jueves, 31 de enero de 2008

(III) Reaction and Revolution: a political disaster

If the reader has ever wonder why I’m not a White Hand (student) movement leader, the answer can be found at some point of my second academia year at the university (from October, 2003 till July of 2004) and the months that follow.
I started my second year at the university with a strong conviction of pursuing a political career beyond the political party I was working with in the place where I spend most of the time: the university. During the first week of class I proposed my candidacy to run for the class president charge (actually called “delegate” here). From that moment on, everything related with my “political career” was one of those disasters I thought you only see in movies.
I got quickly elected as a class delegate. Well, “elected” is actually a big word to describe what happened: they were no other candidates running against me, no one else who wanted to be a delegate and so they had no choice but to let me take the charge (this can give the reader a good idea of how big the apathy was between the students). Is funny to think, especially if you consider how passionate I am about democracy, that my first – and only – political charge I ever had was a product of some “elections” pretty much Cuban style. But it wasn’t my fault that anyone else ran against me anyway.
My job as a delegate was very simple: to organize the calendar, to keep my classmates informed and to negotiate with the professors and /or the faculty in case they were any trouble. It was really hard to fail as a class delegate – or so I thought. Apparently, for many, I was a very lousy delegate and this was spoken out only a month before the classes were over.
One day, I notify my XIX century history professor that I had no choice but to skip her class in order to solve an issue my classmates had in regards to the Psychology class. She had no problem with that and simply let me skip her class with a smile. I had no clue about the events that were about to develop behind my back while I was speaking with the Psychology professor and everyone else should be having another History class.
I’m taking the trouble of telling about those events on this blog not because I want you all to know about my personal life but rather because this was an example of how the countries politics in general affected the university politics in particular.
During that period, the opposition was trying to push a recall referendum against Chavez rule in an environment of an extreme political polarization. After picking up and seeing a large number of signatures rejected several times on suspicious tricky moods of the Electoral centre, the Referendum was finally celebrated in August of 2004.
The events I’m telling you about in my class happened around May or June of 2004, when the referendum was definitely a “hot topic”. The important thing to highlight here is that the people started believing that, if a leader did not do its job right, they had the right (even the duty) to force that leader to leave his charge.
As I was told a few days after, my History professor heard a couple of students talking about me as she entered the classroom. And so she propose to the class “If you guys feel that Julia – (I just need a name but can’t use my real one!) – does not represent you anymore, you should make a recall referendum against her charge so she can stop being the class delegate and someone more able to do that can make the work”. My classmates followed her advice – as a second year kid follows many “advices” some so called expert professors – and with the History class as a suitable place to do it – ethics off – my professor pass along the desk a notebook picking up the signatures – just like the opposition did against Chavez months early. Yet, I was not removed of my charge. It seems like unlike the opposition, the “history professor” side of my classmates couldn’t pick up enough signatures. I never knew the exact number of signatures they managed to pick up, but I doubt it was small since I could feel the general discontent.
After finding out what happened, I don’t remember if I stood up in front of the class like I did many times during that year or if I only spoke to a small group. But I do remember what I said, sort of: “If there’s something wrong with my job, why you just don’t say so? And if you want to make a referendum against me, at least be kind enough to let me know you are doing it instead of picking up the signatures behind my back. I have two hands; I’m perfectly able to pick the signatures myself”. My classmates gave me a couple of embarrassed looks and no one ever said a word again about my job. I finish my period with more sorrows than glory but overall, with some “political incorrect” lessons to pick up.
Now I know – actually I was never that naïve to not suspect it- the reasons of why my job was considered a terrible one. My classmates did not want a class delegate, they wanted an employee who reminded them every single damn day the due date of our papers and exams; plus they wanted someone able to talk to the professors in order to demand them to be less exigent in all possible ways: to move a couple of weeks the due date of an exam and to ask that to the professor the same day of the exam. I wasn’t really up to do neither of that. I sort of propose myself to be a “fair” delegate and that often went in prejudice to the more lazy students, the ones who beg for the couple of points they need at the end of the term in order to pass a class they don’t deserve to pass at all.
By taking that attitude, I definitely made a terrible political mistake: to stop representing the ones I committed to represent. And I knew that if that was the student interest then I was totally unable to represent them.
For making my university political experience even more bizarre, as I was having difficulties with my class delegate charge; a project that I was working on with a few classmates for months, to run for the Student Centre of my school for the next period, was seriously affected by the “referendum against the class delegate” effect, among other things of course. We wanted to beat the useless current Student Centre that stayed in power for three years in a row because no group ran against them on elections during those years (yes, more student apathy). I had also encouraged the boyfriend I had back them to do a similar project on his school.
And so the elections came and my boyfriend became the Student Center president of his school for the next period while my group and I were not so lucky. We were beaten badly: I think the only votes we got were our own votes. From that moment on I decided to stay away of the university politics and especially to stop looking for a student leadership I was not made for.
Either way, I did not have time for crying in the corners: the recall against Chavez was coming soon and I there was a political campaign going on that I had to work for. I met my youth group of my political party at least twice a week during those months, and daily as the election date approached. We hanged posters in the nights and spend all day on campaign tends giving pamphlets and convincing the people to vote against Chavez. We were pretty much sure of the victory. Yes, we were naïve.
As everyone knows, the opposition lost that referendum claiming a fraud that it could not be proved. I felt that defeat not only in my mom crying the night of the referendum but also the next day when the leaver of my youth group picked up each and every one of us at our homes to have a meeting and talk about what happened and the feelings we had about it.
One guy of the group who was around 18 years old back then, refused to come out no matter how many times we rang at his door. Years later, on June of 2007 for being exact, I found him smiling over a truck in a demonstration as one of the White Hand (student) movement leaders. He’s a low profile leader, but has worked hard for the movement none the less. I quickly looked back at the nasty episode of the day after the recall against Chavez, when we stood outside his house begging him to come out and keep up with the political work. He recovered his mood slowly but never left the politics he had in his blood back. At the student demonstration, he approached me for saying hi and I looked at him like saying “I know what you went through, you deserve to live what you are living now…”
About the picture: I didn’t had a cam back then so I thought that my lonely shadow could symbolize a year filled of defeats.

