Geoffrey Hawthorn

6 March 2013

'Chávez hasta siempre'

‘Por ahora,’ Hugo Chávez remarked on television after the failure of his coup in 1992. He would be gone ‘for the time being’. Within hours of his death yesterday, the tweet on the streets was ‘Chávez hasta siempre,’ Chávez for ever. Now that he’s really gone, will he stay? Few in Venezuela are likely to be saying ‘yes and no’. Unlike God in a place whose Catholicism is gaily pagan, an ebullient syncretism, carelessly superstitious and remarkably undark, at its best in street festivals, Chávez has not been an equivocal presence. Those whom the white upper classes used rudely to refer to as ‘los niches’, the brown, uneducated and poor, have unequivocally revered him. And the white upper classes have unequivocally not. Yet though Chávez was a perfect devil for the one, he was no true god, cultivating distance and lack of substance, for the other. He loved being out there, on the streets, often having slept overnight in a vehicle, popping up in front of a TV camera somewhere in the country on a Sunday afternoon, talking equably to whomever, going on for hours, inventing policies as he did so, and engaging his formidable charisma eye to eye rather than parading it from afar. Unlike Simón Bolívar, whom he did himself deify, his presence was all, as his absence in recent months was beginning to make clear.

22 July 2011

Double Currency

The problem is plain. If new loans to Greece are arranged, even at lower rates of interest, its debt will rise. If its existing loans are rolled over or sold, the rating agencies may declare default and jittery banks and other investors will expect more interest on new lending. But the solution this week is likely to involve a degree of both, in the hope that the compromise will not be too unpalatable to too many. The alternatives – for Greece to default completely and leave the Eurozone or for the zone to announce that it will move to a common fiscal and spending policy – are next to unimaginable.

29 June 2011

Drivin’ in the Rain

The figures are impressive. In December 2009, a poll of 217 drivers in Formula One, past and present, voted Ayrton Senna the best of all time. Three-quarters of more than 12,000 readers of Autosport agreed. Senna held records long after he was killed on the Imola circuit in 1994 and no one has yet matched his six wins at Monte Carlo, arguably the trickiest track of all. He devoted a good part of his $400 million fortune to a children’s charity in Brazil, the crowd at his funeral in São Paulo was the largest ever in the city, and on the sort of count that the medieval Church used to keep of shrines, it is said that his grave is visited by more people than those of John Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley combined. ‘Nothing,’ his headstone says, ‘can separate me from the love of God.’ And he was pretty. If ever there was a subject for film.