by María L. Trigos-Gilbert

It’s so difficult to write about the country where I was born while I’m currently living in the U.S.A. This is always hard because it feels as if I’m losing my rights as a Venezuelan citizen. Throughout my life, I have traveled quite a lot, and I have kept my Latin Spaniard spirit within me in spite of many things like the unforgiving results of time and distance. My second trip in the year 2000 to Venezuela was as hectic as it has been every year during the month of December, due to the holidays’ festivities. Yet this time it was different. My cousins and my siblings (including me) debated quite a bit about Mr. Hugo Chávez Frías—the Venezuelan President. There were two teams: one opposing Mr. H. Chávez Frías’ decisions and the other moderately supporting some of his ideas and approaches in the public sector. As you may guess, the debate got rather heated. I, of course, enjoyed it. It reminded me about my childhood when my parents, aunts, and uncles got into huge arguments about politics. You may be thinking that in the U.S.A. people don’t talk about politics because such a subject may be pointless. Well, that’s not the case in Latin America, and a lot less in Venezuela. People love to talk about politics. Venezuelans do get into heated conversations with great fluidity.

Politics: Family Round Table
If you had been there at our family round table, you could have had a heart attack. We spoke with assuring voices about our political beliefs. We questioned everybody’s point of view, and one had to answer those questions with great understanding. Otherwise, one was cut into tiny pieces. One of my cousins said, “The only thing left to do was to punch each other’s face.” My brother and my sister smiled showing some sort of agreement in my cousin’s final observation when the debate ended. My family had ignored that last semester I had debated with different universities from all over the U.S.A. about different topics. So my debating skills have been quite polished. This is also due to some courses I have taken in philosophy like logic and some government courses like ethics in America. Was I prepared or what? What! It doesn’t matter how many courses one takes about politics and logic. It all comes down to the very fact of common sense. An authentic revolution encourages us to think as did Thomas Paine in his “Common Sense.” The settings are completely different, a verbal and physical war between the Old British Empire and the craved independence of the New World

In this case Venezuela has craved for common sense for a long time. Venezuela has wanted to achieve real independence. It isn’t enough to have the independence in a written constitution or in verbal promises that assure the Venezuelans’ well-being. Venezuelans want their politicians’ words put into action. This is why Mr. H. Chávez Frías must do as he says. People don’t eat good intentions; a plate must be filled with goodies, decent meals. This won’t happen if unemployment keeps polluting Venezuela’s economy. Hey, this is common sense. Yes, I do mean common sense to the square (an aftermath thought). Mr. H. Chávez Frías must do something about Venezuela’s unemployment; otherwise, his supporters will join his opponents in a blink of an eye. Mr. H. Chávez Frías has become the poor class’ hero because he has said how important it is to dignify those less fortunate by giving them a chunk of the economy rather than its minuscule crumbs. He has tried to discourage some of the Venezuelans’ apathy toward government by making them more proactive. To turn off this indifference has been a genuine challenge because many Venezuelans have deep scares from some politicians’ actions in the past. This makes Mr. H. Chávez Frías’ presidency a lot more tense because of people’s high expectations toward his government. As I said before, people are waiting for better changes in Venezuela. Thus, if Mr. H. Chávez Frías disappoints them—as it seems for some Venezuelans—people will feel betrayed, and this is a dangerous feeling.

Mr. H. Chávez Frías’ Speeches
Some of my relatives and friends tell me that I may like Mr. Hugo Chávez Frías because I don’t live in Venezuela and don’t have to listen to his incoherent speeches. Let me be honest: Mr. Hugo Chávez Frías’ speeches are as long as the Mississippi River. For example, he starts speaking on TV at 8:00 P.M. and ends around 10:00 P.M. I love to listen to political speeches for different reasons, but I must confess Mr. H. Chávez Frías’ speeches tend to challenge the majority of the Venezuelans’ concentration. So I do understand when people complain about his abusive behavior (abusive because he takes too much time to say whatever he has in mind). I have learned speeches should not be longer than 45 minutes. The first 15 minutes must have the essence of any given speech. After the 15 minutes have expired, the remaining of the speech must be very vivid in order to keep people’s attention. That’s common sense. One doesn’t need a Ph.D. to apply some logic to this matter. Of course, I’m not sure what Mr. H. Chávez Frías has in mind whenever he gives his speeches. Yet I do know people want the fact not the fat. That’s the bottom line. I do believe he needs to revise his speeches before he gets in front of a TV camera. Part of this revision should be to make them shorter without losing relevance.

Informal Presidential Approach
My relatives, friends, and acquaintances know that I’m Mrs. Informal. I take pleasure from unconventional moments, whether at home or at work. Nevertheless, I realize life has its formal times which we can’t escape. I’m not sure if Mr. H. Chávez Frías knows the difference between appropriate and inappropriate circumstances. This may be one of the many things why the upper class of Venezuela dislike Mr. H. Chávez Frías. It seems to me that he lacks refinement. I have known this Mr. H. Chávez Frías’ trait for a long time. I have never taken this seriously as long as he does what he must as the president. Even more I have enjoyed his lack of formality, this has reassured me how determined he has been to do what’s right for Venezuela. Thus, what I’m trying to say is that it’s okay to be informal as long as he gets his job done. I do believe he has done great things for Venezuela since 1998 (when he first won the presidency by the people’s votes). On the other hand, he has discouraged me with some of the things he has overlooked like social danger in the streets. Thieves are all over the country of Venezuela as free as birds. Literally people are terrorized to leave their houses, but they must if they want to work, do some grocery shopping, take their kids to school, or other things that are essential in anyone’s life.