martes, 29 de enero de 2008

(II) Reaction and Revolution: "They might be at the 3rd floor..."

The second episode was a larger protest inside my university against a law professor who strongly supported the government. I don’t remember exactly why things explode and the reader must know that I was just entering the university and was just getting to know their dynamics. All I know is that I was in a sociology class when we started to hear students running and chanting “Si quieren democracia, salgan de sus aulas!, si quieren democracia, salgan de sus aulas!” (“If you want democracy, get out of your classrooms!”) –
A chant that it would be very popular years after but that was truly the first time I heard it. My classmates turned their heads to the door and the windows, the professor rolled the blackboard market through his fingers but no one really really moved except for… yes, this blogger. As soon as I realized that it was totally impossible to see my apathetic classmates moving a finger (was even hard to know if they were alive at all), I left my desk, opened the door and followed the chants to see what was going on.
The “third floor” (which is part of the main building of my university and is basically a very long and large hallway only interrupted by the tiny, I think, main faculty and school offices of the campus) was totally filled with students. When I saw that I naively thought that my sleeping classmates could wake up soon. They were asking to the vice-chancellor to dismiss this professor. I started admiring our vice-chancellor, Luis Ugalde when I saw him standing against that huge and angry crowd saying “I can’t dismiss a professor because of his political stances. A professor can be dismissed if it has been proven that he’s academically unable, irresponsible, or if he attempts against the dignity of the students, the colleagues or the institution”- The students argued that he had insult many students during his class and that the students could not pass if they expose during the exams political opinions different to the ones the professor stands for. Ugalde replied: “Can you prove it? If you can’t then there’s nothing to do about it. A professor can’t be dismissed for political reasons. And Mr. Escarrá might think different but he’s an expert on his field”.
There was no much left to do. The law students complaint over and over about the professor with the ones who belong to other faculties and I wish I have heard more strongly the tolerance lesson our vice-chancellor gave us that day because during those first years of university, from 2002 till 2004, I was easily a prisoner of my own stupid radicalism and my own intolerance in more than one occasion. The students were asking for democracy that day, but there’s wasn’t anything actually democratic in their specific requests: to dismiss a professor because he was a Chavista (Chavez supporter)
As soon as Ugalde finished his speech, I accidentally ran with my sociology professor in the hallway. I was so embarrassed about it. I could not understand the look he gave me: if it was one of those looks of “those unbearable first year kids that are so rude and left class in the middle of an explanation…” or a look of “seems like at least one member of my class is alive”. Either way, I found out that after I left the class my professor couldn’t - and also did not wanted to- keep teaching on those circumstances, so he finished the lecture before time and asked the students to follow him to the third floor.
I bet he was more interested than anybody to see an awakening of the students because he was an important figure of the opposition back then and received a lot of threats against his life. Two years after that “third floor” episode, the Jesuits order (he was also a Jesuit) decided that it was prudent to transfer him to Spain for his safety. He’s now in the exile and mine was one of the last courses he taught in Venezuela.
Things got way more complicated after that episode since the General Strike followed and it broke, as the reader might now, many students lives and mine as well in two half. For better or for worse, the general strike of 2002-2003 was a significant moment of the recent Venezuelan political history but the students did not play a significant role during those events, for not saying that they did not play any role at all.
The first reason for this can be easily explained: although If I remember correctly the universities did not closed their doors officially, I can’t think on any university at least in Caracas having any class at all during those couple of months that strike lasted (December 2002 till early February of 2003). The gasoline shortage and the riots everywhere did not made the perfect environment for having classes.
You see, in Venezuela most of the universities and all the ones who are located in Caracas does not have student residencies on campus. The regular university student here does not leaves home for going to the university unless you live in another city. And even so, you probably go visit your parents every weekend and still call your home your parents house – never that nasty bedroom located in the loudly that you are forced to sleep in.
When the strike began, the students simply came back to their homes with their families, losing in that way the essential (when it comes to make a student movement) with their classmates. Many of them were politically active during the strike and what’s even more important: many of them actually became politically active because of the strike. You have this blogger as an example.
In my neighborhood we created a “youth brigade” that it was basically to bring some logistic support to the almost daily “Citizen assemblies” that took place at the park, plus marches and other events. The members of that brigade were as young as 13 and hardly anyone was older than 20 years old. A friend of mine, who lives in a middle class neighborhood not so distant from mine, leaded a similar youth group. Imagine how his group was like if he was 17 back then and the oldest kid of that group.
There’s no doubt that the General Strike was a period of an intense and very dramatic political socialization for many of the students who had not even reached college back then and are now a big part of the White Hand (student) movement. However, to say that the movement did not rise as an answer to the events that developed during the general strike only because the students were gathered at their homes, with their families, struggling – if they did – only with their neighbours, its hardly an enough explanation. I suspect they are deeper reasons that the reader and even myself might discover as this story continues.
About the picture: one of the third floor entrances, blocked by the students during the protest of June, 2007.

