At First Things, Lisa Carroll-Davis recently described the Venezuelan president’s striking language about his predecessor Hugo Chávez on the one-year anniversary of his death: “Christ the Redeemer became flesh, became spirit, became truth in Chávez” and was “the Christ of the poor, the Christ of the humble, he who came to protect those who have had nothing.”
This was hardly an isolated incident:
The social unrest and economic privation that spilled out in protests in February 2014 were met by Venezuela’s leaders with redoubled proclamations of Chavista messianism. During the height of the protests, in a speech made March 5, 2014 at a military parade in Caracas marking the one year anniversary of Chávez’s death, Maduro proclaimed, Chávez “the Redeemer of the poor” and said that the poor were calling to Chávez the “Redeeming Christ of the 21st Century” to help them against the capitalist protestors attempting to undo all he had done for the poor….
In Venezuela, the conflation of politician and messiah have saturated the popular culture, as not only are the leftist political actors making statements exalting the deceased Chávez as Christ, the average citizens venerate the former president. Immediately after his passing in March 2013, public processions honoring Chávez included his supporters carrying posters of him and Jesus together. There were reports and pictures of widespread household altars to Chávez, with an effigy or image of him replacing Christ on the cross. Presenting Chávez as the messiah is not merely a convenient rhetorical trope for the ruling party. It is a sentiment that has been internalized and codified by those who supported him. What otherwise would be considered unorthodox, or at least heterodox, has become fully acceptable to a largely Catholic population.
Carroll-Davis puts this devotion to Chavez in the context of the Latin American Left and liberation theology.