viernes, 26 de octubre de 2007

Prophetic Scent

First of all, I would like to apologize with the readers because of the unusual delay on updating this blog, specially in times when it’s more important than ever to tell the world what’s happening here. It was not because I was busy or unable somehow to update but more because I didn’t know what to write. After all, I’m a decent writer but a terrible reporter. An outstanding number of news just coming to my life and demanding my attention and concern, makes the effect of paralyze me because of the fear of possible writing something without thinking first. All those news, all at once, without being able to know which one affects me the most, leaves me in a more concerned than a intellectual state of mind. And I’m not the only one.
My best friend just called in the middle of the night saying: “I’m so mad, I’m just so mad about all this”. And then he talked about extreme measures to be taken, like staying at the streets “hasta que el cuerpo aguante” (“until the body can bare it”). He expressed the general mood that I can sense in the streets of Caracas. Doesn’t matter if you are against the government or not, if the environment is able to drag you enough, suddenly you feel tired, sick, and over all, angry.
The tense situation back in May, when RCTV (the opposition TV channel that until it was closed had the higher audience) was about to be closed by the government, now looks like a kids game to me; as the events get more and more radical, more and more violent and more and more miserable.
Radical, because between the emergency of the Chavistas to see the Constitutional Reform approved by December; and the emergency of the ones who opposes to the regime (and well, why not say this? Even some Chavistas as well) to not see that reform approved ever; the situation it’s so grave that there’s not much space for tolerance left.
About the violence I don’t think I need to explain why I think the situation is getting violent, because its pretty obvious for anyone who has been aware of it, no matter the source. But what is important to notice is that the students are the ones who have gotten the worse part of this story.
I lost count of how many times one of the main student leaders: Yon Goicoechea has been beaten by a group of Chavez supporters in the middle of the most unusual situations: inside a congress planned to “discuss” the reform, in a communitarian meeting, at the streets, in an academic forum or at the parking line…
Last week, at an assembly in my university (he goes there for law school) he told us about an aggression he and other students suffered when they protested about the reforms proposed for the article 337 of the Constitution (which, as it was first proposed, allowed the president to declare an exceptional state without no human rights guarantees, including the right of a fair trial and to be informed; now after many protest some rights has been included but the right of being informed remains suppressed). They did that in an 100% Chavista “discussion” of the upcoming constitutional reform, that took place in a famous theater of Caracas called “Teresa Carreño”.
.- When they started hitting us – He said – the people in charge of the event “burda ‘e ratas” (Venezuelan slang, means something like “very rats”, very clever but bad people) turned off the lights of the theatre so you could not see a thing. Luckily some Chavistas inside the event defended us and stopped the madness, otherwise, I could not tell about the consecuences– The injuries of the White Hand students who attended to that event were not serious this time. “Can you imagine how scary that must be? To be hit in a place filled with Chavistas in a total darkness?” – A friend of mine, sitting next to me asked me while another student leader was talking about the movement next moves.
Yesterday, as a “Crónica de una muerte anunciada” (“Chronicle of a death foretold”, I’m just using the title of a famous Gabriel García Márquez novel), Yon end up in the clinic with his nose broken, although the journalists around him got the worse part of this questionable behavior of some chavistas.
And last Tuesday the students called for a demonstration till the National Assembly in order to protest against the proposed Constitutional Reform. Since I was sick, I “sent my mom in my representation” (just an inside joke, she wanted to go and joined the White Hand students anyway) and I stayed at home, feeling how my legs almost could move by themselves because of the desire of being elsewhere, and tuned with Globovisión (the only opposition Channel we have, not always the greatest journalism but like I said, It’s our only formal source) and a few news websites.
As always, the students from the White Hand movement couldn’t reach to the National Assembly building and had to stay at some boring place, blocks away from the goal where, ironically, the chavistas were comfortable gathered.
The situation at the end of this demonstration in particular was very confusing. Seems that the police ring was installed even more blocks away than what the authorities established in the first place, so the students got angry and broke the ring (no idea how they did it, because to break a police ring is not an easy task, as the matter of fact before Tuesday I thought it was simply impossible) and advance a few more steps until the place where the demonstration was authorized to be at first.
In the meantime, tear gas bombs and bottles were thrown against the protesters. Now I rarely get the chance to see this kind of events on live TV since I’m always at the place where the events are developing and when I come back home, after all that adrenaline, I always feel way too tired to watch the TV news of what I’ve already lived. Therefore, I don’t know if what I saw has happened before but on TV you could see groups of Chavistas throwing things against the protesters and both the police and the national guard didn’t seemed to bother about it. Maybe this is just a paranoid observation, I’m not sure.
Later that day, my mom came back with those stories that the TV could not tell me. According to her, several bottles were thrown from the apartments against the protesters gathered at the streets. My mom and my aunt started walking as stocked against a wall as they could; while they were seeing the bottles crashing right next to their feet. Was a pretty confusing and scary situation for the both of them.
And my cousin had a terrible allergy reaction to the tear gas. Maybe it was his first meeting with the –already familiar for me – white smoke. I could not tell. “It all had a terrible April 11 smell, I did not liked it and we try to leave as soon as possible” – My mom told me as the end of her story.
Last but not least, the situation Venezuelans face lately can be also described as miserable, mainly because of the reality now Venezuelans face as the shortages are getting more serious than the way they used to be. The main one these days: milk. Although Daniel mentions in his blog (I don't know if I'm linking to the right entry, because he has been talking a lot about shortages lately) that he’s now counting the second week without seeing fresh milk, my counting can be tracked down long before that, when I was at the Margarita island for vacations at the end of August making with my dad a series of non successful trips throughout the whole island just to find some milk. Of course, since then I have seen a few times one or two litters of fresh low fat milk, the one we would rather drink at home but those times has been rare, the milk insufficient for feed my whole family and the brands on which it comes, always totally unfamiliar to me.
My sister is specially concerned about maybe, some day, any day soon, not being able to find the special milk her baby (who was born a few months ago) needs. But, as my mom fairly pointed out, the concerns are way much bigger for any family with kids over 1 year old and under 12 years old.
While we were seeing the news about the student leader seriously injured and the long lines people now need to make (specially the people from the lower classes) to get some milk or chicken, my mom started thinking out loud: “We better start buying provisions. This whole thing smells like a Caracazo to me” – Sigh…I hope that my mom sense of smell doesn’t become prophetic now.
About the picture: A injured student during the demonstrations of last Tuesday 23/10/2007, taken by Carlos Weil, one of my friend' brothers.