(I) Reaction and Revolution: "Where are the students?"

The first question I ask to myself when it comes to write some lines about the story of the White Hand (student) movement is “Why the movement did not existed before?” and consequently, “Where were the students before June of 2007?” It’s a fact: during the first marches, April 11 of 2002, the strike that came later that year, the radical protest of 2004, the recall on the Chavez rule we lost and a million etc; during five years or so of political struggle in my country against the Revolution, no student movement on any side of the spectrum appeared as a significant political force. My parents were seriously worried about not seeing “muchachos” (means… young people) at the demonstrations and I confess I was too and more than one time I wondered where the hell my generation was.
I think I was an odd part of my generation: my family took good care of that and some books did the rest. I attended to political demonstrations at an age as early as 17 and joined a political party when I was 18 years old. But, in my 90 students class of the first year of the university I was probably the only one – no joke about it – who was part of a political party. My friends and classmates were, of course, worried about the situation; the Venezuelan political crisis entered every home without asking first – in some homes more than others. One dad losing a job, one girlfriend leaving the country and a heart broken, more needs to be covered and less money than before to attend such a need… But their major reaction was basically a nasty apathy that I fought against without any success at all.
Some of my friends, thankfully, used to go the demonstrations but must refused. In part was because they were lazy about getting up one Saturday after partying the night before for attending to a demonstration under the unbearable noon heat and probably avoiding some nasty tear gas and pellets (only a couple of nerds like me did that). Another part was annoying enough to remind me, demonstration after demonstration that: “Marches do not bring down a government”. And another part was busy enough criticizing the politicians for actually taking the trouble of becoming one.
Since my first day of class at the university I always held the hope of seeing an important voice from the students to raise but I did not see that until the 4th year of my career and it didn’t had an important influence until the 5th year of my career.
I remember a couple of episodes that made me raise my hopes during my first year of university… only to bringing them down all over again. Some decree (or maybe it was another stupid Chavez speech, now I don’t remember the details) was announced during that academic year and I saw some posters on my hallways announcing a demonstration that it would walk from Chacaito to Plaza Venezuela (near the main university of my country) to protest against that decree. I think it was the first “student” protest I can think of during the Revolution.
I was determined about going and totally failed on convincing my classmates to join me (all over again…) so I skipped the "social and political philosophy" lass and took the subway alone. I was partially worried because I was just learning how to use the subway, and getting to actually know my city (a middle class girl, going for years to a catholic school located a few blocks away from home can hardly get to know the rest of the world… the university is always an opening in that sense) plus I remember I was carrying a lot of books and did not had an appropriate outfit for going to a protest. I saw a couple at the wagon who were speaking about the same demonstration I was going to and I followed them. I think the three of us were the only UCAB students who went to that demonstration.
We got down the subway and reached to the square where the demonstration was supposed to start. For someone used to big masses protest the number of people gathered there was simply ridiculous, like a family meeting. We marched and made some chants and did not even stop the traffic for doing so, only the sidewalk and a little tiny part of the street. In the protest I unexpectedly met my elder brother who is also related to academy. I thought he was going to yell at me because I was supposed to be in class and I was alone in a political demonstration in a side of the city I was not familiar with back then: it was the recipe of a disaster. So I looked at him with scary eyes and was surprised when he decided to only give me a surprised smile “so who’s your philosophy professor? Oh I know that guy… It’s just one day, I’m sure he’ll understand” – and he just kept walking and chanting next to me. Family and politics, a constant in my life, I guess.
My philosophy professor smiled too when I gave excuses before the next class. He must have thought it was simply cute that a student who – btw, and I don’t pretend to be egocentric with this – had great grades missed the only class of the year to attend to a tiny demonstration no one else heard of and was making excuses about it like a fanatic nerd on the next class about it. He just looked me and said “Sit, the class is about to start” – Like saying … “Hey girl… this is called u-n-i-v-e-r-s-i-t-y, here you make your own decisions and my only concern is to see a decent paper written by you on my desk at the end of the term”(about the pic: the Chacaíto are of Caracas, I took it a couple of days ago).

