by María L. Trigos-Gilbert

In my last visit to Venezuela, I had a foreign sensation as if I hadn’t been there before. It seemed as if I were visiting a total unfamiliar country. People and things looked different. The Venezuelan style appeared to be fighting for a mere survival. Visible citizens tended to battle against an invisible chaos, one confusion after another. We could say that those confusions have been politically, economically and the latest, nature’s course. We call it a natural disaster. The last disaster came upon them like an invisible snap on the face. It rained a lot. Venezuela got in a week one year’s rain. That’s how Venezuela ended the 20th century, a little bit more bewildered than ever before.

How Did I Get There?
The very first thought that comes to my mind, is the fact that it wasn’t an easy trip at all! Continental Airlines refused to hook me up with another airline. They canceled my flight, just like that. Though I wasn’t on the air, they still left me hanging. I called American Airlines, and they solved my problem very quickly! I had to spend a day in Miami, Florida. So it gave me the opportunity of meeting a lot of Venezuelans. If you haven’t spent your Christmas day in an airport, let me tell you that it isn’t as bad as it could be. I had good company. We formed a big group, joked among one another, ate together, and above all made our struggle less stressful. We exchanged phone numbers, e-mail addresses, snail addresses, and welcomed visits whenever possible.

Where in Reality Did the Floods Take Place?
It was almost amusing to hear and to see CNN reporting the so-called Caracas’ floods. Yes, it’s true that Caracas suffered some amount of flood damage. Yet the real epicenter occurred in Vargas State. That’s about 30 minutes from Caracas, Venezuela without traffic. Otherwise, one may spend 2 hours trying to get there, or trying to get out. Vargas state went through a tremendous catastrophe, a lot of human and financial losses. It is said, according to the Venezuelan authorities, that it’ll take 10 years to overcome Vargas’ tragedy. Just by looking at the pictures or by taking a long walk around Vargas, one finds the Venezuelan authorities to be right in this matter. Some other states encountered themselves with the same type of luck, having minor floods in comparison to the ones in Vargas state. Those were Miranda and Táchira states.

The Financial Extend of Venezuela’s Floods
Venezuela has been having a new president since 1998, colonel Hugo Chávez Frías. He has been representing the Venezuelans’ voices, sentiments. He isn’t supposed to have the country’s financial situation too clear because some Venezuelans say that he’s building sand castles with his unrealistic economic package. Usually the ones saying so are those who hold superior educational levels. The poor class has more confidence in their chief commander, H. Chávez Frías. I’m not an economist, but I must say that the financial stability of Venezuela hasn’t been the greatest since 1983 when the country’s currency went down the tubes. Since then most Venezuelans have been surviving, many people are unemployed, and from there you name their unnumbered necessities. If you look at the whole picture, this seems a bit discouraging.

In this new century, Venezuela has arrived to the maximum human capacity of comprehension. People are trusting that their president, Colonel H. Chávez Frías, is somehow going to solve their intolerable situation. I do believe that he has many good intentions. Yet we’re aware that a country needs a lot more than mere good intentions. It needs good direction, and for that to happen the one in “control” must have true knowledge. It isn’t what one thinks may work. It’s what’s feasible during a presidential term. Nevertheless, I’m sure that this extraordinary tragedy has matured Colonel H. Chávez Frías more than books or speeches. Now it’s his best time to proof how wrong his opponents are. He, whether liking it or not, must bring to the Venezuelan citizens a tangible economic package. Now he’ll have to put all the political differences in a trash can, in order to confront what has come with the most knowledgeable people from Venezuela and outside of Venezuela. THE TIME HAS COME, AND MR. WAIT WON’T WAIT NO MORE.

Projecting 1998 & 1999 in Venezuela
I would say that 1998 and 1999 meant to be giant changes in Venezuela. The mutations didn’t occur from morning to night. It has taken a lot of years in order to get to the point where and when people in Venezuela have little tolerance to their political authorities’ mistakes. In 1998 Dr. Rafael Caldera, the former president of Venezuela, may had felt some sort of success when he gave the presidential banner to Colonel H. Chávez Frías without any kind of trouble. Dr. Rafael Caldera pardoned Colonel H. Chávez Frías for his failed coup attempt in 1992, but in 1998 the Venezuelans voted for him, for this man who seemed to understand what the people wanted and have been wanting all these years.

The sad part came when I kept reading in the Venezuelan newspapers about the changes that were taking place in Venezuela after Colonel H. Chávez Frías won the 1998 presidential election. Don’t take me wrong: I do like some of those changes. Let’s examine the most significant change, the new Venezuelan constitution. I won’t present you a report about all the details that this new constitution holds, but a small overview. This deal with the constitution has meant Colonel H. Chávez Frías’ first slip in his first presidential term. People haven’t been needing a new constitution. They need FOOD and EMPLOYMENT. They lack physical and moral (emotional) stability because some of those who have been in power over the years have forgotten to act upon their soundings projects. Certainly I don’t mean that the Venezuelan citizens don’t play a part in what has been taking place because absolutely they do. By the way, when I mention moral (emotional) stability, I’m making reference to the fact that it’s easy to have a nervous breakdown with the unstable financial situation that most homes have in Venezuela.

