Monday, August 07, 2006

Hugo Chavez, African?

Once again, call me cynical, but I love when Africa becomes truly inherently relevant on the international relations realm. Not that it is not normally: It is. But I am always uplifted when others are brought to see it too. The latest of these moments came by way of... Venezuela! Anti-US-imperialism Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez just visited both Mali and Benin, in West Africa, in a bid to reinforce his self-imposed image of "champion of the developping world".
Daily News - "Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his Malian counterpart Amadou Toumani Toure Wednesday initialed energy accords, but disclosed no details on the pacts, AP reported.

Venezuela is seeking closer ties with other South American nations and some African countries, amidst increased tensions with the United States.

Chávez said he intended to evaluate, together with Toure, any possibilities for oil exploitation in Mali. He plans to ink an agreement to assist Mali in oil prospection and drilling. Chávez is the first Venezuelan President who pays an official visit to Mali.

'We believe Mali could be the axis for cooperation with Africa. This is the view the Venezuelan President has,' said Rebecca Bello, Venezuelan ambassador to the West African nation.

Venezuelan ministers of Energy and Petroleum, Rafael Ramírez; Science and Technology, Yadira Córdova and Communication and Information, Willian Lara, held working meetings with their Malian counterparts.

Chávez Thursday is visiting Benin, in the continuation of a two-week world tour took him to Russia, Belarus, Iran and Vietnam, among other countries.
Like everything with Hugo Chavez, nothing was left at random. Everything from rosy promises, to lucrative business deals, were on the negotiating tables, and Hugo Chavez's visible ease with the common people really worked at maintaining that image. And all this happened a few days after the Venezuelan leader recalled his ambassador to Israel, in solidarity with the Lebanese and Palestinian people. And to top it all, Chavez reclaimed his African roots, reminding everyone that his father was as black as Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure.

Hopefully, there is some substance behind the promises (and so far, Chavez has been decent at delivering). But I am curious to see how this new relationship between Africa and another "Anti-US" Latin American leader, is going to play out for Africa, in a world where the US' has a policy of "you are either with us, or against us".

I wonder...


Black River Eagle said...

How many Venezuelans of African ancestry are serving in the Hugo Chavez administration, and what are there positions? Was this the first time he spoke of his African ancestry in the international media limelight?

Of course Chavez could have African ancestry. Let's remember that over 3/4 of the African slaves arriving in the New World landed in the Carribean, Central, and South America. Only about 4 millions black slaves ended up in the U.S. from the 1600's - mid 1800's, 12-16 million slaves were shipped South.

Do a little research to see how well they fared in countries like Venezuela, Columbia, Brazil, Guatemala, Ecuador, Paraguay, Argentina... I think that you get my point, don't you?

Black River Eagle said...

Here are some answers to my own questions re: Chavez, Venezuela, and equal opportunity for all races and ethnic groups. Excerpts are taken from an October 2005 article by Nicholas Kozloff for the Venezuela Analysis website:

"I was a farm kid from the plains of South Venezuela"

While Chávez's strategy of appealing to racial minorities is certainly bold, it is hardly surprising given the history. Chávez himself was born in the Venezuelan plain or llano, and has a provincial accent. A forbidding area with a harsh tropical climate, the area has had a long history of racial conflict going back centuries. During the Spanish colonial period, rebellious black slaves managed to escape from plantations and haciendas, fled to the llano and became a problem for the authorities. Slaves started to live in cumbes or escaped communities where collective forms of work were practiced. The blacks mixed with the Indian population and carried out daring raids on cattle ranches. The whites grew alarmed by inter-racial mixing: escaped slaves, they feared, might have a radicalizing effect on the Indian population. Accordingly, in 1785 the authorities drafted laws prohibiting blacks from living with Indians "because they only corrupt them with the bad customs which they generally acquire in their breedingand they sow discord among the same Indians."

Physically, Hugo Chávez is a pardo, a term used in the colonial period to denote someone of mixed racial roots. "Chávez's features," writes a magazine columnist, "are a dark-copper color and as thick as clay; he has protruding, sensuous lips and deep-set eyes under a heavy brow. His hair is black and kinky. He is a burly man of medium height, with a long, hatchet-shaped nose and a massive chin and jaw." In an interview, Chávez remarked that when he first applied to the military academy he had an Afro. From an ethno-racial standpoint, Chávez is similar to many of his fellow Venezuelans. Indeed, today 67 per cent of the population is mestizo, 10 per cent black and 23 per cent white. Chávez himself has not sought to distance himself from his ethnic heritage. "My Indian roots are from my father's side," he remarked. "He [my father] is mixed Indian and black, which makes me very proud." What is more, Chávez has boasted of his grandmother, who he says was a Pumé Indian. Like many other Venezuelans of mixed race, Chávez grew up in poverty. One of six children, Chávez was born in extremely humbling conditions in the llano. "I was a farm kid from the plains of South Venezuela," he remarked to Ted Koppel on ABC's Nightline.

Anonymous said...

It is obviously evident that Chavez is of mixed racial ancestry.His features clearly show his African and Native American features. How anyone could deny this is beyond me. I think it is great that he acknowledges his African heritage in particular. Most people know that, generally speaking, Afro-Latin people have been taught to deny the African element of Latin/Hispanic culture, no matter how pronounced it is.

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