lunes, 28 de enero de 2008

(Intro) Reaction and Revolution: MY version of the White Hand's history

“It seems like no one fought against the reform, but the students… the media as always, is forgetting the work of the political parties… the students came at the end, they are forgetting years and years of work” – My mom said the other day at dinner. Things got a little bit worse when my dad – who is an university professor – try to give a lot of credit to the professor’s advices to the students who were part of the movement. “As always” – I thought – “If we won, everyone wants to take the credit from it and if we fail, no one wants to admit their own guilt. And as always, the students are seen as a puppet of older, smarter and more powerful people”
Yon Goicoechea, one of the most important student leaders, during a press conference just two days after the movement raised their voice against the RCTV closure, said what it has been for me the main line of the White Hand student movement, their major concern. He said that he could not get why for the rest of the people it was so hard to understand and imagine that the students had come out with an original and independent way of struggle for the Civil Right – “I just don’t get it” – He said moving his head in denial while the campus fell on applauses. It was a moment that it still trills me inside whenever I think about it.
But months later my mom brought me a magazine that had Yon in the cover as the “man of the year” and seriously, all I can said is that the report, even if speak good of the student movement, was simply trash. The article simply made look Yon as some saint, incredible student with no sins at all. An innocent man attacked with no mercy by the powerful forces of the government.
After seeing that, I can really understand my parents concerns and I feel the need to speak about it. And what way could be better than to tell my version of what the White Hand (movement) has been and it is at the moment? My version comes now as a series of entries that words more, word less pretend to make a reconstruction of the history of the White Hand (student) movement. I’ve been preparing a book about it since the movement raised last June so what it follows it’s in part random translations of what I wrote in that book in progress.
My story will talk from the same perspective this entire blog has been written since I started: over all, a personal perspective. I’m also writing it from the student perspective since I was – still in a big part am – a student during most of the events I’ll talk about on the lines that follow. For sure, I won’t talk much about the big mass demonstrations of the past few months – I have talked about them before and I think I have said enough. I will talk about what’s behind those mass demonstrations, what came before and what might come after. I will steal many of the comments my friends and people more involved than me with the movement have made. The reader must also know that I won’t reveal more than what it is necessary because at this point of my life, to preserve the friendship and to protect the ones I care about is more important than to publish a good story in a blog that at the end, not many people actually read.
However, I consider this task a hard but a valuable one because I studied at one of the universities that leaded the movement (UCAB) and I personally met and share with the people who were directly responsible of the way things developed between the movement.
I want to answer to the concerns many – not only my parents – have about the White Hand (student) movement and the media treatment to that movement. I promise this can really clear up must of the doubts that the people – and foreigners especially the ones who only have the media as a source - might have about this movement. My story doesn’t want to glorify neither demonize the student movement; my objective is to rather, dignify the movement and the ones who at some point of our lives, have felt we are a part of it. I think that what I’m going to tell it has not been written yet and it will not unless I speak about it. This blog started as a mere catharsis but it has become an attempt to bring a different version of the ones the radicalized sectors of the Venezuelan political spectrum has and especially the media distortions (here and abroad) make basically for not having enough knowledge on the situation.
The vision of the White Hand (student) movement is, like I said before, distorted by the media on both sides of the political struggle. The opposition paints Gods and Goddess (yes, with capital letters, I’m not over reacting) while the government paints Devils and Puppets. And the thing is we are neither and the good and the bad fame that are not entirely based on reality can benefit the movement, even more, can’t benefit the understanding of the recent political history of Venezuela.
Nonetheless, this story can’t be taken as the “truth of the White Hand (student) movement”. I think I know more details about the movement that the people ignore, but still they are many things that I ignore as much as the people outside of the movement. Plus, many conspiracy theories speak about dark forces acting over me and other members of the movement… forces that are smart enough to act in a way we do not notice what they do at our expenses. This is the government theory mainly but believe it or not, some people of the opposition side are bound with this theory as well. I’m not here to deny it because since “I don’t notice them” seems like I don’t have the authority to deny them either. At the end, like I have made on this entire blog, I will speak from my heart, from my experience and my very simple, youth and perhaps naïve thoughts on that. I believe in freedom – you know I do – and I’ll leave the reader the freedom to decide and to judge how much of this story really holds the truth. Either way, you have the comments section available for make your own conclusions.
I hope the reader is patient enough to follow my journey and if he does, he’ll find out that the couple of words “Reaction and Revolution” I picked for the title are far from being a random choice (or a cheap plagiarism of an Artz book or a bad copy of the must recent Revolutionary propaganda, hahaha). They are there for a reason.
And with all that been said, on the next entry, the story starts.
About the pic: I took it on June 3rd, 2007 at one student demonstration - obviously