Some of Venezuela’s New Constitution’s Facts
Among those changes, the overthrown Venezuelan congress came into effect this year, 2000. Who proposed such new direction? Guess, Colonel H. Chávez Frías. Of course, he didn’t impose it; people voted YES. So nowadays they have something similar, but on paper it seems to be more effective and updated. Let’s hope that this come true. I’m not sure how this is going to work because many are the details. It would take an expert to write or talk about it. The good thing is that the roles are well divided. So the Venezuelan people have a direct defender and a direct voice in case of needed. That’s pretty positive.

Why was the Venezuelan congress overthrown? Good question, the Venezuelans got rid of it because the ones representing it kept playing the “I don’t know,” or “I’m sorry. Say it again.” That’s frustrating. Little do we have to wonder about their futility. People had been feeling that they didn’t do what they were supposed to do at all times. At times it seemed that they were just kids having a good time, in spite of people’s boiled exasperation. Of course, they had to come to an end because there’s so much that one can take after 50 years of democracy on paper, but not in reality.

Renaming the Country
Another major change that has taken place in Venezuela, has been the country’s name. Before the name was simple, less complicated, now it’ll take a while in order to spite it out. República Bolivariana de Venezuela, let me translate it: Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. It amazes me that people voted YES, but they did. Let me explain the name’s background. Most Venezuelans feel that Simón Bolivar—El Libertador—the Venezuelan liberator, was the only really interested in Venezuela’s progress and well being. This has been Colonel H. Chávez Frías theme all along, to become a second Simón Bolivar. Mighty task he has selected. It’s like a North American president desiring to become like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. I think that common sense would make me pass such invitation.

The Possibility of Holding Two Nationalities
Before Venezuelans could only have one nationality, the new constitution—well known as the Constituyente—the Constitutional, has made it possible for Venezuelans to have a second chance somewhere else without loosing the primary nationality, in this case the Venezuelan identity. The only problem with it is that most Latin American people feel a bit country-less. I infer that the Latin American roots are too vast to narrow any Latin American to a single country. This is because most people in Latin America are part European, African, or Indian (from the different native tribes). Therefore, Latin Americans are just understanding that it’s okay to feel that way. Let’s examine my vivid case: I’m part Venezuelan and part Spaniard, but living in the USA for about five years and a half. If one were to ask, “what are you called?” I would say I’m an American Spaniard.

It’s impossible to deny where one comes from because in one way or another it shows. That’s what I teach in the schools that I work. One must be proud and happy to show one’s culture. It’s the only secure heritage that no one can take from one’s heart and mind. Material things come and go, but a person’s characteristics stick forever. Now that Venezuelans have the opportunity of holding two nationalities, they’ll have to make a clear choice, in spite of the so-called privilege. Venezuelans would have to first seek and understand home before they step in a foreign land.

At Miami’s airport, I had a fantastic conversation with a very eloquent gentleman. He is from Venezuela, but he’s also part Portuguese because both of his parents are from Portugal, but have been living in Venezuela for a very long time. This gentleman was born in Venezuela, but has both nationalities—the Portuguese and the Venezuelan. He told me something very interesting. –María Luisa, I have an identity problem with this deal that I’m part Venezuelan and part Portuguese as if I couldn’t decide which my country is. I reasoned his words and then said. –My friend that’s natural. The time will come when you understand that you are part this and part that, period.

That shows that most Venezuelans with European, African, or Indian blood have the same thought. They want to be honest, give their best to both types of ancestors. Yet it becomes a bit confusing when we don’t understand that it’s not so much of what our passport or passports say, but what we are wherever we go. Yes, we are ambassadors of many roles: family and country with all the understood subdivisions.

Venezuela’s Formal Religion
The other “little” change is the following: Catholicism has become the formal and national religion of Venezuela. That’s a bit funny since not all the Venezuelans are Catholic. For instance, I’m the best example of it. The most absorbing thought comes from the disputes that Colonel H. Chávez Frías has been having with the Catholic church in Venezuela during his presidential term. Some priests think of him as a very egocentric individual, a person with a giant pride to admit any possible mistakes. The president and his committee have been having some engaging misunderstandings over and over. The very first reason is that the Catholic church in Venezuela doesn’t like to be left out when some important decision makings have to be taken. They have always wanted to have a voice and vote, though they are supposed to be nonpolitical. Of course, Colonel H. Chávez Frías hasn’t been a super angel in all those disputes since he seems to step on their toes from time to time. By the time that I left Venezuela in this December’s trip, they seemed a bit more understanding to one another after the tragedy took place.

Venezuela is a great country, though it has been having serious financial and political difficulties. The first sentence meant to be an opinion, but the second one a fact. We could infer that problems make us mature. You may think that I’m an idealistic writer. The truth is I refuse to give a death sentence if I see some sort of breathing in any alive creature, or situation. Progress comes only with a certain amount of struggle. Let’s keep that in mind. That’s why I believe that FREEDOM MEANS IMPROVEMENT. There isn’t any freedom if there isn’t any improvement. I know that the Venezuelan people are extremely capable, intelligent, and above all willing to make all the necessary adjustments. Their good nature is tremendous. In a way, they have it all, the capacity and their country’s richness. I’ve always miss Venezuela. The people’s love is unforgettable; it sticks in one’s skin like a fine perfume. I would recommend you a visit to Venezuela. If you need some more information, I would try to do my best. Thanks for your fine attention.

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