jueves, 30 de junio de 2011

Chavez has Cancer, and this blogger, afraid

Now this change things but in what direction? As I write this, I just heard the news. Not hat I haven't heard them before, a well known journalist: Nelson Bocaranda; told us everything a few days ago. But there is something different about hearing a rumor and watching one short live speech of the president, one were he reads for the first time to address the nation. He looks pale, sort of yellow and skinny. Beyond his words there is something seriously wrong here. And we should be seriously worried.

I didn't knew. Like I told you on Twitter, I was in the movies with my boyfriend when it happened. We watched a sort of kids movie - the one about the Panda bear - and then he brought me home. We were in a sort of romantic mood and since the movie was short, once in my building, we were able to talk and kiss in the parking line. After a few "I love you", I take the elevator, open my door and my dad is reading the news. He doesn't ask me how did my date went, he just points at the computer and the headlines are pretty clear, with the words "Chavez" and "Cancer" in the same sentence. My dad is reading a serious page, a newspaper, not rumors, no gossip, no joke.

The government waited more than 20 days for tell us the truth, when our 200 independence anniversary is coming closer (next Tuesday) and his absence from such an event; including the Revolutionary Socialist Stravaganza Parade would be impossible to hide. And when it does come to give us some answers, the Revolution offer us the image of its leader looking uncannily weak; without giving much detail about his diagnosis: for how long his treatment will last, when will he be able to come back, how optimist is his diagnosis, what can we expect and where this Cancer is located exactly. This are questions whose answers are still unavailable to us Venezuelans (at least for what I have heard so far, remember I've just found out, and I'm writing this in a rush)

You might think that after a life time of literally hating the man, we would have a different mood. But at least I don't. And it is not only because I'm Catholic. But because I look at the possible outcomes of this, and I don't feel optimist. Like I said on the headline of this blog: this is both BAD news for the government and the opposition.

As a result of Chavez' disease, both Government and Opposition are facing the same risk (Isn't it ironic?): the risk of dividing themselves, on starting to fight for a power that we once thought to be strong and unbeatable. But it is as strong as a man, and as weak as him. It is Chavez' responsibility, of course. Everything is about him, he's omnipresent, he's everywhere, anytime, and influx every corner of our intimate life. No Venezuelan affect us more beyond our intimate circle as Chavez does and both government and opposition develop around him. He's everything, despite if you like him or not. He's the reason for putting a lot of people together, let it be for supporting him, or for the opposite.

With him at risk, those who are now together could start looking for their own interest. And fights could start. Between the government. Between the opposition. But even worse, between those who Chavez has supplied with arms; summed with the military.

As I write this, I honestly have no clue of what this situation can bring to my country. No one has a clue and uncertainty so far has not proved to give us any benefit. I'm just thinking on possible consequences. And tonight, I'm pretty much afraid of them.

domingo, 19 de junio de 2011

Human Rights are for all: A story on El Rodeo (our prison in conflict)

He was born and grew up in the same barrio. It was nice but he was determined to get out of there anyway, he wanted more, he wanted a better life. He started working and got some savings. With some friends, he bought a small storehouse which he use to install a motorcycle’ garage (repairshop? I don’t know the proper word in English). With the business not going as he expected, he thought of a second plan to get a better life. The plan was attending law school and, to pay for the expenses, to rent half of his storehouse; while the other half still stayed as a motorcycle’ garage, only smaller. He was 20 years old.

It was Wednesday. He was checking the repair orders at his shop and getting ready for his night classes when the police showed up. They didn’t gave much explanation, they just screamed something and took him. “You son of a bitch, you thought you could get rid with it right?” – They said. He was punched several times. He asked why and after a while, he got an answer. The other half of his shop, the one he decided to rent, was used by the tenants to hide a group they kidnapped; while they waited for the rescue. The tenants had told him they were in the clothes business, that they brought clothes from Peru to sell at the streets and they needed the space to save all their things during the nights. He did saw some Peruvian cotton pajamas and did not asked more, he believed them.

The tenants did were street sellers and they did save their things there; but as a second job, they were also part of a gang. The police never found those tenants. When they came to the storehouse they only found a regular guy, not band related, law’ student. But in Venezuela you are guilty until your prove the opposite; and there are times when you don’t even have a chance to do it. Since the police never found the tenants and they needed someone to blame in order to present results of their anti- kidnapping police; they opened a file against him. Her family got a lawyer – “A nice guy but we still owe him a lot of money” – that put together all things that proved his innocence: like he did not have a key of the space he rented nor further contact with the tenants besides the monthly payment.

