sábado, 31 de octubre de 2009

Sara and Bernardo

(The image was taken from this blog. The poster says "Lets end with the imperialism... every Venezuelan" or something like that.The image is a typical example of how the government consistently blames third parties and even abstract entities (such as "imperialism") of the troubles this country suffers, which are only a consequence of bad government praxis and nothing else).

During my third year of university I had to make a paper with a few classmates. A guy – let’s call him “Bernardo”- and a girl – lets call “Sara”- were part of my group. Sara was a short girl with a big butt, non existent breasts, and a big so-called intellectual ego, carefully fabricated to compensate what her self esteem couldn’t. Of our 6 student team, I was the one in charge of editing the text of the final essay.

When Sara read my corrections, on the afternoon before the due date ;her ego couldn’t stand my decision of erasing a couple of paragraphs she wrote. Those paragraphs were beautifully written as she made me realize, but they didn’t had anything to do with the main topic of our essay. A huge discussion followed, inside a small classroom, in the presence of this shy guy: Bernardo and the rest of the team. Sara accused me of being authoritarian (since my country is ruled by an authoritarian man, I guess we use that word a lot as an insult between us), stating that I only wanted to put my ideas in the final paper without listening to others’. Then she screamed and point out at Bernardo in a clear threatening gesture: “And Bernardo agrees with me!” – She said – “Why you don’t tell to Julia what you really think of her?

Bernardo was petrified and didn’t say a word. I looked at him a bit confused, because I had trouble finding any reason why this guy could have something against me. He looked at me back and left the room carrying a scolded dog face. Then, the trouble was solved thanks to the mediation of the rest of the team. Thank God I wasn’t the only one who didn’t approve adding those couple of paragraphs in our final essay.

After that, I spend a couple of hours fighting with Sara, her ego, and working on the paper. I was so stressed up, that when I finally left the room, I had completely forgot that awkward moment with Bernardo earlier. So I was surprised when I found him waiting for me outside the classroom, sitting at the hall. You could read a lot of anguish all over his face. “Julia, I need to talk to you…”- He said.

Bernardo started to spit out words so quickly that it was hard for me to follow him– “… What Sara said earlier, about me thinking that you are authoritarian isn’t true… I never spoke bad of you… well one day I complained that you were late, and maybe I said a few things… I don’t know… I never expected… I’m truly sorry…” – “Bernardo what happens is that we are all stressed up and irritated because of the due date of the paper is all over us… that’s all… don’t worry… no heart feelings” – I answered back, with a smile. The memories of the earlier discussion with Sara came back to my head and they kept me wondering about a possible nasty conversation between Sara and Bernardo behind my back. But I didn’t say anything about it.

Despite that doubt, that day I learned to admire people like Bernardo. I admire people who have the guts to show their faces and openly admit their mistakes. There is no such thing as perfect people – eh… putting my boyfriend aside - , people will always make mistakes. I despise people who never admit their mistakes, who are always making excuses and who prefer to blame others of their acts instead of taking responsibility. It takes courage and humanity to admit that we have done the wrong thing.

You are entitled to wonder why I wrote a whole post of a trivial anecdote of my college days. But if you translate this anecdote from a small study group to the way a government acts, it will make sense to you. At the end we are all people. Students, same as president and ministers; share this natural tendency to either act like Sara or Bernardo.

Sara was a very smart – I won’t deny it – girl but also very insecure of her position and her abilities. Thus when a situation that hurt her pride came, she choose to call me “authoritarian” and to start a big fight, inviting witnesses such as Bernardo to support her cause… instead of admitting that the couple of paragraphs she wrote were inadequate for the essay. Bernardo, on the other hand, was not among the brightest of our class although he wasn’t dumb either. He was very shy, quiet, hardly had any initiative of his own. Yet he hided a quality perhaps more rare than the ability of writing a couple of nice paragraphs: the guts to do what is right even if that means admiting his mistakes and commiting his position.

I feel that we have too many Saras, when we are in the need of more Bernardos. Here and there, inside the Revolution and against it, I don’t feel we need bright people, or incredible smart ones. We need people with enough humanity to be able to fall, admit it, and get up again.

I’m tired of excuses. I’m tired of speakers blaming third parties. If we don’t have enough water, don’t say it was the “niño phenomena” or “the rich people who spend way too much water”. If electricity fails don’t say that is part of an “opposition sabotage” planned with CIA founds. If anyone protests for their rights don’t say that they are being manipulated or instigated to rebellion. If we don’t have any sugar in our shelves it is not because we are eating too much candy. If we don’t have access to foreign currency it is not because from one day to another we travel too much. If we don’t have water it is not because our baths take longer than three minutes (Our president said that we can’t take longer baths, yes, for real). If the electricity fails over and over in this Oil country it is not because we have too many TV’ in our houses.