sábado, 26 de enero de 2008

Milk is Milk

A few days ago my mom was able to find and of course, buy, a litter of skimmed milk. I looked at it as it was a treasure, as the special ice cream my dad used to buy me once a week when I was a kid or the imported chocolate and cookies someone brought home on a few occasions after marvellous and exotic trips. But it wasn’t anything exotic really, it was nothing special, it was milk – Can you think on something more common than milk? –and is not just any milk but skimmed milk (that for me is the “real milk”).

The bad part of the story is that this milk was of an unfamiliar brand. If I could choose I would drink “mi vaca” instead of “La pastoreña” but the brand does not matter anymore. A litter of skimmed milk, of any brand it was something I haven’t seen in months, and just placed there in my fridge as it was any other of the days before the shortages (that started last year in February and increased specially in September) was simply a piece of heaven for me.

Milk is real hard – if not impossible – to find in my country these days. And if you can find any it is always some odd brand of nasty powder creamy milk. The thing is that before the shortages, in my family we only drank skimmed milk so my stomach has been having a hard time on getting used to others kind of milk after drinking skimmed milk daily for 23 years… so more often than not I avoid the morning coffee and the night “toddy” (a Venezuelan mix of chocolate powder, the greatest drink ever) that used to be an inevitable part of my routine, as inevitable as washing my teeth.

So when my mom showed me the littler of skimmed milk, I measure carefully how much of it would I drop in my cup, then heat it in the microwave and mix it with two or three tea spoons or Toddy and then drink it slowly; for the first time in weeks, like it was a glass of the best wine. Real toddy made with real milk. I thought I was a very lucky Venezuelan at the moment. Just a few days after that the president declared that the skimmed milk should be forbidden because it is a stupid rich privilege and we have to get used to the normal milk.

Isn’t it amazing how quickly your life can change? I must be inside a Revolution, if one day I see as a one time in a lifetime pleasure what it used to be routine, what I used to take for granted.

Yesterday, my boss left the office for a few minutes to go to the supermarket. Soon she call us to let us know that in the supermarket where she was at there were some cans of powder milk available – “They only let you take 4 cans per person so if you want milk you must come” – She gave permission to everyone at the office to go and buy milk and no one doubted for a second about going and buy as many cans as they could. Again it was an unfamiliar brand but like I said earlier, no one here can afford the luxury to care about brands anymore. Its just been a few months, but the shortages can be so dramatic that you immediately get used to live with the words “Milk is milk” and “Coffee is coffee” in the back of your head, impossible to have the pleasure to care about brands and types.

When was the last time you entered a supermarket and just choose? Just entered there, picked some cans, debate between “Café Madrid” or “Café Fama de América” and bought as many bags as you wanted? When was the last time you did not saw a sign in the shelves of the supermarket telling you things like “only two small bottles of mayonnaise per person”?

My co- workers are from very different social classes, you could say. The secretary and the lady who cleans live in a very poor area of Caracas while I live in a more comfortable and safe one. But the shortages touch us in the exact same way. “You can’t find any rice on any supermarket of Antímano” – My secretary told me today. Antímano is a very poor area, almost totally filled by shanty towns. But you can’t find any rice on the supermarkets of more upper class areas as well, and if you can as Daniel pointed out on his post about shortages it is only of one brand and almost for sure, a very lousy one. This is quite a nice socialism, a socialism were the hunger and the scarce make us all equal.