sábado, 13 de octubre de 2007

About how Beethoven sounds here

These past few days I’ve been paralyzed as far as politics is concerned. Some ideas developed lately do not fit not even in my most pessimistic dreams. And December looks like a terrible monster ready to eat us before Christmas. Is not only “The end of Venezuela as I know it”, it’s the end of all possible “Venezuela” and the beginning, with red flags as a welcome, of the savagery. As plain and simple as that.Is not just Chavez, is not just the revolution, the scarcity of basic products, the misery all over you. It’s the madness of people who don’t know any limits when it comes to play a Lego game with my country. Is when a “process” matters more than anything, more than the citizens, more than the life, more than the wealth; nothing matters as long as a certain vague process and its king remain in power.

Their followers, always kissing their feet, with a free card to commit as many devilish acts as they want to, would give you the most amazing arguments to support its cause. And all those arguments can be put in just a very few words, of whom no one knows the exact meaning but it doesn’t matter because once they're overly used; there’s an implicit agreement around it. Those words are “capitalism” or “socialism”, “lackeys”, “the empire”, “revolution”, “destabilization” and so on.
And you know you must be aware when the speech doesn’t mention happiness anymore, neither it promise to end with the poverty; but yet it only talks about peace and the treats – real or not – prepared from the outside against it. Whenever someone talks about peace, it can only be because a war is being planned by the speaker, or its being feared by that speaker.

I have never felt the power as strong and big as I feel it over me right now. And, what am I doing about it? … Absolutely nothing. My world ends tomorrow, and I’m sitting in my room listening to the sonata “Appassionata” by Beethoven and those dramatic tunes only reminds me how stupid I’m acting right now. I’m not fighting, I have chosen to be whine and paralyzed instead.

A couple of nights ago I went to celebrate a former classmate (I finished my university studies in July, and I'm currently writing my thesis) birthday at some fancy club in the eastern zone of Caracas. We ordered a few drinks and started chatting about each other thesis and whatever stupid thing we are doing with our lives at the moment, now that we are done with those – once seemed like endless – sociology classes.

Without knowing how they managed to sneak in, a few kids mixed in the crowd. Their faces were filled with sadness while they were trying to sell some roses to the 20 something young executives who were too busy playing with their drinks. Some of those kids were not older than 6 or 7 years old, and they were there, working; in a Thursday night at some place very distant from their homes, if they … I guess I’m being naïve!... actually have a home.

And what did we do about it? Nothing, we just pretended to ignore the kids for a while and kept with our conversation. Eventually, a little girl sat with us and the sociologist inside a couple of friends made them start asking her a few questions. You want to cry, you want to scream, but the situation is way too overwhelming and so you keep drinking vodka with lemon instead.