Nothing seemed to work. People – from policemen to judges and lawyers – have explained to the family that in kidnapping cases there is nothing you can do about it. One of the most serious and widest crimes in Venezuela is kidnapping and the government needs to prove that they are doing something about it. When the government puts out numbers of how many people they have “caught in fraganti”; this guy is one of those numbers. But he never kidnapped anyone. He couldn’t even dare to steal a chocolate bar, his neighbors say.

He’s now in El Rodeo I. He’s been there for a year. And this story would have never touched this blog if it wasn’t for the big penitentiary’ system crisis that is hitting our souls, during this week more than ever. First, we heard of more than 30 prisoners dead in what it apparently was a fight between prisoners. But now we hear different numbers. Some people say 100. Some people say 500. And we will probably never know how many. The army has entered the prison in an attempt to calm things there but it seems that instead of bringing peace, they are probably bringing more death and sorrow.

From inside the prison, a huge column of tear gas comes out, affecting even the families who are standing outside waiting to hear some news about their sons, husbands and brothers. What they hear is gun shots from time to time. The government announced they took the “conflict leaders” to another prison. An illegal move, since you can’t move a prisoner to another place without prior judge’ approval. Plus, I heard on TV that the families don’t know which prisoners have been taken to another prison. Human Rights organizations next to many opposition figures are asking for the army to leave the prison, so a negotiated solution of the conflict can be made, that bring peace for all, without more human lives being sacrificed; including those of the army. Government figures blame the opposition as always. The opposition blames the government and they are probably right because after all, they are the ones in charge.

In a drama that repeats itself on almost every Venezuelan prison, El Rodeo was build to held about 1500 prisoners. But it has more than 6500 according to the prisoners’ families. Most prisoners sleep in the floor and they have to pay for their “space to sleep”. Many, like the guy of this story, are still expecting for a trial so they don’t know for how long they are supposed to stay in that place. They can receive food from their families only if the families pay to the guards for them to “enter the food”. And guys are killed every day in Venezuelan prisons, only that this time, too many were killed on the same day and so it got more media attention.

My office' secretary lives in the same neighborhood where the guy of this story used to live; that’s how I got access to it. She also grew up in that place and assured me, over and over again that this guy was a great person (funny, that she speaks about him in past tense, when he’s still alive but imprisoned), a man “echado pa’ lante” – not like others. Now she’s sure this guy life and future has been lost forever, even if he survives in the prison. The guy called her mom two days ago, assuring her that he’s ok but that she must be ready to pay some money because he assured some prisoners that he will pay them; so they could “protect” him. If he doesn’t pay, they will kill him.

To El Rodeo’ events, I have seen many reactions: from the ones who are as concerned as me for it is a clear violation of the prisoners’ Human Rights and also from people who seemed to have no knowledge of what a Human Right is; neither they seem to have a heart. They are against the government and seem to be very progressive people. They marched on the streets when RCTV (the biggest Venezuelan TV Channel back in 2007) was closed and they actively worked on every election hoping results turned out to our favor. And yet, when this happen, they dared to tell you that “I don’t care, those people have what they deserve, if they are in there is because they did something to end up there” – “Yes but they are still people and they still have rights…” - “They never thought of my rights when they stole/ killed/ kidnapped etc…” – “They did not. But the prison is not a place to turn them into something worse than what they were before entering, but into something better. Besides, there are many innocents imprisoned, many who still don’t have a trial…” – “Really?” – “Yes, really. If you were caught by the police by mistake and no one can take you out, would you think about your Human Right then?” –

After that, they look at me in regret and stay quiet. I CAN’T BELIEVE THOSE PEOPLE (Sorry for the caps). I tend to think our jail issue isn’t about the government, or the prisoners, or the mafias, or Human Rights organizations, or opposition figures, or the National Guard (Army).

At the end, this shameful issue is about us. Is about us saying that “criminals should pay and be treated like dogs because they did…”. It’s all in our resentment and our thirst of revenge; as it we could find any solution using revenge as a leit motiv. It’s all in our idea that prisons are for punishment, not for rehabilitation. It’s all in our ignorant and mistaken belief that Human Rights are just for some people, “good people”. No folks, Human Rights are for everyone. And if societies could measure themselves on the way the treat prisoners, we would be at the bottom line.

And there is nothing that makes me think we aren't. So shame on us.

