Connect to share and comment

Hugo Chavez: Re-writing history

A new take on Venezuela's historical figures

A girl walks past a mural depicting national hero Simon Bolivar in the neighborhood of La Pastora in Caracas Nov. 10, 2008. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

CARACAS — Cipriano Castro was a dictator and a despot who grabbed power in Venezuela in a bloody coup in 1899. So say the history books.

But now Castro — an important figure in Venezuelan history — is getting a new gloss: A revision of his career promoted by the government is underway here, and it paints him in a more favorable light.

Last month, members of the National Assembly from President Hugo Chavez’s United Socialist Parties of Venezuela (PSUV) denounced the historians who have so far defined the mainstream view of Castro. Most historical accounts of Castro describe his nine years in power as full of rebellions, the murder or exile of his political opponents and fights with colonial European and U.S. powers.

Referring to a recent book that portrays Castro as a “national hero,” Venezuelan National Assembly delegate Miguel Rojas complained of the “notable absence of certifiable information” about Castro. 

“The facts we have about Cipriano Castro do not remotely resemble those that the text signals as happening in that period that was so important for the country,” he said. The book, called "Cipriano Castro: the Eternal Pilgrim," was published by the Andean Parliament (the governing body for four Andean countries).

Castro is not the first historical figure lined up for reassessment. Last year, Chavez created a committee to examine the events that led to the death of Simon Bolivar, after whom he has named his revolution. Bolivar, a Venezuelan aristocrat who liberated Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia from Spanish rule in the early 19th century, died from tuberculosis in Santa Marta, Colombia.

Conventional history says that by his death he was a broken man, having failed in his dream of uniting the countries he liberated. Chavez believes he was assassinated by his political rival, Franciso de Santander.

The committee, led by the vice president of Venezuela, has yet to publish any findings. 

Chavez courts comparisons with Bolivar. But the parallels between Chavez and Castro are actually more striking. Both were military men. Both led coups (Castro succeded; Chavez failed). Like Castro, Chavez had a U.S.-supported coup mounted against him (unlike Castro, Chavez survived). 

Most significantly, both will be remembered for their fiery nationalistic rhetoric and anti-imperialist stance.