“What is left, instead, after Chávez? A gaping hole for the millions of Venezuelans and other Latin Americans, mostly poor, who viewed him as a hero and a patron, someone who “cared” for them in a way that no political leader in Latin America in recent memory ever had. For them, now, there will be a despair and an anxiety that there really will be no one else like him to come along, not with as big a heart and as radical a spirit, for the foreseeable future. And they are probably right.” (via newyorker)
Funny story about Chavez. When I was living in New Orleans after Katrina, I was volunteering for an organization called Common Ground and hostessing at a hookah bar to make rent — but really, I was playing out a strange, predictable, thankfully non-sexual relationship with a man my friend Liz dubbed “the Charismatic Leader.” (This was back when I dated enough that we could make a sport of nicknaming the boys. Remind me to tell you about Enron someday.)
The Charismatic Leader was one of the founders of the organization — well-spoken, unwashed, anti-government. Very post-med school Che. He drew me back to New Orleans (I was then living in Dublin) with visions of a rebuilt Lower Ninth. This was years before Brad Fucking Pitt got in the game; months before the city would even consider the question of clean-up in that neighborhood. His vision is now something of a reality — but that makes it no less revolutionary at the time.
A few months into 2006, though, and the Charismatic Leader started getting paranoid. While white Common Ground volunteers poured in from across the nation and slept in tents — proto-Occupiers — he had several secretive flop houses … and, I suspect, a girlfriend in every one. As I said, nothing sexual or even romantic happened between us — but we were attracted to each other, and our relationship played out on the Moneypenny end of the spectrum.
What that meant was, when I wasn’t calling up friendly lawyers to make sure they’d bail our proto-Occupiers out of jail should they be arrested while illegally cleaning a flooded public school, I was doing his weird personal bidding.
Changing his locks.
Categorizing his library.
Writing reports on human rights violations in Angola (he hoped to go there after New Orleans).
And researching under-the-radar ways to travel to Caracas.
For you see — as he told me in a smoky whisper at a Marigny coffee shop one afternoon — President Chavez had extended a top-secret invitation to him and a few other socialist-leaning New Orleans organizers. It was a helping hand and a fuck-you to Bush, not unlike that winter when Chavez donated heating oil to the American poor. They would get together and talk about hoodrat things. Overthrowing the American government. Ending structural racism. Rebooting the ol’ class warfare. You know.
I was impressed. Also, amused.
I mean at this point we already called him Charismatic Leader.
How much more Charismatic Leader could he get??
Turns out, a lot more.
While I’m pretty sure he never made it to Caracas — though I suppose I wouldn’t know — he DID get one of his girlfriends pregnant. (I mean that is sooooo Charismatic Leader.)
And they DID open that school on-time for the next school year — one of the only in the 9th Ward to do so.
The last time I saw him he was tan and resplendent, a young and handsome father, a successful revolutionary sitting behind a desk in a working school….
Which is why it came as such a shock in early 2009 to find his name in the New York Times.
Turns out our Charismatic Leader was also a snitch
(all words that auto-fill when you google his name)
An FBI informant.
A man who maybe-possibly talked a couple naive revolutionary wannabes into planning to pipe bomb the Republican National Convention. And then testified against them for the FB-fucking-I.
Told ya he was charismatic.
(I’ve always assumed he did it because they had something on him and he had a baby to protect. I haven’t lost respect.)
It’s funny that I’m now reminded of all this by a New Yorker tumblr post.
When I was there, when I was in the middle of it, when I was in the front seat of his pickup, smoking his Reds and gazing at a Lower 9th house stripped neatly of its facade, a half-dozen suits hanging, improbably, in a closet and a doily atop a TV, when the Charismatic Leader was just a guy named Brandon and National Guard Humvees patrolled every street, even the rich, white ones — even then I dreamed of writing this all down in no less a publication than the New Yorker. Even then I could sense that this story would reach deep and wide.
And it does.
Funny story about Chavez.
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