jueves, 8 de julio de 2010

Venezuela' impossible picture

A faithful reader asked me to provide here a "picture of Venezuela", o more likely, a "picture of Venezuelan life". I thought it was an easy task, and I promised to write an entry on the subject in the next few days. But I couldn't. Turns out that it wasn't so easy. In this blog I cannot provide a picture of Venezuelan life, I can only provide a picture of my life which is the same because I live in Venezuela and yet, is very different because there are many "Venezuelas" in just one nation, and even more ways to live in it.

Please take notice that I stated there are many Venezuelas in just one nation. There is a basic distinction between the term "country" and "nation", those terms are rarely synonyms. In Venezuela's case, they are almost synonyms, except for minority indigenous communities. "Nation" refers to a the cultural, common identity a certain collective has. "Country" its a political distinction. Then, one country can - and often has - many nations between its territory. A classical example of such arrangement is Spain. When I say there are many Spain in one country, I'm talking about those defined and very diverse cultural identities; but when I speak about many Venezuelas in one country, I'm not speaking about cultural identities. We are, for the most, the same nation with the same broad cultural identity. Being simplistic we all identify ourselves with the same National anthem, we all have some sort of cult to Bolivar, we all love to eat arepas, dance and value family and personal connections above everything else. Our dramatic diversity that makes many "Venezuelas" collide into one is not due to cultural identities, but to social, economical and political factors which marks a dramatic inequality.

Venezuelans are not culturally different, are economical, socially, politically different from one another. And they don't have slight differences, their differences are huge, dramatic, irreconcilable.

In order to keep my promise and the task this reader asked me to do, I'm going to offer a broad description of the many Venezuelas I see on a daily basis, of the many and very different and diverse countries I encounter every day in my daily life. Please notice that this description is not accurate, nor is complete. Is just my perception and it is the perception of many people but it is not based on facts, it does not gives you numbers and if by mistake I give you the idea of a number, please be aware that it could not be truth. This blog is more about personal perceptions and feelings than objectiveness. So I have never been worried of being fact straight. But I feel it is my responsibility to repeat over and over again that I am not being fact straight. I'm just writing from my life, to my head, from my heart, to the keys; from my opinion to the computer screen. I'm not checking even tho I have read those, any study.

Venezuela number one is rich and vibrant, is filled with some entrepreneurs, some of them luckily are very socially oriented but some others are not. This Venezuela lives in fine houses, goes to fine restaurants, sign up their kids in the best schools and send them to prestigious camps abroad during summer, and travels several times a year. Inside this Venezuela you hear the angst of a girl who is not going to be able to go to Miami four times a year like she used to due to CADIVI restrictions; leaving also greatest recommendations about restaurants in Paris and New York, about a Cruise in Norway or tells her memories on a recent U2 concert she saw in Rome. This Venezuela makes the bautism of a kid looks like an average wedding, with an exquisite menu and loads of music from a private orchestra after the brand new Catholic has go to sleep.
This Venezuela has never put a foot in a bus or in any public transportation form. They remember visiting the subway once, when they were kids, on a rare school trip and it was just from "Chacao" to "Altamira" station. Their parents gave them a brand new car when they turned 16. They crashed on a silly non sense accident while being drunk at 2 am and soon the car was replaced with another model, even newer. They love Venezuelan food and can stop their cars at the same hot dog spot where a construction worker is eating. They love to dance, same as everybody. But they think they are different, since they are educated, meaning they went to the greatest school and the greatest college one can think of. And payed a masters degree in Harvard. They complain a lot about the government but they don't do a thing. They think the trouble is the "Venezuelan culture", "the people" (meaning, poor people) who are not educated enough and thus vote for Chavez over and over again. Some of them make business with the government at day and sit with a whiskey to complain about restrictions of freedom at night. At the end, if things get really ugly, they will leave the country. Not only the young ones, but everybody, the whole family. They have either an European passport, or a green card, or the Canadian citizenship and if they don't have any of those; they have a lot of money to invest anywhere, and any country will say hi to that money and give them their legal residence status they want.
So in short they complain, and it is painful for them to leave this place. But they are the only ones who can do it in comfortable circumstances. Because of this, most of time, and despite their random complains, they are the Unworried Venezuela.

