The picture above speaks loudly. There’s no room for interpretation. A boy stands on the edge of La Carlota, a military airport in the East of Caracas, after probably having been throwing rocks moments before. On the other side of the fence, a full suited guard aims at him, moments before he shoots to kill. It is illegal to use lethal weapons firearms to control protesters. Another case of unmeasured force by Maduro’s government: victim number 76, on the 83rd day of street-protests called by the country’s opposition. David José Vallenilla was only 23 years old. He must have been a considerable threat to this Bolivarian National Guard, despite the war-like armour and the metal fence that divided the two. The video of this incident, available by a simple Google search of the victim’s name, speaks even louder. Murder.
This piece, however, is not about why Venezuelans protest. First, the internal dynamics of the country have long been developing; and neither this is the place to inform a naive reader, nor am I the best equipped to do so. I believe that numerous objective articles have already been published by the likes of the New York Times, The Economist, or El País, to name a few, which will do for the curious reader. Second, by the time this is published, who knows where the country will be. At the time of writing, street protests have already been going for100 days; Leopoldo Lopez, an opposition leader arrested in 2014 under lack of evidence, was given house arrest; and the opposition was preparing for a national consultation to overrule Maduro and company’s attempts at rewriting the constitution on the 30th of July. Third, I find it somewhat unnecessary to justify the protests in a country known for having the world’s highest inflation, the most corrupt government in the Americas, and a homicide rate only comparable to cartel-driven Honduras. Mark my words; Venezuela will take over Zimbabwe’s role as the perfect textbook example of what not to do with an economy. On top of the largest proven oil reserves in the world, Venezuelans queue for hours just to get toilet paper. Food shortages are so acute that, according to a poll by national universities, about 70% of the population lost weight during the last year, with the poorest Venezuelans reporting an average loss of nine kilos. It has been dubbed “la dieta Maduro”, clearly not because of the overweight and colossal waste that is the country’s president, but because of his failed policies.
This piece is about you, the outsider. It’s an open letter to those who still see Venezuela as an example-to-follow and not as a warning. You see, I understand that people might have different opinions on “how” Venezuelans should protest, but to doubt on “why” Venezuelans protest is just a sign of willful ignorance.
I sincerely thought people from other countries, specifically the educated ones, would understand my frustrations and the pain that came from watching from afar how your country crumbled. But then I met the gauche caviar, and like all expectations, mine adjusted quickly.
Several times, as an expat, I found myself in awkward situations where I had to defend what I saw and still see as facts. These were not discussions between opposing Venezuelans who happened to be in the same bar. That would have made more sense to me. Instead, there was that time where a French called me out for spreading “false information” about la revolución bolivariana. Or that time up in Maine where a group of college students couldn’t believe that I didn’t view Chavez as our generation’s Bolivar. The homicide statistics, for example, were not enough proof for the French, and the fact that Chavez continued selling oil to the United States -which is, up until this day, our largest costumer – despite his revolutionary call, was not enough of a reason for the Americans. “You’re middle-class,” the French argued, but so was she; “You live in the Empire,” the American argued, but so did they. Now surely this would not have happened if I had talked about my dislike for Nixon-Kissinger infamous duo and their interventionist policies in Latin America, or my concerns regarding the rise of closeted white supremacist parties in Europe. If we could agree on one kind of evil, why then could we not agree on the same evil hiding under a different name?
Narratives are absolutes while facts are debatable nowadays.
These are the same people that jerked off to Fidel, but never wondered why thousands of Cubans were willing to escape the island by jumping into inflatable rafts to Miami. The same people that fringe at the look of a “Make America Great Again” t-shirt, but have no issues in wearing a Che Guevara shirt. Because at some point we, the people, forgot that there is no such thing as a good left-leaning dictatorship. All dictatorships – be it left, right, or confused – are still despicable forms of government. The same goes for all dictators: Stalin and Franco are not burning in different sections of Hell. But somehow we have come to prioritize political ideology over basic human decency. How can we condemn the atrocities of the right and praise those of the left under the same rules?
When did being a democratic individual made you automatically either a fascist or a communist? The death of Castro should have brought you as much joy as the death of a Pinochet or Trujillo, but it didn’t, right? The holy Latin American trinity – Che, Chavez, Castro – is too powerful, I guess.
Gauche caviar, don’t you see that you’re not part of the movement, but the consumer of it?
Because to some extend, I understand the Chavistas, as government supporters, are known. There’s no denying that Venezuelan governments ignored a large part of the population for decades. Anyone who fails to understand what brought Chavez to power in 1998 has failed to grasp the country’s unequal reality. There’s only one way for the country to move forward and that is as one nation under many versions. However, a foreign Chavista living in the empire, that, I can’t understand. You should have done your homework, gauche caviar. You still can.
Venezuela is not another chess piece in your quest to make political sense of your world view. It’s not only incorrect but also inhumane of you to twist the truth. I am curious though, what would you say about the picture? What would you say about the other deaths? The inflation? The famine? The impunity? The corruption? What would you say to me, another Venezuelan too afraid of home? Pablo Iglesias? Eva Golinger? Mélenchon? You have said enough. You’re gauche caviar. History will eat you.
Op-Ed by José Alvarez