Tariq Ali on Hugo Chavez:
I remember sitting next to an elderly, modestly attired woman at one of his public rallies. She questioned me about him. What did I think? Was he doing well? Did he not speak too much? Was he not too rash at times? I defended him. She was relieved. It was his mother, worried that perhaps she had not brought him up as well as she should have done: “We always made sure that he read books as a child.” This passion for reading stayed with him. History, fiction and poetry were the loves of his life: “Like me, Fidel is an insomniac. Sometimes we’re reading the same novel. He rings at 3 am and asks: ‘Well, have you finished? What did you think?’ And we argue for another hour.’”
It was the spell of literature that in 2005 led him to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’s great novel in a unique fashion. The ministry of culture reprinted a million copies of Don Quixote and distributed them free to a million poor, but now literate, households. A quixotic gesture? No. The magic of art can’t transform the universe, but it can open up a mind. Chávez was confident that the book would be read now or later.