Venezuela number two is suddenly rich and revolutionary. I don't really know this Venezuela and I do not dare to judge it harshly. I don't have personal contacts to almost any of them, to be honest. But there are Mercedes and BMW filling our streets and you know, from the start, they do not belong to Venezuela number one. Venezuela number one has been rich forever, the great grandparent had some lands, the grandparent found a small business, the parent turned into a giant company and opened some other business as well and so on.. money makes money. And people with money have experience on having it, and treating it. In this country so filled with insecurity, Venezuela number one is not urged to show off as they used to do it, they prefer to be cautious and low profile. Venezuela number two shows off and you know they do it, because they have never had such amount of money and blind by it, they are desperate to show it off. Their looks quickly warn us of their origins. No intention of being racist here, but I'm trying to be more honest than politically correct on this note. Is not about how their physical looks are, what skin color, what race... is more about their way to dress, to move, to speak. Those signs are impossible to hide, scream that you are just entering the "high class" and you raised your bank account fast... thanks to the government and its magical ways to give money in return to political loyalty.
Some of them, deep inside, don't even like the government, but they are taking the most of it and same as Venezuela number one, if things get ugly, they will leave the country and find themselves with legal status at some fancy place in the developed world. With a Swiss bank account of mysterious origins, that's for sure. That is enough to give them the title of the Convenient Venezuela.

Venezuela number three its probably what you would call middle class. Even possibly high middle class. But as high as it might seem, this Venezuela doesn't know if its going to be able to pay the bills by the end of the month. Surely often interacts with Venezuela number one and they are often mistaken as if they were the same. But surely, they are not. Those two Venezuelas probably meet at the university, they probably even sent with great sacrifices, their kids to the same school. Venezuela number one and number three are friends but they sometimes can't share the same hobbies since Venezuela number three can give you a lot of references of restaurants in Paris, if any. And they have spend at least their college years taking the subway, just like anyone else. Venezuela number three is educated, just as much as Venezuela number one but it has done so under more difficult circumstances. Some of them live in good houses on their own, not as nice as Venezuela number one but good ones at least. But most live in good areas but very old buildings, or are the typical without a place on their own, living with the grandparents. Venezuela number three have the same aspirations as Venezuela number one but they cannot always achieve them.
They are against the actual situation, they feel it has going worse and do not fully understand this regime. Their ethics makes them unable to make business with the government but putting that aside they feel as isolated and desperate as Venezuela number one might feel from time to time. But unlike them they cannot leave the country, they have enough money to keep some standards in Venezuela without much luxury and nothing else. They don't have engrossing bank accounts which would allow them to make a new life anywhere else. And as the economical situation goes worse, they find it harder to be understood by their friends of Venezuela number one, who can continue making the expenses they no longer can. The unability to change their situation for the better and the fact that their situation has gone nothing than worse under this regime, gives them the title of "Frustrated Venezuela.

Venezuela number four is what you would call middle class or low middle class. Based on their income, they could be labeled as "poor" in the first world. They live in very modest appartments in suburbs or in insecure streets of the city, most close to the barrios (shanty towns). They are more likely to be connected with people living in those shanty towns than with people from the Venezuelas I described above. Most of them are educated. Venezuelas number one and three, the traditional high class, refuse sometimes to believe that they are some people even more educated beyond their limit social circuits. But those people actually exist. People from the Unworried Venezuela and some from the Frustrated Venezuela could label as "niche" (a label often used to insult people living in shanty towns and their ways of living) are people with university education sharing some class with their kids and working at your next cubicle. Primary difference is, they live "there" because they can't afford anything else. Venezuela number four lives the day by day, without country clubs or restaurants because they never were used to that, but their houses inside are very complete and comfortable with all the basic and not so basic goods including cable TV. They also complain of the regime but it is a different kind of complain. If you might, it is a most realistic complain. Its a complain based on how the government affects their daily life and what they can do to struggle and survive because it is rare that they consider leaving as an option. Many of them are also immigrants but not from Europe but rather from Colombia, or Peru, or Dominican Republic. They came to this country with great hopes and in very difficult circumstances and they are more likely to take every day as it comes and do not desperate as much as the previous Venezuelas would. This is the Realistic Venezuela.

