The Venezuelan government's veneration of former President Hugo Chávez, the celebrated "eternal leader" of the Bolivarian Revolution, has been codified in a new state-promoted prayer that borrows heavily from the Lord's Prayer.
Chávez's “Prayer of the Delegate” was recited Monday morning during a socialist party event in Caracas. The prayer was meant to give "spiritual guidance" to activists who gathered to discuss ways in which to further promote Chavismo in Venezuela.
“Our Chávez, who art in Heaven. On earth, in the sea, and inside all of us delegates. Hallowed be thy name,” goes the prayer. “Deliver us from the temptation of capitalism and lead us away from evil and from oligarchs. Because the fatherland peace and life are ours. Forever and ever. Amen.”
It may sound unusual for people to pray to a dead president. But in largely Catholic Venezuela, there have already been several attempts to compare Chávez, who died of cancer in 2013, to a saint, or portray him as a god-like figure with mystical powers.
Last year, President Nicolas Maduro, who claims he has spoken to Chávez in the form of a bird, announced subway workers had seen the image of the former president appear miraculously on the wall of a tunnel they were digging. A Chávez chapel has been erected in a poor neighborhood of Caracas, and people sell his statuettes all over the country. These items are sometimes used to pray to the fallen leader and ask him for miracles.
Ennio Cardozo, a political scientist at Venezuela’s Central University, suspects that the government promotes these acts of reverence in an effort to sustain its legitimacy.
“There is a dearth of leadership in Venezuela; the government and opposition lack someone who is popular” Cardozo said. “So the government has to look for someone that unites people, and that is still Chavez. That is why they call him the eternal leader.”
Cardozo said the Venezuelan government starts most of its official events with an old recording of Chávez singing the national anthem. The same recording is broadcast twice a day on Venezuela’s state-run television network.
“This is something that is typical of personalist regimes,” Cardozo said. “We saw similar things with Lenin, with Mao and with Mussolini.”
But Cardozo also thinks that the "Our Chávez" prayer is a smokescreen to distract attention from the country’s problems.
“Thousands of people were upset with this [prayer] and were talking about it on social media,” Cardozo said. “Instead they could be talking about things like our high crime rates, food shortages, and our rising cost of living.”
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.