Another friend whispers me in the ear imitating Chavez voice: “Please kill me if in my government any child lives or work at the streets…”- My mind goes back to 1998 and I remember his promises, his very radical promises that maybe he wanted to keep back then but now, I guess, they are more important things at the moment like get rid of the “Yankee influence”, put the people who “disestablish the country” in jail, buy some Russian weapons to be prepared in case of an invasion and create a Lenin based education project. Those children can wait. Unfortunately, they wont be children forever and that’s the classical problem all governments – and specially this one – face every time they decide to postpone certain priorities in order to assure their seats in Miraflores (our presidential palace).

The same friend gives me a ride home, about 3 am. My mom was waiting for me with the lights on (the news about crime worries her more and more every day). Since I was feeling a little bit dizzy because of the Vodka, I decided to make coffee with milk (I don’t like black coffee) before going to bed. My mom looked at me with a sarcastic face like saying “What are you pretending to do? Are you seeing any milk inside the fridge?”. The milk shortage came back to my mind, I guess the thought of how miserable we have become by getting used to the shortages pretty much ended up with all the drunkenness I had.

I still don’t understand how, in the middle of all this, I’m still going out, I’m still writing, I’m still studying, I’m still living. But, what other choice do I have?

The Sonata “Appassionata” by Beethoven is coming to an end now, with quick notes and strong accords. I wish life were as easy as a piece of music, that has a beginning and an end, no matter how dramatic, hard, sad, or disturbing their notes sound in the middle, it ends with the door opened for another piece waiting to be discovered. But here, only the dreams end and when you thought you have seen the worse, there’s only more coming.

PS: To finish this entry, here it is my favorite passage of the Appasionata, you can find it all in youtube of course. Enjoy, its a very powerful piece

miércoles, 3 de octubre de 2007

"Aunt, what does Bush has to do with my textbook?"