About the image: Families cry outside El Rodeo. Image taken from here. Please go to my links below. Caracas Chronicles has a video you must see.

viernes, 17 de junio de 2011

I live in a Cuban colony

We didn’t had a clue about it. Until the chancellor appeared on TV announcing the president was ill and he had to face an emergency surgery. Nothing extraordinary so far, every single specimen of the human race gets sick, yes, even presidents. But then we got the last part of the line “an emergency surgery in Cuba” – In Cuba?. We got it, he was there when the symptoms aroused so if the surgery was a must and coming back to Venezuela for the procedure was dangerous; it was logical that he stayed in Cuba for the surgery. But then, after the surgery and now the danger is over, a long recovery period was announced, so long that we don’t even know when it is going to end. And our president is going to spend all that time not in Venezuela, not resting at the Government palace but... in Cuba. What the f...? Did we suddenly were left without a president?

A well known opposition deputee: Maria Corina Machado; asked herself the same question. She reminded the assembly that our Constitution does not allow a president to stay abroad for an indifinite period (no exceptions); neither it does allow a president to rule us from abroad. Because hey... that’s called... what’s the world? Oh, yes, COLONIALISM. In cases such as this one, our constitution disposes to name the vicepresident, so he can asume temporarily presidential functions while the president can’t.

Amazingly, Maria Corina’ exhortation was rejected and against our Constitution and all laws of this republic; Chavez apparently is allowed to stay in Cuba for as long as he wants and to rule us from there. He has even signed a law there, but to make things more grave; the law appears to be signed in Caracas as he was there when he signed; which he wasn’t. So I don’t know where to start... it’s both a clear, wide, open violation of the Constitution and also a fraud, since the Revolution still keeps the goverment records, laws and decrees as if they were being done in Caracas when everyone knows (they let us know, they show us on TV) that all acts of government are being done in La Habana.

Caracas is not our capital city anymore. It’s La Habana. After 200 years of being an independent and a soveraign country; we are back to our colonialist days. We are a province of Cuba; and King’ Chavez rules from La Habana Palace. Am I the only one feeling back in 1750 or something?

This is one of many double speech and contradictions of the Revolution. The Revolution has always caracterized itself as a patriotic, independent, sovereign movement. But the fact is that they have done this to create two imaginary enemies: Spain and more than anything, United States. Two outside enemies to be blame of all their mistakes. Two figures of speech created to avoid responsabilities. Excuses to aproved laws such as one they aproved back in December on which they prohibit any external funding for civil society organizations which have “political activities”. Excuses to reduce their legitim opponents. To erase all possible transparency and control. To set the path free so they can do anything they want, such as moving the Venezuelan’ government to another country.

Of course, these events have also been the seed to spread many rumours; since the Revolution is never clear on its actions and its intentions, it is not clear why Chavez’ recovery must be indefinite and his diseased has never been extensely explained. There is people who say that Chavez health is worse than what we know. Rumours that go from Cancer to surgery complications. There is also one or two elucubrating with the idea that maybe Chavez he’s not sick at all, but he’s afraid something will happen if he stays in Venezuela. I do not give credit to any of those rumours.

What I know from this story is this: First, Chavez do not trust us. Chavez preffered to have his medical treatment in Cuban hands. We have also heard of many other sensitive issues on which Cubans have their hands on, and Venezuelans are not allowed to enter (for example, Cubans often perfom illlegal spionage of opposition figures in Venezuela). Second, and it is so obvious that I don’t know what I’m writing it. We are not independent. A Revolution that promised us independence, has given us the opposite. This Revolution took a country that could already be ruled by itself and that it had been done so for decades; and give it to Cubans. As simple as that.

Just for the record, I don’t have anything against Cubans. My mother’ family at the beggining of the XX’ century migrate from Spain to America. One part ended up in Cuba, and the other, us, in Venezuela. As things in Cuba got complicated, many of them arrived here in the 60’s. So I feel a certain bond with them. I don’t have anything against cultural influx of any place. I spend my weekends having dinner at an Iranian restaurant, have breakfast at the chinesse market, lunch at a Perubian restaurant, go to concerts organized by the Japanese Embassy, attend French lessons, watch the Salsa Casino dancers at UCV on a Sunday afternoon and lately, I have developed a strange love for Swedish food and Russian movies. I’m not strange. We, Venezuelans, are just like that. We love foreigners, we love strange and new things, we love to discover, we love to taste something we are not used to. We don’t mind hearing the Cuban accent here and there in Caracas.

We only wish we could hear more accents. That all those who once were welcome, would not be overlooked as “lackeys of the empire”. But I have even got the sense that many people here avoid to speak English in public. At the same time, we want to welcome the world, but always be respected by them. To be ruled from somewhere else (either be Cuba or anywhere else) it’s a plain lack of respect for all Venezuelans. It’s a humilliation. It’s a slap on our face. The worse part is that this is not coming only from the Cuban’ regime. It comes from our president itself.