Speaking about shortages is more than speaking about how difficult or impossible it is to find what we need to eat; for many – some more than others – it is also about how difficult it is to find what they need to live. I have two aunts to put as an example who make sweets, cakes and stuff like that for sell. That’s their business, that at least help them to pay the bills. Imagine what is like to keep such a business in a country were there is a several sugar shortage since early February of 2007.

In the meantime, the TV shows my president throwing some powder milk over a table while he’s speaking about the wonders of the “Venezuelan milk”, oh and specially, the “Venezuelan milk available”. The image simply brook my senses. You could say its only one can of milk: it won’t make a difference, and it won’t solve the shortages. But for me was more than that, the milk just displayed over his table like it was trash when it is actually now a treasure hard to find, just showed me the way Chavez rules… as he throws the milk away, he throws other things with the same act of disrespect to the ones who – unfortunately – once put him on power.

jueves, 10 de enero de 2008

What I missed and what Consuelo missed

“A dozen thanks for your commitment with the human being, that its what matters the most. Your attitude has shown us till the limit that for you the must important think is the human being, its life, to preserve it, to keep it”
Consuelo González, woman hostage freed by Colombian rebels yesterday, thanks to the mediation my president, Hugo Chávez(The quote is a very rough translation, taken from the BBC world page, Spanish version)
What follows might sound rough for many. It is not “politically correct” for sure. Take that as a warning, and try to keep an open mind as you read…
Before Consuelo’s words (quoted above) started driving me crazy, I made the mental exercise of putting myself in her shoes. Of course, during 99,99% of my life I’ve been surrounded by most of the comfort of the western civilization: a warm bed, a hot bath, a delicious food on my table while I’m catching my favorite show on TV – cable subscription. I go on camping trips sometimes, spend a few days in the middle of nowhere, and use the waterfalls as a shower but the idea of coming back home is always present and what matters the most: it is always my decision to put myself into an extreme situation.
It was never Consuelo’s decision to spend six years getting to know the Colombian jungle in the middle of a war. And that’s for telling things as it they were a fairy tale. It was never Consuelo’s decision to spend 6 years away from her family and love ones. The FARC with absolutely no right for doing so, they took her away what I think is perhaps the most valuable thing a person can have: her freedom. For me saying “freedom” and “dignity” is like talking about two sides of the same coin.
I can’t even imagine what she experienced during those years, it was certainly not like my camping trips or field works around the rural areas of Venezuela. She lived inside a war, kept by the enemy with no realistic hope to get out of that madness. She had six years of extremely rough experiences that my spoiled girl life style makes me hard to really understand it in all its complexity. And it is just now, as I write these words, when she gets the chance to sleep not so far away from my house, finally free and safe.
So if I were her, and a president called Chávez (or Bush, or Sarkozy, or Uribe, or Lula…) makes the necessary moves to put an end to that living hell and succeeds giving me the opportunity that I never thought possible of hugging my family again; I would definitely not measure my words of gratitude to this savior. I would hug him as strong as I would hug my mom and consider him the greatest person alive on Earth despite of whatever he could have done, because he saved me.
Today, Consuelo can express her gratitude to the president but I cannot and I must explain why. It is not only because I'm not a former guerrilla hostage. Nor because I don’t recognize the succeed of this mission or because I’m so stubborn that I’m not able to admit when my political enemy has done things right. Those are things that it can be discussed later. What it matters is that Consuelo is free to express her gratitude not only because in front of her liberation all the other events are obviously mean less as far as her life is concerned (which is totally fair), but also because she missed the Bolivarian Revolution (at least the most radical years) and I did not.
While she was in captivity, she missed the revolutionary develops of the kidnapping rate inside my country and the increasing insecurity situation in general, but over all she missed the lack of political will of this man “committed to the human life” to solve this situation. Until about a few days ago Chávez was more busy making propaganda and huge revolutionary programs than worried to even mention the insecurity trouble on his speeches.
She also missed the times were many Venezuelans saw their freedom denied with no right, like her. She missed the time Nixon Moreno has spend trapped inside a building in the strangest asylum figure just because the government could not stand that he won the elections at his university. She missed the excessive repression of political demonstrations against the system during these years. She missed the attacks against the media and the food shortages.
Of course, this rough message does not go to Consuelo. So what If she missed the Bolivarian Revolution? She definitely lived much more horrible things that will chase her for the rest of her life. She missed many things I haven’t and that Chavez give her back to life as she rightfully said, so I won’t blame her for being thankful.
This entry goes to the rest, to whoever might be reading this. To you, because you probably were not trapped in the jungle madness while the Bolivarian Revolution showed its true colors. I hope you are not stupid enough to buy all this media charade and sign on for giving to my president the Nobel Peace Prize. Yesterday’s events do not only show Chavez success on this release operation, but possible also inconvenient connections with the FARC and without doubt the fact that my president will always put his international media image and prestige first so any stupid dreamer ready to believe it because “he stands up to the empire”.
And then comes the Venezuelans (if they ever actually come), waiting patiently to the day their president will look at their sorrows and troubles, emergency and demands for real, at least once. Because, after being cheered by the world, Chavez always comes back home with empty hands. And that’s something it cannot be hidden forever, no matter how many special camera effects Oliver Stone uses for the next piece of fine political propaganda.
PS: I'm not sure if the links I provided are the best to sustain my stances, I can give you a much better list of links if you ask for it in the comments section but my blog is more based on personal experiences.