When I was at school one of my favorite routines was one usually made just a couple of days before a new school year started, and it consisted on going with my mom and my sister to buy the all school supplies and the paper to cover my new books.The Revolutionary people would have a treat with this, since the contact paper theme was always the most recent Disney (they say, imperialist) movie: one year it was Beauty and the Beast, the next Aladdin or more likely princess Jasmine and the next, The Lion King… It was a bittersweet moment of being still with the tan of the awesome vacations at Margarita island (always, always Margarita, we never tried anywhere else) and sad about their ending, but yet excited for the new books and notebooks and curious about my classmates opinions on my book cover (a totally pointless expectation, since at least other 5 girls always covered their books with the same Disney paper).
Just a few days ago I had the opportunity to live that again, by helping my 11 year old niece with her long list of school supplies for the 5th Grade she just starting. While I was cutting the “Ratatouille” contact paper for cover her books (my niece is pretty much into the family tradition) she showed me an unusual cartoon inside her main text book: “I already showed it to the rest of the family” – She said – “I don’t know what does Bush has to do with my text book”. – Hmmm, let me see…
The book is like an encyclopedia where you can find all the main classes from language to math, social studies and science. On the language section it had a chapter about written media, explaining the concept of news, different from an article, a cartoon and so on; with colorful examples of each concept.
Next to the cartoon description you could see a supposedly funny cartoon of two guys sitting on a bench talking. One guy says to the other: “Bush y que anda muy preocupado por el pueblo venezolano” (roughly translated: “Bush is supposedly concerned about the Venezuelan people”) – and the other answers back: “¿Por el pueblo? ¡Será por el petróleo!” (roughly translated: “For the people? It must be for the oil!”). I wont give my opinions on the cartoon stance, although the reader knows I’m not exactly a pro- Bush person, this is not the place to discuss that. The cartoon is the image chosen to start this entry (sorry about the bad quality, I don’t have a scanner and my digital cam is not made for this)
Carrying a suspicious attitude, I started checking the whole encyclopedia from head to toes. I found some things I’m not sure if I liked them. One of the activities proposed after a chapter asks the question if there should be limits to free speech and if the student considers that the media fills its role. One corner in yellow wonders if the student knows that the government founded “Misión Mercal” provides food in cheap prices to the people. And the most interesting chapter on “Social studies” gives a very shallow concept of democracy as the “government of the people” claiming that it’s the best existent way of government but doesn’t say much about the vote or about the power separation.
Yet none of this things alarms me, or make me want to burn the book and write a letter to the school authorities because that is part of the influence I see as inevitable under the schools because of a political process that has already lasted nine years. And my conscience reminds me that I don’t actually remember much of my 5th grade book because I was busier playing with my dolls and watching Disney movies to concern about the political scene back them.
So I can’t tell if my 5th grade book was any different from my niece’s. I’m pretty much sure that mine didn’t had cartoons about Bush that I can remember of; neither any propaganda of government programs (I wasn’t sure of what the government was doing anyway). For the better or the worse,– putting the memory of the briefly – leaded by Hugo Chavez - coup attempts of 1992 aside – politics was simply not part of my childhood and only acquired relevance when the whole “Chavez boom” started.
My niece’ childhood, on the other hand, has been entirely different: by being born in 1996 everything she knows is pretty much about Chavez; and by living inside a very anti – Chavez home, everything she knows is about things that are wrong and a strong crisis that she cannot get out of, no matter how hard we tried to put politics aside when it comes to talk to her.
So given our very different childhoods, it impressed me a lot when she noticed the cartoon about Bush and she was even concerned enough to tell all the family about it. After reviewing her book, all I did was to give her the introduction of a couple of explanations I’m afraid I will have to give her more on detail later: first, the concept of democracy that implies much more than the “power of the people” and if it limits to just the “power of the people” it becomes a plebiscite based democracy for say the least (still don’t have any clue about how to explain that to a 11 year old without feeling that I’m imposing her something); and second perhaps she might need some Venezuelan history clarification.
While I was talking to her about democracy I could notice how she quickly realized about the omnipotent present of two very different Venezuelas confusing us all the time. “So, do I have to learn all that, even if is not true?” – She asked me looking at her now “Ratatouille” covered big and brand new text book – “You will probably have to learn many things that are not true, and pretend they are” – I answered back, doubting if I was giving her the correct answer. I just couldn’t tell her something like: “don’t learn it just like that, discuss it to your teacher!” because sooner or later that advice could put her into some risk. To my proposal of making her pretend to be agree with the revolution at school (if it happens) and follow a whole different world perspective at home; she didn’t gave me not even the most tiny skeptical look. She looked at me back convinced that my answer was something completely normal, and a minute later she was back organizing her new school supplies like nothing.
Either way, she daily faces this contrast. For example; she has developed a strong taste for the Hummers, she thinks that those are very pretty cars (yes, I’m disagree, they are big and nasty but that’s not the point). Just recently, the Venezuelans have become used to see those very expensive cars everywhere: they are the typical ride of the so called “Boliburguesía”: members of the government who have seen their fortunes dramatically increase – definitely corruption. So when she asked us the other day to check out the Hummer that was just passing aside, my mom freaked out “those are Chavistas cars!” – “But they’re pretty!” – She replied to my mom like saying: “Who cares if they are Chavistas’ cars?”
At 11 years old, I would have drawn into a huge confusion if someone – especially from my family – had asked me not to believe on my text books or my teachers and even more, to pretend they say the truth and not even discussing about them. The books were like the Bible and the teachers the priests and there was no reason to put on question what those books had to say, but simply learn them and pass the exams. Of course you had always your doubts and your questions like my discussion with my 3rd grade teacher about the color of my skin (not a mix of three races like she affirmed that all Venezuelans were) or my complains about a class called “Educación para el trabajo” (“Education for the work”) on 6th that was basically about home stuff like how to wash your clothes and cook…and the religion classes that became the classic discussion ground specially on high school, where we believed that we were the most grown up and rebel individuals in the whole planet Earth.
Unknowingly, the religious schools seem to help free speech thanks to those endless debates year after year about the creation, the existence of God and so on. Besides in high school we usually had on religion class, lessons about other religions besides Catholicism like Judaism or Islam. And outside religious classes, the classes looked pretty much secular (from Darwin to the Enlightenment).
Anyway, I didn’t made this post to talk about catholic schools; the important thing to notice here is that none of the doubts I had back at school, were strong enough to put my identity into risk, and certainly none of them were strongly supported by the adults except some “bohemian” uncle here and there (cannot stop wondering if I just become one of those “bohemian” aunts).
My niece is naturally trained (I didn't had that privilege) to overpass the confusion from living between two parallel country’s. But she’s still free to discuss any vision, and her text book although it has some things to worry about, is not red in the revolutionary way of saying it.
The situation that I recount now is the prelude of a much worse situation that it’s now touching our feet, with the new school reform project. From suspecting and doubting, but having the opportunity to learn something different; to the suppression of any possible discussion aside the political project leaded by the president its a long path I refuse to walk.
Hugo Chavez wants to educate children for the revolution, for the revolution and for nothing else. Many children like my niece would be like Julia (almost, because Julia was partly convinced that the system was exactly the way it should be) on George Orwell’ 1984 and will just make a performance of being revolutionary children, even if deep inside, they are not. The human brain, even talking about a child, is not as easy to wash as some people can think and I still find it hard to believe that it can be washed completely (sigh, maybe this is only a naïve assumption).
>But I can sense that if this performance is forced and imposed, with no possibility of act otherwise under the threat of grave consequences to the dissidents; then this is definitely not a performance easy to maintain. And then many, I’m afraid, will become revolutionary children for real – if and only if – the government is strong enough to impose it, and the society unconscious enough or able somehow to allow it.