Stop blaming the citizens of your own mess. Stop making us pay the consequences of your own mistakes. Please, stop trying to keep at all cost, your couple of beautiful but useless paragraphs and be like Bernardo for a change. Wait for me at the hall and tell me you didn’t mean it but you did it. You didn’t mean to rule Venezuela this way but it happened. Tell me it was a mistake and you are sorry.

viernes, 23 de octubre de 2009

The End of Private Property as I know it

I feel so sad right now that I just forgot many English words I need to write this post. The government has taken away the only property my family haves. In theory we are still the owners but under many conditions I’ll explain on the following lines. I know they have always said that they are not against private property. But we are aware of the huge distance between speeches and reality. We also know that a property can only be public or private. Any other name given to a property by the government like “social”, “of social interest”, “of cultural and historical value”… becomes a pretty way to state that such property isn’t private anymore.

I have spent years seeing how the government decides to take away this land or another under any excuses off their legitimate proprietary. Sometimes the government argues that a land is not productive enough to question its private property. But when such land passes to state hands; the land also passes from being a bit productive to unproductive at all. We have also learned that any land, any company that the government takes away doesn’t serves to make "social justice". Those lands are not delivered to the “people” - the legitimate owners according to the government. Instead, they are simply added to the broad government' patrimony and we, “people”, never see their benefits.

We only see interviews of frustrated owners who have worked for such land all their lives and now they have lost it all.
But during all these years I didn’t do anything about it, besides watching the news with a worried look on my face and commenting them with my friends and family. To say the truth: it did not affect me. My family doesn’t have any of those proprieties neither we personally know anyone who haves them. For us, those land owners were just very unlucky rich people in a reality far distant from ours. It sounds politically incorrect and irresponsible to say it but I have made the commitment to tell you all the reality about the ups and downs of living here on this blog; despite how they make me look.

The reality is this: we hear so many bad news everyday that is impossible to care about all the problems this country has at the same time. It’s also hard to be aware of all government abuses and to speak out loud about them at the same time. Government' abuses never affect everybody at the same time. That’s how government' strategy works: no one talks about it, but everybody knows it exists. And if the affected by it is your next door neighbor but not you, you won’t be as worried as your neighbor is.

So next time you will be affected by a different trouble but your neighbor won’t and in that way everybody live their lives in Venezuela like everything was normal. They know the government closed many radio stations but they are not journalist or own or work at any radio station so they do not worry. They just feel bad about the friend who did work for one of those and that’s it. They know the government has forced to exile or put in jail many politicians who oppose the Revolution. But since they are not politicians they only feel bad for a couple of minutes about those faces on TV and then move on with their lives. They know the government has put some protesters in jail but since they don’t personally know any of them, they only have a little talk with their families were they express their concern about the issue. After saying “this country is a shit… Chavez is a shit…” (Pardon me the language) they pass to another topic and get ready for going to a party. They read in the newspaper that a landowner has lost his land under an arbitrary order of Mr. Chavez. But since they do not know the landowner, neither he belongs to their family; and since they do not own any lands; they pass that newspaper page and check the tourism section to see if they can afford a Cruise around the Caribbean next holiday.

This is how it works. We can’t afford to be worried about every single government move. We can barely worry about the ones who affect us directly and sometimes not even that. And I don’t think I can’t blame Venezuelans for having this attitude. It’s a necessary adjustment to the difficult circumstances we daily face by living inside this Revolution. It’s probably not the best, it probably won’t make a difference; but it can make us somehow sustain an illusion of happiness. And happiness is needed to remain strong and alive. Otherwise, many Venezuelan citizens could be diagnosis with a severe clinical depression (I’m hoping that’s not the case).


Last Sunday I was dreaming about cruises on the newspaper section about tourism. I read with absolutely delight the story of a honeymooner who spent a week on a cruise on the Mediterranean seas. Then my boyfriend and I went to a birthday party of a friend of ours and we divided our afternoon between some splashes in a pool and some domino games. But as soon as Monday came, everything was different.

My family had plans to sell this old apartment which belonged to my grandma (who passed away ten years ago). My uncles who lived wanted to move so we started all the necessary paperwork to sell the place. My family was enthusiastic about the things we could do with the money, that it wasn’t much since it is a very small apartment located in a low middle class area of Caracas.

But yesterday, we found out that we can’t sell our apartment. The government put out a decree (without any consultation) that declares our building among others, “good of cultural interest” and “cultural heritage of the nation”. This means not only that we can’t modify the building’ original structure but that no proprietary can sell or rent an apartment without government’ permission. To get this permission we need about 22 documents (including original property documents and other strange requests such as “the building’ coordinates”) which are very hard to get, not to say impossible. The permission is totally discretional: this means the government can’t deny it without any further explanation, even if you have your papers on rule. And the best part: even if you do get the permission, you can’t sell the apartment to the market’ price but rather, the government’ will set the price (again, in a discretional way) were you can sell it. Last but not least: the government will have the right to have the first buying option. Like we say in Spanish: "pagan y se dan el vuelto" (no idea how to say this in English, could anyone help?)