martes, 8 de enero de 2008

"Last time I check, I had a country"

I know I haven’t post in a while. I wasn’t exactly sure of what to post about and I don’t want to get lost in news reviews or random thoughts. But the main reason for not being able to post in such a long time is that I’m feeling optimist and I rarely write something that is worth when I don’t have an over dramatic pessimism hunting me down. Since that unexpected (at least for me, not for the polls) triumph on the referendum in December, I can sense that must of the things that initially motivated me to start blogging has changed (that doesn't mean I'll stop blogging!).Of course, bad news still follows my country and my life that I will certainly talk about on another entry. But there’s just something different now, something that it wasn’t before: hope. It might sound silly for many outside, but for me it makes all difference in the world. If you have that, you constantly look for solutions and keep your head up instead of filling the corners with your desperation tears while you write long dark entries for the chronicle of your life under this revolutionary years.
It is hard to think that this is the scenery for me after witnessing what it was perhaps the most radical year of the revolution: 2007. But maybe that radicalism itself it’s the reason of me seeing hope now. Don’t get me wrong, it all has to do with 3 obvious consequences of Bolivarian revolution' growing radicalism during 2007: 1) that things that it might had a smaller impact if they have occurred in a longer period of time happened faster and left a much more bigger impact; 2) the government made many mistakes by submiting this radical behavior, and 3)that this was combined with a bigger and probably smarter opposition response.
Almost uncanny indeed to think now about how the beginning of the last year was, comparing it with this one. My best friend could have not say it better when he told me after we won the elections: “I feel like I have been given a second opportunity”. For us, young people, finishing our majors and starting to work and build a life, this “second opportunity” only has one meaning: “now we can stay!”. Maybe not all of us will stay, maybe this blogger itself will leave the country for a year or two for attending some masters program or just to see the world, who knows? But we have now the choice or at least the idea of having the choice of staying. That’s something I wouldn’t even dream of months ago.
At some point between March and April of last year, I was having a coffee with the same friend who told me about the “second opportunity” and without planning to, all of our conversation ended up being about emigration ideas. We counted the relatives we have abroad, we talked about opportunities we heard in Argentina or Australia, or about his girlfriend and her double citizenship – “Perhaps I should get a boyfriend with a double citizenship too” – I joked. It was simply crazy to talk about the future without including a certain idea about leaving the country and not just for one year or two, but forever. The whole conversation let me empty and sad. At some point I realize that if we had to leave the country, the possibilities of not having my best friend around (he lives near by me) but at some country miles away, were huge. While we were just dreaming about emigration plans, some of my friends were already leaving for real.
First it was a friend from the university, one of those girls who can be in a million activities at once and still have the highest grade on her thesis. She found a job opportunity abroad like a minute after her graduation and two weeks later I put on my make up to attend her good bye party. “Its just for one year” – She said, but you could read in her eyes the expectations for staying longer than that.
Second, it was a guy from my faculty who just missed a year and a semester to finish his career. He’s one of those characters always holding books and talking to you, beers in the middle, about authors you have never heard of (and you always end up wondering how did he found the time for reading all that, if the major its already hard enough…). I didn’t attend his good bye party, don’t remember why but he’s not such a close friend so it didn’t matter. But another friend of mine did and all she said was “Good for him”, like looking at him as the lucky one who had the opportunity to escape from this madness.
Then another friend also got a job abroad and left but unfortunately I knew that a week after he took his plane when I checked my mail and found an expired invitation for his good bye party. One day you are drunk, dancing badly the tunes of “Rebelion” (an old salsa hit and one of my favorites) and another your dancing partner goes to Miami with no return ticket.
I sent him an e- mail and he answered back: “I love Caracas, but this is just a good job, so I'll stay for a while”. Everyone says that, “it is for a while”, “its just a couple of years”, “six months” and then plans change, the bosses extend the job offer because they are well prepared professionals and the rest is history. No one leaves forever saying that they will do that, it is better to think that is just for a couple of years.
Those three cases were just to name a few, a lot more people I know left the country during 2007. And many thought about it specially During November, as the reader might remember, the things got a lot rougher: almost everyday there was a protest, a riot, the horrible shortages; some bad news here and there plus that Constitutional Reform coming up as a bad nightmare. The facebook profile of one of my friends abroad said it all: “Gracias a Dios que ya me fui” which means something like “Thank God I already left”. In the meantime, many of us just thought inside “Too bad I haven’t got the chance to leave yet”.