Venezuela number five lives in Shanty towns (Barrios). But do not think I'm describing the last of the Venezuelas I have dared to characterize. They live in Shanty towns but their homes are rather comfortable and generally well built and they have the luxuries and same life style as Venezuela number four (including cable TV). Some of them, maybe most, I really don't know, are as well educated as the previous Venezuelas, maybe without the post degree abroad unless they got a scholarship. They are, as many living in barrios, the main victims of the insecure situation we are living under. They are used to hear gunshots much more often than any of the previous Venezuelas described above. They have enough income to be not consider poor since they can afford enough food and many extra luxuries and even trips. But same as Venezuela number three, they can't leave the place where they are living because they can't afford it. So they live "there". Some, might even don't want to leave the barrios but rather see the conditions inside their barrios improve: better services, more security. This is the Popular Venezuela. Some support the government, some have the same complain of the Venezuelas above but they are probably what must of us know as popular classes. They are the top of the pyramid of what we call "poor people" even if their life styles are more varied, rich and complicated than that word which only means the lack of something. They are probably the majority of Venezuelans.

Venezuela number six goes from the label poor to very poor. If you go to rural areas this Venezuela gets bigger and you can find a Venezuela number seven, and eight and nine and keep going down from there. While Venezuela number one wonder what cute restaurant are they going to pick for the traditional family lunch on Sunday; Venezuela number six and beyond wonders if they are going to be able to eat at all. While Venezuela number three is concerned about how are they going to pay the expensive private school so they kids can go to class with Venezuela number one, Venezuela number six and beyond is concerned about how far their kids can stay in school before they go to work to support the family (third grade? sixth grade? some high school if they are lucky?). Or maybe they just discard the education possibility once and for all. While Venezuela number two buys a new BMW in the name of the Revolution, Venezuela number six and beyond makes long lines begging for a tiny government benefit which can help them go through the day, always in return for political fidelity. Venezuela number four might worry for living in an apartment in a very insecure area but Venezuela number six and beyond trembles when its raining because their "house" (or a tiny square built with street signs, blocks if their lucky etc) might crash.

The rest of the Venezuelas are very concerned for the insecurity situation, and they have occasionally suffered its consequences from time to time. It is true that all Venezuela suffers the insecurity situation now but Venezuela number six and beyond has suffered always. And not from time to time but on a daily basis. The mothers of Venezuela number six and beyond have either their kids in jail, or death or frightened (with real reasons to be frightened) to see another family member in that situation. Life loses value as you go from one Venezuela to another and another. No one is completely safe, and many from the Venezuela number 1, and 2, and 3 have lost their life thanks to crime in the last few years. But no one is as unsafe as Venezuela five, six, and beyond. Venezuela six and beyond doesn't have other choice but to be named by the word I hate: "Poor Venezuela" because they truly lack of so many things...

So there you go, at least six different Venezuelas in just one country. All six with a very similar cultural identity and - do not be amazed, I believe it is truth - many similar values. But different situations, different perceptions and therefore a different behavior. And none of this Venezuelas understand each other.

Venezuela number one can't understand the show off quality of Venezuela number two, nor even can't understand why Venezuela number three can't share many of their hobbies. As for the rest of the Venezuelas, Venezuela number one only counts them as a distant reference, as "those people". Venezuela number three doesn't understand the great quality of life Venezuela number one enjoys at the same time it condemns the political accommodations of Venezuela number two. As for the rest of the Venezuelas it might have connections with number four but nothing beyond, most of them have never entered a barrio and they speak out a lot, but they have no idea how they live. Venezuela number four sees Venezuela number one as super stars and can't tell the difference between Venezuela number one and two. It might make connections with Venezuela 3 but gets frustrated because of their difference in their life style. And now they have left the barrios, it is hard for them to enter there unless they have relatives. They have a middle class mind, but more humble origins they fight to reject.

