In Memoriam
11 March 2024

Rafael Sánchez Cacheiro

February 5, 1950 – February 22, 2024

With enormous sadness, we must report that Rafael Sánchez Cacheiro, retired senior lecturer at the Geneva Graduate Institute, passed away on February 22, 2024, in Geneva, after a valiant battle with cancer.

Born in Havana, Cuba, Rafael Sánchez lived briefly in Miami before his family migrated first to Spain and then to Venezuela. He obtained his formal education in Caracas, and then California, before moving to the University of Chicago to further his studies in anthropology, ultimately obtaining his doctorate at the University of Amsterdam. Before joining the Geneva Graduate Institute, he taught at several institutions, including the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, at New York University (2007-11), and Amsterdam University College (2011-15). He was also a Research Fellow at the Center for Religion & Media at NYU (2006-7), and a Visiting Scholar at Princeton’s Program in Latin American Studies (Fall 2018).

Throughout his life and career, Rafael Sánchez was devoted to the task of understanding the affective and historical dimensions of political life, and especially the fortunes and material forms of populism in Latin America. This unrelenting pursuit, born of a passionate commitment to democratic life, culminated in his landmark book, Dancing Jacobins: A Venezuelan Genealogy of Latin American Populism (2016), in which he treats the political theology of Bolivarismo and the aesthetics of monumentalism in which it has been incarnated. In pursuit of this understanding, Sánchez undertook intensive field research and drew on the theoretical traditions of classical social and political theory, psychoanalysis, and literary critical thought. This vigorous and theoretically virtuosic interdisciplinarity has been a definitive attribute of his work.

Until the end of his life, Sánchez continued to think about these issues, especially dedicated to the relationship between affect and the political theology of patriarchy, which latter force he identified as the greatest obstacle to social justice. As his horizon closed, the pace of his writing accelerated, so that, in the end, he was able to complete a book-length essay in which his own life was made to serve as the medium for a rethinking not only of populist authoritarianism and its patriarchal roots, but also the marginal social traditions, religious cults and exuberantly iconoclastic forms of life in which the dream and the future possibility of radical democracy might still be found and nourished.

Although Rafael Sánchez’s published writings were relatively few, his influence on students, friends, and colleagues has been enormous, both because of the importance of his ideas for the contemporary moment and because of the consideration, care and passion that he invested in his relationships with others. He is admired, as well, for the enormous breadth and depth of his fervid reading, which extended from social and political theory to literary fiction and poetry. Until the end of his life, and despite a grueling regimen of treatments, Sánchez maintained remarkable lucidity, which permitted him to continue reading, thinking, and teaching others with the intensity and devotion that he had demonstrated throughout his life — making of his final struggle an exemplary scene of living fully for all who were in his presence.

Rafael Sánchez spent his final weeks at the hospice La Maison de Tara, a milieu of thoughtfully generous care, where he continued to entertain friends, in person or via letters and voice messages. His last days were in the company of his adored and adoring wife, Patricia Spyer, whose presence and support through almost forty years of marriage he credited with enabling him in every way. In addition to Patricia Spyer and his many devoted friends, Rafael Sánchez is survived by his sister, Oti Sánchez de Guilliano, brother, Carlos Sánchez  Cacheiro, and their respective families; as well as by his sister-in-law, Ginny Spyer, and her family.


Interview with Rafael Sanchez | Crowds, Populism, and Democracy in Venezuela