The day after we won the elections and therefore the nightmare of the Constitutional Reform turned out to be just that: a nightmare; I woke up early (did I actually sleep at all? – I’m not sure), put on my “White hand movement” t-shirt again (being my anti feminine act of the year since I used the same t-shirt for the celebrations on the previous night…ugh…) and ran to meet a couple of friends to celebrate at the Altamira Square.
Of course, there was no celebrations at Altamira Square at 10:00 am because everyone was sleeping but us and a couple of foreign journalists who decided to make their reports with the famous obelisk as a background. We hugged at the minute we saw each other and screamed a little like 15 year old stupid girls but we owe it! After so many years of protests, after so many depressing talks to have that pure moment of joy was priceless. The atmosphere at the streets was new years like, but better. The few people who were out there smiled at each other at showed proudly their inked fingers as a proof of their participation in the first electoral defeat that Chavez has suffered in his 9 years of rule.
At one moment we entered the bank and in the waiting line, one of the bank employees recognized my t-shirt and asked me to approach her office door: - Excuse me, What university do you go to?”- I stretched my t-shirt so she could read “UCAB”, just written behind the big white hand the movement has a symbol.
- You see – She continued with her voice partially broken – I have two daughters, and one of them lives abroad and she…. She called me last night and said that if things keep being as they are… she’s considering coming home… I haven’t seen her in quite a while and now… she might come back! And I owe that to you, the students I mean. Tell them that, tell them that I say thanks.
I moved my head up and down just staring at her. I was so touched by her words that I couldn’t say anything and dropped one tear or two. My friend told me later that I should had go and hug her but I’m not really that kind of person. After a few second of just staring (and I think we told each other a million words in that look) I simply said “Gracias” in a low voice tone, then I smiled and continue my way. I don’t remember talking a lot to anyone about my small meeting at the bank except for my two friends who witnessed the event and who were equally touched. But if events like those are possible, my friend is definitely right about this “second opportunity”.
A few nights ago I met a former classmate at a club and she talked about her decision of moving to Europe because the “Europeans this, and the Europeans that, and the European mentality… I just can’t stand the Venezuelan way of thinking sometimes… and Caracas… this city has nothing!”. The more optimistic political scenery did not changed her plans not even a bit and I don’t blame her as I don’t blame any of the long list of friends who have decided to take off forever. In a world so connected I won’t claim no one to have a national identity but yet cheer the opportunities they have to look for happiness if they think that here they cannot find it. In an ideal world, maybe everyone should have that right.
I won’t be hypocritical: sometimes I’m not tired of the president or the government but of the country itself. Nothing works, the traffic is crazy, the streets are dirty, the crime is rampant and there’s more mediocrity sometimes that what I would like to see. But I haven’t met so far one person, Venezuelan or foreigner who is free of troubles, let them be political (like mine) or of any other kind. And, like one blogger who lives abroad once told me “you still have the cachapa” (cachapa is a Venezuelan meal, like a corn pancake with white cheese on top, you know how terrible I am when it comes to explain food so sue me!).
I still have the same streets I was born and grow up in, I have the crowdie busses filled with the must particular faces and that nasty music that I know now by memory, I have some corners of colonial architecture next to modern Cafes, I have theatre shows and classical music concerts once a week and more important: I have my university, my job, my family and my friends. Caracas might be not the most tourist city in the world but it has its charm if you look for it and its my place to build this “second opportunity” it has been offered to us now.
Sure I want to see the world and travel as crazy, and stand in front of one Goya painting at El Prado museum and live the experience of studying at other country but there is a whole big difference when you do it because you want to than when you do it because you have to. Well, after this my blog will probably go back to a more pessimist (or like I prefer to call it “realistic”)tone but I didn’t wanted to start the year like that. At one time my only hope was to leave the country and since I did not want to, for me it was like not having hope at all. I certainly do hate to open all kind of websites and find banners that advertise a green card with the message “your country is eligible” because last time I checked, I had a country and for whatever it means, it is worth to at least try to keep it.
About the pic: it was taken during the celebrations of Dec 2nd just after the results were given. As the reader might remember, I did not have my cam that day, but a friend was kind enough to send me a picture.