the rights of Ferdinand VII” and the Sociedad Patriótica, “a small radical group who stood for absolute independence” led by Francisco de Miranda and Bolívar. See Lynch, Simón Bolívar A Life, 54-55.

[24] While this text appears to be a direct quote, Chávez actually paraphrases Bolívar’s 1811 “Address to the Patriotic Society of Caracas.” The translation of this “quotation” has been informed by Lewis Bertrand’s translation of this address. See Bolívar, “Address of the Patriotic Society of Caracas,” Selected Writings of Bolívar, Trans. Lewis Bertrand, 5.

[25] Again, Chávez paraphrases Bolívar’s “Address to the Patriotic Society,” and the translation here of what appears to be a direct quote has been informed by Bertrand’s translation of this address. Ibid.

[26] Chávez continues to paraphrase Bolívar’s address, and translation here is again informed by Bertrand. Ibid.

[27] The 1998 presidential election in which Chávez was elected was held on December 6.

[28] El Silbón and La Sayona are two Venezuelan popular myths. According to legend, after killing his father, El Silbón was damned to forever wander the plains with his father’s remains. He lulls unsuspecting travelers with his whistle and adds the bones of those he catches to his collection. See Robles de Mora, “El Silbón,” Leyendas de Venezuela, 69-79. La Sayona is an apparition who wanders the night, and her victims tend to be unfaithful husbands. See Robles de Mora, “Encuentro con la Sayona,” Leyendas de Venezuela, 55-56.

[29] Chávez received a standing ovation for this announcement. See “VIVENCIAS DE CHÁVEZ, Discurso pronunciado el 02 de Febrero de 1999,” 1:02:08-1:02:44.

[30] Paseo Los Próceres (Walk of Heroes) is a national monument in Caracas featuring statues of important figures in the fight for Venezuelan independence.

[31] Chávez receives both laughter and applause for this remark. See “VIVENCIAS DE CHÁVEZ, Discurso pronunciado el 02 de Febrero de 1999,” 1:04:20.

[32] The Republic Plan is a “standing agreement” between the National Electoral Council and the Armed Forces to ensure a peaceful election process, in which “soldiers provide security during the transportation, storage, and distribution of election materials.” See United States, “The ‘Nuts and Bolts’ of the Recall Petition Drives,” 5.

[33] Chávez is likely referring to Pope John Paul II’s “Ecclesia in America,” published January 22, 1999, in which he laments the neoliberal focus on wealth as the sole determinant of the worth of individuals. See Pope John Paul II, “Ecclesia in America.”

[34] King Henry IV of France reportedly declared, “Paris is well worth a Mass,” converting from Protestantism to Catholicism on July 1593 to secure the French throne. See “Henry IV.”

[35] The Punto Fijo Pact refers to a 1959 agreement to share governmental power, no matter the winner of elections, between the leading Venezuelan political parties of the time, AD (Acción Democrática), COPEI (Independent Electoral Political Organizing Committee) and URD (Democratic Republican Union). The URD decision to leave the pact led to an approximately thirty year period during which AD and COPEI controlled the government. See Nichols and Morse, Venezuela, 57-59.

[36] Venezuela’s 1961 Constitution includes provisions on individual, social, economic and political rights and on the emergency conditions within which those rights may be suspended. According to Article 241, Title IX, the only constitutional guarantees that may never be suspended include the prohibition of the death penalty (Article 58, Title III), torture and incommunicado confinement (Article 60, Section 3) and restriction of confinement to a maximum sentence of thirty years (Article 60, Section 7). See “Constitución de la República de Venezuela” and “Constitution of Venezuela 1961.”

[37] A 6.2 magnitude earthquake occurred in Armenia, Colombia on January 25, 1999.

[38] Chávez likely refers to Pope John Paul II’s address upon departing from his January 1998 visit to Cuba. During that address, John Paul II said, “In our day, no nation can live in isolation. The Cuban people therefore cannot be denied the contacts with other peoples necessary for economic, social and cultural development, especially when the imposed isolation strikes the population indiscriminately, making it ever more difficult for the weakest to enjoy the bare essentials of decent living, things such as food, health and education.” See Pope John Paul II, “Farewell Ceremony: Address of John Paul II, Sunday, 25 January 1998.”

[39] Chávez receives both light laughter and applause for this remark. See “VIVENCIAS DE CHÁVEZ, Discurso pronunciado el 02 de Febrero de 1999,” 1:32:51.