lunes, 1 de octubre de 2007

8th "monthversary"

Yesterday, while I was updating this blog I realized that I've been writing for longer than what I expected to do it at first.Chavez won the elections all over again just two months before I published the first entry, and the depressing environment of lost hopes involved me. I got the feeling (right or wrong) that in Spanish, between the press and the websites, the TV and the discussions at the university; pretty much everything that I could say about the Venezuelan political crisis had already been said. So I decided to start a blog for an English speaking audience, an audience interested on the Venezuelan issues but obviously situated in time, space and life; quite far away from us to experience it for real.
For eight months now, I’ve been writing the part of the story of my life that is related directly with the political changes developing in my country and so I put my own experience in the table when it comes to defend my stances against the project leaded by my current president. I consider that a testimony is a value tool to understand our situation and Internet (the blogosphere in this case) it’s a suitable place to do it. I’m obviously not the only Venezuelan' (for putting just an example) who is writting about these issues in a very personal way and in a foreign language. But every testimony is at least slightly different from the other, and more testimonies can help us building a complete picture of the past events and the president situation. And even counting that sometimes the track of the events discourages me, its now more important than it was before to keep writting about it.
I’m happy with the results that this project has given so far: loads of pages and stories in a stolen language, an average of 25-30 visits a day (if I can understand my counter right) which it’s a pretty low number but its ok for me to handle it, a few friends and loads of learning on the English language, on my country’s situation and the variety of ways others look at it. So for “celebrate” this 8 Month-versary, I'm going to clear up three of the most common questions or critics that a reader usually makes about this blog:

1. I have heard a strong but positive critics that wondered if I hold the pretension of putting my stories as the reality, and my opinions as the representation of most Venezuelans living under Chavez.
To that, I must answer, and make clear that the perspective exposed across this blog on the Venezuelan situation, like Kate once said is not absolute and should not ever be taken as a fully realistic representation of all the Venezuelans. The blog title says it all “The end of Venezuela as I know it”, as I know it, only me, myself and me. My words could be similar to the thoughs of some venezuelans but this is about personal stories and not about stats or pull results.
To consider my opinion the opinion of the majority its unethical and unrealistic and besides; in a country where the leading political system talks without stop about the people, the majority, and the groups giving the picture of Venezuela as a crowd of robots; I wanted to rescue the valor of the individual and that individual opinions, even if they are a minority; should be heard, respected and considered.

2. Many people have asked me why my URL addresses is “antipatrioticvenezuelan”. First, to call myself antipatriotic it’s a reference to the way the president – and therefore the government and all its followers – have been rejecting in the speech a whole group of the Venezuelan society: the traditional middle and high class calling them “oligarcas” (oligarchs), “escuálidos” (can’t think of a translation right now) and even “traitors” and counter- revolutionaries; therefore, not “real venezuelans”. This has created unnecessary stereotypes and has been the seed of a very strong hate (it has been said that its class and race based) between Venezuelans, dividing the country in two irreconcilable sides of which one of them is accused of being “antipatriotic” if it doesn’t supports what the other follows. Putting “antipatriotic” as my URL address was my way of reflects the way the most radical revolutionaries see people like me, and to stand against it. I started to dislike patriotism as an ideology that could lead to ethnocentrism and totalitarian views on the reality besides other grave consequences. This might be considered by the readers as extreme. And it is. But the readers might understand as well (not necessarily support it) the reasons why I hold such a stance.

3. Others had also asked me why I sign with the name “Julia_1984” instead of putting my real name. The name “Julia_1984” comes from one of my favorite novels: 1984 by George Orwell. More than once, I have felt like this Julia character so the name fits. Besides, as a coincidence, I was born on 1984. A fellow blogger told me about past threats against Venezuelan bloggers. You are free to call this paranoia. I'm afraid of what could happen in the future since the president its determined to erase little by little any opposition that remains. But lately I have found another reason to remain undercover: not writing with my real name makes me feel freer to write.