By Luis Manuel Aguana
Never before have we Venezuelans needed to return to our roots. I remember having seen in some documentary how a plantation of a special crop has been recovered after a voracious fire after looking for among the singed remains a trunk that fought with the fire and that conserved its inner greenery in spite of the high temperature. After placing it in germination and intensive care, the plant was reborn practically from its ashes. Something like this will happen to us but it is absolutely necessary to preserve at all costs the green fighting the fire. And we are in the middle of the most terrible fire.
The answer lies in what we are – that inner greenery – and that for multiple reasons and blows we have been forgetting, until we completely lose the compass. How do you know where to go if you don’t know where you’re coming from? We know where we are even if we don’t know in the end how we got here. Hence my constant insistence to return to the principles when you feel you got lost on the way. When you get lost, go back to your principles. I assure you that you will return to the path later.
The very beginning of the road lost among so many blows from Venezuela is returning to who we are. We have been crossing a political thread that in my opinion began in Angostura on February 15, 1819 when the Supreme Chief of the Republic, Simón Bolívar, pronounced the most important political piece of all our history, the Angostura Speech. (see in Spanish in https://storicamente.org/sites/default/images/articles/media/1880/Bolivar_Discurso_de_Angostura.pdf).
Who are we Venezuelans? What inner greenery must we fight to preserve? Bolívar described it in Angostura in 1819: “A multitude of benevolent sons and daughters have the country capable of directing it: talents, virtues, experience, and all that is required to send free men, are the patrimony of many of those who here represent the people, and outside this sovereign body are citizens who in all ages have shown courage to face the dangers, prudence to avoid them, and art, in order to govern themselves and others”. That is what we are and that is what we must rescue after the fire.
The first thing El Libertador did was to assume his condition as a citizen and call for national sovereignty represented in that Congress:
“Blessed is the Citizen who, under the shield of his command’s arms, has called for National Sovereignty, so that he may exercise his absolute will! I, therefore, am among the most favored beings of Divine Providence, since I have had the honor of gathering the Representatives of the People of Venezuela in this august Congress, source of the legitimate Authority, deposit of the sovereign will and arbitrator of the Destiny of the Nation.”
Bolivar returns Venezuela’s Supreme Command to Congress: “Legislators! You now have the august duty to consecrate yourselves to the happiness of the Republic: in your hands is the balance of our destinies, the measure of our glory: they will seal the Decrees that fix our Freedom. At this moment the Supreme Chief of the Republic is nothing more than a simple Citizen, and such wants to remain until death. However, I will serve in the arms race as long as there are enemies in Venezuela.”
Read the meaning of this carefully. Bolívar returns to Congress the command so that it can make the necessary Decrees that fix Venezuela’s freedom, and assumes his condition as a citizen of the arms race to serve Venezuela.
In 1819, the liberation of Venezuela had not yet been achieved. In the midst of war and with the enemy within the country, El Libertador conceived it necessary to gather Congress and hand over power to the citizens so that they could establish the best political formulation to achieve the freedom and happiness of the Venezuelan people. That would not be done by the military but by the citizens:
“Meditate well on your choice, Legislators. Do not forget that you are going to lay the foundations of a nascent People that will be able to rise to the greatness that nature has pointed out to it, if you provide its basis to the eminent rank that awaits it. If your election is not presided over by the tutelary genius of Venezuela, who should inspire you to choose the right nature and form of Government that you are going to adopt for the happiness of the People; if you do not succeed, I repeat, Slavery will be the end of our transformation”.
But the responsibility for this task is magnified because according to the Liberator if freedom is granted to a perverted people it is soon lost again:
“A perverted People, if it reaches its Freedom, soon loses it again; because in vain they will strive to show it that happiness consists in the practice of virtue: that the rule of Laws is more powerful than that of tyrants, because they are more inflexible, and everything must be submitted to their beneficial rigor: that good customs and not force, are the columns of Laws: that the exercise of Justice is the exercise of Freedom. Thus, Legislators, your enterprise is all the more impenetrable since you have to constitute men perverted by the illusions of error, and by harmful incentives. Freedom, says Rousseau, is a succulent food, but one that is difficult to digest. Our weak fellow-citizens will have to strengthen their spirit long before they can digest the healthy nourishment of Liberty. With their limbs engrossed in chains, their sight weakened in the shadows of the dungeons, and annihilated by the servile pestilences, will they be able to march with firm steps to the august Temple of Liberty? Will they be able to admire its splendid rays up close and breathe without oppression the pure ether that reigns there?”.
In other words, freedom has prerequisites, it cannot be given to just anyone. It cannot be understood by a perverted people. And that is my greatest fear. The whirlpool of perversion and distortion in which the country has been plunged as a consequence of the very high degree of corruption that has been reached in all areas of national life by the delinquency that has risen to power, could be the greatest obstacle to achieving lasting freedom after coming out of this tragedy.
When the Liberator refers to “our weak fellow-citizens” he is not mistaken if we transfer those same concerns to the present, and the questions asked there remain unanswered. Will we be able? Personally, I think we will be. Why? Because this corruption is by no means the corruption of the people, it is the corruption of those who at the wrong time came to power. It will be up to educate and create citizenship to prevent this perversion from happening again. That is the great challenge and the great responsibility of those who come to power afterwards.
But that also has prerequisites. We only need the unlimited detachment of those who have to drive, nothing less! Hence the categorical sentence of Angostura: “Codes, systems, statutes, however wise they may be, are dead works that have little influence on societies: virtuous men, patriotic men, enlightened men constitute the Republics!” We are aware that this is not what stands out from the current political scene. But we know it exists. The main lines are in Angostura, in our principles as a Nation: the power resides in the citizen and there are the answers to achieve freedom. That the construction of the country and its organization is in the hands of the people and their representatives, “deposit of the sovereign will and arbitrator of the destiny of the nation” to face a war that has not ended, with the enemy still inside the country, as happened in 1819.
Did Bolivar have any fear of handing over power to the people represented in the Angostura Congress to do what was necessary to achieve freedom? The Liberator was never afraid of popular sovereignty. He demonstrated it in Angostura and later reaffirmed it in the Letter addressed to Francisco de Paula Santander in October 1826:
“In a word, my dear general, I know of no other party of health than that of restoring to the people their primitive sovereignty so that they may remake their social pact. You will say that this is not legitimate: and I, to the truth, do not understand what crime is committed in happening to the source of the laws so that it remedies an evil that is of the people and that only the people knows. I say frankly that if this is not legitimate, it will be necessary at least, and, therefore, superior to any law: but more than anything it is eminently popular, and, therefore, very characteristic of an eminently democratic republic”.
And in the end that was the solution, to give back to the people their primitive sovereignty and remake the social pact. Let’s pay attention to the Liberator, he was the only Venezuelan who won a war by handing over power to the citizens…
Caracas, November 9, 2018