[40] Chávez may be referring here to José Martí’s January 5, 1894 article, “El año Nuevo,” in which Martí writes, “Quien ve a su pueblo en desorden y agonía, sin puerta visible para el bienestar y el honor, o le busca la puerta, o no es hombre, o no ese hombre honrado. El que se conforma con una situación de villanía, es su cómplice. Es su cómplice el que considera insuficiente o imposible el remedio que pregona, y con la mentira en el alma, continúa pregonando el remedio insuficiente e imposible. La tiranía no se derriba con los que la sirven con su miedo, o su indecisión, o su egoísmo, o el odio a la verdadera libertad…” See Martí, “El año nuevo,” Obras completas, 25.

[41] Chávez’s “Unity Parade” was to coincide with the date of his 1992 attempted coup against President Carlos Andrés Pérez.

[42] Coronel Antonio Nicolás Briceño (1782-1813) was a strong supporter of Venezuela’s independence movement and held posts in early republican governments (1811 and 1812). Briceño was eventually captured by royalist forces and shot. See “Briceño, [Colonel] Antonio Nicolás,” Historical Dictionary of Venezuela, 108.

[43] José Leonardo Chirinos ( -1796?) led a revolt of slaves at Coro on May 10, 1795, inspired by the tenets of the French Revolution. The revolt was eventually suppressed, and Chirinos was put to death by the Creoles. See “Chirino, José Leonardo,” Historical Dictionary of Venezuela, 158-159.

[44] José Martí (1853-1985) was a leader and symbol for Cuba’s revolutionary movement toward independence from Spain. See “Jose Julian Marti,” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

[45] César Augusto Sandino (1893-1934) was a Nicaraguan guerrilla leader and popular hero. See “César Augusto Sandino,” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

[46] Bernardo O’Higgins (? -1842) was a Chilean revolutionary and leader of the forces that won Chilean independence from the Spanish. See “Bernardo O’Higgins,” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

[47] José Gervasio Artigas (1764-1850) was a Uruguayan soldier, revolutionary leader and founding father. See “José Gervasio Artigas,” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

[48] Mercosur, or the Mercado Común del Sur (Common Market of the South), is an economic organization whose objectives include “the harmonization of the economic policies of its members and the promotion of economic development.” Member nations include Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela. See “Mercosur,” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

[49] Luis Alfonso Dávila was the president of the Senate at the time of Chávez’s inauguration. Chávez perhaps refers here to a speech delivered by Alfonso Dávila during the inauguration ceremony.

[50] The Congress of Panamá was held from June 22 to July 15 of 1826. Simón Bolívar issued invitations to a number of Central and South American countries to this congress, yet while participants did agree to a treaty of confederation, the results of this congress were largely ineffectual. See “Panamá, Congreso de,” Historical Dictionary of Venezuela, 502-503.

[51] Chávez paraphrases Bolívar’s “Reply of a South American to a Gentleman of this Island [Jamaica],” otherwise known as the Carta de Jamaica. In Lewis Bertrand’s translation of the letter, Bolívar states, “How beautiful it would be if the Isthmus of Panamá could be for us what the Isthmus of Corinth was for the Greeks!” See Bolívar, “Reply of a South American to a Gentleman of this Island [Jamaica],” Selected Writings of Bolívar, 118.

[52] Chávez pauses after saying por ahora, for now, to which the audience responds with light laughter and applause. The phrase brings to mind the speech in which Chávez called for the surrender of his troops after realizing that his 1992 coup attempt had failed. The opposition made the mistake of allowing Chávez to call for that surrender via a nationally televised broadcast, in which Chávez informed the public that his plan had failed for now, two words that would inspire hope for change among a public that was very unsatisfied with its government. For Chávez use of that phrase in this speech, see “VIVENCIAS DE CHÁVEZ, Discurso pronunciado el 02 de Febrero de 1999.” See also “Discurso del presidente de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela, Hugo Chávez Frías, con motivo de la toma de posesión,” 1:46:51. For more on his speech following the failed coup, see Gott, Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution, 67-38.

[53] Chávez paraphrases Bolívar’s Angostura Address here. In Lewis Bertrand’s translation, Bolívar states, “The formation of a stable government requires as a foundation a national spirit…All our moral powers will not suffice to save our infant republic… unless we fuse the mass of the people, the government, the legislation, and the national spirit into a single united body.” See Bolívar, “The Angostura Address,” Simón Bolívar El Libertador: Writings of Simón Bolívar, Trans. Frederick H. Fornoff, 191.

[54] Chávez’s remark here is again reminiscent of Bolívar’s Angostura Address. In Lewis Bertrand’s translation, Bolívar states, “Unity, unity, unity must be our motto in all things.” Ibid.