Chavez, Communism and Christianity

The Associated Press’ Christopher Toothaker has a long and fascinating look at Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Let’s get right into it. Here’s the top of the piece:

CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has spent much of his career praising the socialist ideas of famed atheists such as Karl Marx and Fidel Castro. Now in the thick of a prolonged battle against cancer, however, the leftist leader is drawing inspiration more than ever from a spiritual leader: Jesus Christ.

Chavez has been praying for divine intervention during increasingly infrequent appearances on television, holding up a crucifix while vowing to overcome his illness. He says living with cancer has made him “more Christian,” talk that has coincided with speculation by some Venezuelans that cancer might cut short his bid for re-election in October.

Chavez’s voice cracked with emotion as he bade farewell to aides and supporters in Caracas on April 30 before leaving for what he said would be his final round of cancer treatment in Cuba.

“I’m sure our Christ will do it again, continuing making the miracle,” Chavez said as he raised his cross to his lips and kissed it, prompting applause from an audience of aides.

If Chavez survives cancer, political analysts say his increasing religiosity could pay election-year dividends in a country where Catholicism remains influential.

And it goes on like that for a while. The report is detailed and includes quite a bit of perspective from analysts (including of the skeptical variety). He’s apparently become quite outspoken about his faith, even crying during a televised Mass with relatives. The article is illustrated with a picture of Chavez holding up a crucifix and kissing it.

Chavez’s religiosity contrasts with the resolute secularism of his political father figure, Castro, and other leaders who have followed the socialist path Chavez lauds.

A large majority of Venezuelans practice Catholicism, and Protestant denominations have grown rapidly in some parts of the country. Many Venezuelans also practice folk religions and leave offerings at roadside shrines.

Mixing religion and politics isn’t new in Venezuela, even if religious groups generally don’t get directly involved in politics. Former President Luis Herrera characterized himself as spiritually pure and promoted social programs for the poor while leading his Copei Social Christian party.

We get comparisons to other Latin American leaders who employ religious language. We even get to drill down a bit on Chavez’s eclectic religious views, such as his views on María Lionza. I do wonder if that was put accurately:

He has at times also expressed faith in folk deities such as Maria Lionza, an indigenous goddess venerated by some Venezuelans who pay homage through candlelit rituals and shrines.

Since Venezuelans tend to relate to her in rather different ways, it may be helpful to have a direct quote to explain what “expressed faith in” means here. Anyway, the one area I wanted to discuss related to conflicts between Chavez’s Catholicism and his political practices. Here’s how the article handles it:

Despite his recent expressions of faith, the president has had a rocky relationship with Catholic leaders. He has accused priests of siding with the country’s wealthy rather than the poor and in a particularly heated clash in 2010, suggested that Christ would whip some church leaders for lying after Cardinal Jorge Urosa warned that democratic freedoms were being eroded in Venezuela.

Chavez insists his faith goes back to his days as an altar boy, and long before his illness, he was calling Jesus Christ “the greatest socialist in history.” …

Chavez has been receiving radiation therapy in Cuba over the past week, the latest phase in treatments that since June have included chemotherapy and two surgeries that removed tumors from his pelvic region, though he has not said what sort of cancer he has.

I guess what I found noteworthy is that nowhere do we discuss the persecution of Christians that has taken place under, among other political allies of Chavez’s, Cuban rule.

The article does a nice job of reporting nearly every other aspect, but considering the strength of that relationship between Castro and Chavez and the reality of what life under Castro has been like for religious adherents, I’m surprised we didn’t get more discussion of whether Chavez has problems with that friendship. And, if not, why not.

Chavez photo via <a href="Vitoriano Jr. /

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  • Steve Martin

    Any port in a storm. I hope that Chavez truly does trust in Christ Jesus, apart from anything that his Communist allies may believe.

  • Richard Mounts

    While I’m reluctant to second guess another’s profession of Christianity, I do tend to consider Pres. Chavez a political oportunist. I believe that he’ll say or do anything to control everything. It seems that he believes he can somehow manipulate Christ to do his (Mr. Chavez’s) will.

    It would have been interesting to know what Pres. Chavez is doing to practice his new (rediscovered?) Christian faith. For starters, is he attending mass regularly? How does he reconcile his heterodox religious practices with Catholic teaching?

    As I say, I’m skeptical. Just the same I’m hopeful.

  • sari

    considering the strength of that relationship between Castro and Chavez and the reality of what life under Castro has been like for religious adherents, I’m surprised we didn’t get more discussion of whether Chavez has problems with that friendship. And, if not, why not.

    You speak here of the relationship between a politician and a dictator, where expedience probably takes precedence over friendship. Even if this is a case of friendship, should we expect people to break existing ties over differences in religious beliefs or to continue the dialogue?

  • Richard Mounts


    Sadly, I have seen friendships-even marriages-negatively affected by the newly-professed religious faith of one of the partners to the relationship. Given that, a discussion of how Pres. Chavz’s God talk affects his relationship w/the Castros seems warranted.

    Perhaps we should know if word of the faith of the president of Venezuela is even widely known in Cuba. If not, maybe there’s no need to take official notice.

  • sari

    I have seen same on a personal level, especially within marriages, and the results have rarely been pretty. That’s why I asked.

    Would we or should we expect the same scenario to be played out on the political stage? Furthermore, other than verbal expressions of religiosity, has Chavez’s behavior changed vis-a-vis his own people? All well and good that he professes belief in and thanks G-d (and hopes G-d will cure him), but I’d like to see belief translated into action that benefits his people, not just himself, before expecting him to demand change in other nations.

  • Stephen A.

    The relationship is between a dictator AND another dictator, and yes, the free press in other nations like the US need to bring up “uncomfortable” truths in their reporting like the outright persecution of Christians in Cuba (not to mention journalists, gays, democracy advocates, free thinkers and many, many others.)

    It’s an appalling case of self-imposed blindness for the American Left in the media and Hollywood to continue to cover for these thugs, particularly Chavez, who hides behind Christianity about as convincingly as Saddam did behind Islam.

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