El Chavez del 8: Presidente

El Chavo y El Chavez share humble origins, raised in communities lacking material wealth yet rich in working class people

By Luis Vega
Published on LatinoLA: January 7, 2013

El Chavez del 8: Presidente

It is almost impossible for a mere human to defeat Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in the ballot box. He has transcended the limitations of human existence becoming to millions of followers a living legend of mythical proportions. The closest to a Messiah they experienced in their lifetimes. An Afro-Latino David fighting a colossal Arnold-like Western Goliath; winning elections time after time.

Actually four times in a row (1998, 2000, 2006, 2012) establishing voting participation records surpassing each other. So, many wonder what is the secret behind Chavez unprecedented political success?

Hugo Chavez is the incarnation of "El Chavo del 8" Latin America's most successful children's television show dubbed to 50 languages. Like its real-life political version El Chavo defeats any barrier faced turning his poor background into an asset while charming masses who cannot but empathize with his melodramatic plight.

El Chavo and El Chavez share humble origins, were raised in colorful communities lacking material wealth yet rich in strong working class people who teach children to dream big and hit back hard.

Both fight not for themselves but for 'La Vecindad' (the 'hood), for social-justice using poor origins as protecting shield against wealthy nemeses. As if their early deprivations of food, education and power turned into a secret weapon to win elections. While in America a recent New York Times article by Nicolas Carnes was titled: "Which Millionaire Are You Voting For?".

In Latin America it is the poor and oppressed who are getting elected over and over. Lula the former shoeshine boy in Brazil, Evo Morales the Aymara Indian in Bolivia, or Afro-Latino Chavez in Venezuela. The 'have-nots' have it all, it seems.

"Would you like to be represented by a millionaire lawyer or a millionaire businessman? Even in our great democracy, we rarely have the option to put someone in office who is not part of the elite," writes Nicolas Carnes. "But why do so few elections feature candidates who have worked in blue-collar jobs themselves, at least for part of their lives?" Ooops, then came President Barack Obama - twice.

Many Latino intellectuals feel El Chavo's 'La Vecindad' is a microcosm of Latin America, its main character a symbol of our neglected youth. He wants not an education, a house, or parents but something to eat ("torta de jamon"). El Chavo's needs are basic and primal.

When he cries (all characters cry distinctively) it goes "pi pi pi pi pi pi" an ancestral Mayan war cry. Likewise Chavez called the presidential election a "perfect battle, a democratic battle" that won him 22 out of 23 national states and Distrito Capital (DC). A victory so transparent opposition leaders gave news conferences to assure voters there was no fraud multiple times.

Chavez electoral strength comes from the poor and lower classes who for decades felt abandoned, ignored and forgotten by an upper class who enjoyed almost unsupervised control the nation's oil riches. Wealth distribution in the South American/Caribbean nation was more extreme than Mexico's perhaps because they lack Mexico's immigration valve.

Under Chavez poverty was reduced almost in half and with help from China trade ("Casa Bien Equipada" Program) many poor Venezuelans can now afford electric appliances for their homes for the first time.

Although this program with China looks revolutionary, it is really not. It is just that China replaced the United States as Venezuela's top foreign benefactor and "Casa Bien Equipada" (Well Equipped Home) replaced "Alianza para el Progreso" (Alliance for Progress) launched by President John F. Kennedy and then Venezuelan President Romulo Betancourt.

More than revolutionary it is an American idea with Chinese subtitles.

Not surprising considering some of the best international markets for "El Chavo del 8" are China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, India, and Brazil. El Chavo like El Chavez have effectively communicated to world audiences problems in their native countries are not born of lack of effort, ingenuity, or work ethic but due to the harsh realities of trickle-down economics.

Before Psy's "Gangnam Style" mocked South Korea's noveau rich with cartoonish abandon, Mexico exported Latin America's difficult economic realities "El Chavo Style". "Pi pi pi pi pi pi," we are coming.

It is in the masterful Latin American universe created by genius writer Roberto Gomez Bolanos in Mexico that both El Chavo and El Chavez exist today. 'La Vecindad' is a children's version of Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 'Macondo' in "One Hundred Years of Solitude."

Latin American "magic realism" for children of all ages and cultures around the world. The classic "Cinderella" story only this time the peasant is not a girl but a boy, not European but Latino, rises to the top not by marriage to a prince but marriage to a nation through the power of the ballot box - an unbeatable narrative.

While El Chavo's archenemy is Quico, a chubby spoiled rich kid always bringing bigger expensive toys to humiliate and keep him in his place; El Chavez's original nemesis was President George W. Bush (Mr Danger) who fearlessly used military might to protect American supremacy. Quico wears a sailor's uniform and lives off his widow mother's government pension.

In fiction, as in real life, it helps to have well-defined antagonists to highlight a hero. El Chavez's economic world vision was first commercially exported by El Chavo from Mexico. It is socio-economics for pre-schoolers worldwide. It works.

Of course, it does not have to be like this nor is the current situation new to our times. Venezuela before Chavez was no 'bed-of-roses'. In 1958 when Vice President Nixon visited Caracas he was welcomed by mobs attacking his motorcade. Many then felt American policy focus was the Cold War and anti-communism ignoring more pressing economic and political needs of the region.

By 1961 with a new American administration in power President Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy were welcomed to Caracas with devotion by crowds of thousands chanting their names. And Jackie spoke Spanish.

Same two countries yet two very different reactions due to different American foreign policy to the region. A 180 degrees change in only 3 years. Under Betancourt and Kennedy Venezuela and the United States became best of friends. Just in time for the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Which brings us back to the latest incarnation of Latin America's favorite iconic character, El Chavo del 8, now El Chavez. No longer an outsider orphan looking in from an empty barrel but now starring in a new important role live from the presidential palace in Miraflores: "El Chavez del 8, Presidente." ?íOrale!

Luis Vega (c) 2012

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