Venezuelas 5, and 6 and beyond don't know nor even understand the rest, they know they live a very different reality, from another world, and find their complains, those of high classes of what dress to buy and wether if I can afford this trip... simply amusing. They feel resentment and really, who can blame them? They will be never be able to leave the barrios under this system, but highest classes has forced them to believe they don't work hard enough. They have been historically excluded from the system and this regime has promised to make things better but it has been only a promise and not a real improvement.

All Venezuelas goes like this. Each one in their own exclusive and little inner circle, misunderstanding and rejecting the rest of the Venezuelas and ignoring how alike they are. Unable to know their life styles, unable to understand each and everyone's need, unable to reach any agreement. Venezuela is one country with many people that just go at their own, with their particular life.

So how can you provide a picture of the country in that situation? I cannot give you a picture. The most I can give you its a collage and you will not find any harmony between the pictures that compound it. The best I can give you is my picture.

It is no secret that I fully belong to Venezuela number three, because of my childhood, my education and my connections to Venezuela number one. If you judge by the place I live I might be more close to Venezuela number four. My work has allowed me to share a lot with Venezuelas 5, 6, 7 and beyond but this has not been enough to fully understand them. So I'm somewhere in the middle of social sandwich made with ingredients that do not combine and therefore it doesn't taste good. I'm the white cheese combined with the turkey pastrami that only tastes good if its combined with Dutch cheese and mayo deli but instead of mayo deli has a cheap tomato sauce... I'm just there, and I'm inviting you to judge not Venezuela but my life and how this regime influence its daily course. I wish I could be more broad, more general and more inclusive. But only this circumstances I really can't, and it will be irresponsible to pretend doing so. I write from my particular situation, I can't write anything else.

Of course all this is not acceptable. The fact that I can't understand the rest of the Venezuelas around me is not acceptable. This worries me a lot and I have tried to change it but I have not succeed, and its probably because I haven't try hard enough. But it is a tragedy when one feels like a stranger, like a foreigner in your own country because you have no understanding of the comrade walking next to you. We distrust each other and present our different visions of Venezuela and "reality" as if they were the whole Venezuela and the real state of things. No matter how "incorrect" it might sound I must be honest and say that this is so blurry that I cannot blog about reality, beyond my own. And I cannot be more accurate in my stories, beyond my thoughts, feelings, interpretations, emotions around such story.

I was hopping this post could clear your mind, but I fear it might confused you even more. I know it wasn't what you expected. But my hope is that your read of this post and of many others enlightens you and me, in order to start doing what most human beings has proven so far, to be incapable to do: fully and truly understand each other.

1 comentario:

  1. First of all thanks for a now even dedicated article. He is wonderful and shows the deep desire the world to explain, how you understand it. The picture, which is created, is out of focus at sharp at the same time. Initially it wasn’t expected, but looks nice, thanks a lot. My previous comments are not a criticism of the presentation; they attempt to generate a possibly more valued image for somebody, which isn’t so familiar with all the circumstances. (The blog is readable around that world and nearly the only document written in clear English, which open your world to foreign people, without this standard dispraise of a "socialism" country, even may corrupt). But to explain the difference, let’s take violence: At first there are these familiar surroundings, the lower the status the harsher the conditions. This can have recourse of a society secondly. Then of course we can have problems politically motivated, arising from obstruction of demonstrations to the direct elimination of free opinion, which leads to prison terms or other similar restrictions. And as the last point, there is a difference whether I'm doing something active (if I’m supporting demonstrations, critical blogs etc.) or passive (means a private conversation will be a snare) and it caused problems. You can see a wide range joins the same perceived effect in a community.
    I remember a fierce dispute, which I had with initially similar questions, but this was interpreted as if I wanted to reduce your world. I can tell you that this is extremely relative; the question is what you can do in your circumstances. This so it’s called “first world” has a currently diminishing middle class that breaks away more often, wakes up in a social vortex without a return ticket. I would only get an insight into your world because I have probably worked up matters which are personal in nature and maybe I'm deeply hurt someone without meaning to. Hope I will read you again …. Best regards Th.

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