We did not receive any explanation of why our building is now part of the “cultural heritage” of the nation. Our building is old, yes, probably from the 60’s… who knows… but its very ugly, very rough, doesn’t have any architectural value as far as I know. In the neighborhood there are many buildings just like ours plus many others which are older, prettier, of much more value than ours. Yet, of the whole neighborhood, only about 12 buildings were selected for the decree. We don’t understand why they want to preserve this building instead the other next street which looks exactly the same. It looks like an arbitrary selection of the buildings, rather than a coordinated effort to preserve our cultural heritage.

Words less, words more, what is happening here is that a property once private, has now fallen into a limbo where, same as the government speaks out, it doesn’t stop being private. In theory that apartment still belong to us. But if it does, why we feel that it now belongs more to them than to us, their legitimate owners?

I look at the people who live in the buildings who have been not affected by the decree. They will discuss over dinner about the bad luck their neighbors have and move on with their lives as it nothing happens. They probably didn’t even read the decree, just found out they were not part of it and that was it.

But next door, for my family, there is a whole different situation. My mom has a headach, product of the incredible tension and frustration she has felt since she found out that her limited heritage is now reduced to zero. Her heritage and my grandparent’s work has been reduced to a place where we can live, but that we can’t sell or rent. The government has stolen from us that right with a decree passed from one day to another, without any explanation.

I don’t have a fancy way to finish this post as I have finished others in the past. I’m just going to say that I’m sad. I’m frustrated. That I wish this illusion of happiness we Venezuelans create everyway could be something more than just an illusion.

PS: My mom and I made a tour around Caracas to take pictures of houses and buildings affected by this decree. I won’t put a picture of our building to protect my privacy. But I would publish the pictures of this couple of buildings instead: they are on the same street, one next to the other. The one on the left was not affected by the decree. The one on the right is now part of the Venezuelan cultural heritage. I think this couple of pictures proves the arbitrary nature of the decree. Can you tell me why one building was included and the other was not?

Also I have a picture of this shopping mall included in the decree and I can’t think of any reason why this building might have any cultural value. Can you? (on the inside is just as ugly as it is on the outside)

jueves, 8 de octubre de 2009

Childhood dreams

All girls dream. I was no exception. When our lives consisted on happy afternoons invested on Barbie dolls’ games with my cousins, we dreamed. As soon as we got to my room or theirs, each one of us picked a Barbie. I always picked a read hair one because she looked glamorous and different from the rest of the blondes out there. After picking the Barbie we picked a Ken and some other dolls to build a perfect family. Each one of us – yep, we were so girly – celebrated a wedding. And then, each one of us had a comfortable house, beautiful dresses, kids at school, a car and a great job. But the best part of all was that we really lived close to each other. Plus, the grandparents were always there to take care of our kids. Everyone was there.

We were not fool. We knew that things were not exactly like are painted in our Barbie doll games. We knew that we were never going to look as perfect as our blonde dolls. We were sure we were not going to go to a pink supermarket or drive a pink Ferrari in the future. But that was it. We thought that despite those tiny differences everything was going to be the same. Everyone was going to be here.

Now we have reached the age we said our Barbies had. We are starting our jobs and picking our Ken to build the life thus the family with him. We are driving our cars (well, in my case is my mom’ car) and going to the supermarket. Some girls are planning their weddings. We should be happy because we have reached or are very close to reach our “Barbie doll dream”. But in our dream we never thought of this: that maybe, not everyone was going to be here.

We are leaving and now that departure is part of the dream. We do not only dream about jobs and houses and cars and (please, do not let our “Ken” hear us) kids. We also dream about placing our life anywhere but here. We are dreaming about a quiet place, a safe place… Where our preparation has the recognition it deserves…Where the shelves of all stores are filled with everything we need …Where you can see new things, where you can feel the progress.

We are also dreaming about a place away from our family and friends, where the kids will not have grandparents to go visit them every Sunday. We are dreaming about old contacts kept thanks to Skype. Plus, we are dreaming about living in a different country, about getting used to a different culture and in some cases, we are preparing to face hard adjustments, new language or even, discrimination.

Our dreams are not exactly pink anymore. But I doubt any adult has pink dreams now. We are not dolls. And our world is far more complicated that a small room filled with toys.

As adults that becoming now, we have chosen to dream about saying good bye. Not just to our childhoods, but also to our friends, to our families, to our country.