Good Deeds for Venezuela
Of course, things aren’t completely bad. I’m going to mention some of Mr. H. Chávez Frías’ good deeds, or good management of some of his responsibilities. For instance, in my last trip to Venezuela people have told me that the public hospitals have improved quite a lot. I assume they are right in their judgment since they are the ones who have had to make use of them. During the 40 plus years of Democracy in Venezuela before Mr. H. Chávez Frías became the president of Venezuela, public hospitals were real nightmares. This isn’t to say nowadays everything is pink and rosy. There may be some problems, but some people have reassured me public services have improved. I do believe that a president, whoever this person may be, must worry a lot about public hospitals because a healthy country is a promising country. Now, I must state here that this isn’t so much about “good deeds.” On the contrary, this is about a president doing the job that people have entrusted him—in this case Mr. H. Chávez Frías—to do. Yet in Venezuela and actually most Latin American countries, presidents have misunderstood the right thing to do for charity. People aren’t asking for charity; people are asking what’s within their rights. One of those rights is having decent public hospitals.

Taxes, IVA
When Mr. Carlos Andrés Perez won the presidency of Venezuela for the second time, first time in the 1970’s and then in 1990’s, he proposed and indeed implemented heavy taxes—known in Venezuela as the IVA. As Venezuelans said during those days, “El IVA VA.” This means “The IVA is a done deal.” This is one of the complex reasons why Venezuelans impeached Mr. C. A. Perez. Venezuela was going through a difficult time in its economy. People voted for Mr. C. A. Perez because during his first presidency Venezuela had a rich economy. So people believed old times were coming back. This didn’t happen, and this was never going to happen due to the misery that surrounded Venezuela (and is still surrounding it). People had a hard time accepting the fact that Venezuela’s good times were over, at least in the near future. People turned their backs on the former president, Mr. C. A. Perez. As Venezuelans would say, “no se le ve el queso a la tostada.” That’s to say, “One can’t see the cheese in the sandwich.” By the way, “tostada” means arepa—the Venezuelan “hamburger.” Thus, it’s like having a “hamburger” without any meat inside, but two dry pieces of bread against each other. One can’t help, but feel cheated.

Mr. C. A. Perez understood that one of the steps to improve the economy was to pass the IVA Bill. So it was passed, and Venezuelans didn’t take it well. The country grew bitter against Mr. C. A. Perez. So Mr. H. Chávez Frías listened to people’s strong dissatisfaction toward Mr. C. A. Perez’s presidency. He gave a coup d’état, but he wasn’t successful. He surrendered, and so did some of his followers from Venezuela’s military force. That was the last awakening of the past century in Venezuela. Some people, like Mr. H. Chávez Frías rather call it Venezuela’s “Revolution.” I prefer the term “the last awakening of the twentieth century”. Of course, this coup d’état was a revolution. My generation didn’t understand this or any kind of revolution because we were born a in political and financial stable country (Venezuela). Of course, by the middle of the 1980’s good times seemed to fade by the second, way too fast. My generation was too young when things were going from bad to worse. Thus we couldn’t fully understand the causes of such a tragic change in our economy.

My parents’ generation didn’t have any trouble understanding the changes and even more assimilating Mr. H. Chávez Frías’ call for revolution. My parents’ generation had experienced Mr. Perez Jimenez’s dictatorship. Some of them liked it, and some of them hated such an arbitrary political system. For instance, my father has experienced two dictatorships. Let it be known my father is Spaniard from Orense, Spain. By the time he left Spain Mr. Francisco Franco was Spain’s dictator. Mr. F. Franco was loved and hated by many Spaniards. So, when my father arrived in Venezuela, he wasn’t in shock to see a dictator in power—in this case the Venezuelan former dictator Mr. Perez Jimenez. My parents have told me that the only thing they miss about dictatorships is the streets’ purity—zero thieves surrounding neighborhood streets. On the other hand, they value their freedom of speech a lot more, and that’s why they have preferred democracy. The price has been higher than expected because through Venezuela’s democratic years thieves have been camping out all over Venezuela, threatening everybody’s life.

Coup d’état Results
One of the results was Mr. H. Chávez Frías’ preparation to launch his 1998 candidacy to the presidency. Yes, he did spend some time in jail time, but this was very short. Acción Democratica, AD, and Copei besides some others political parties felt very threatened by Mr. H. Chávez Frías. His coup d’état made him the Venezuelans’ hero as if Simón Bolivar had come out of his grave. He became the man who had challenged the bestial political machinery of Venezuela. Even those who disapproved of Mr. H. Chávez Frías’ wrong action tended to feel some sort of admiration toward this strong willed military man.

A second result was the impeachment of Mr. C. A. Perez (CAP). He didn’t come out victorious, and was given one of his houses for jail. Isn’t that sweet? Indeed pathetic! Of course, if he were to be put with jails’ customary criminals, he wouldn’t have come out alive. At times in jail people know more about the outside world than those of us who enjoy our freedom on a daily basis. Some of CAP’s properties were confiscated, even more treated like a true criminal. From my standpoint, I’m not sure how much the authorities took from his illegal acquired wealth. Nor do I know how serious was his “jail time” taken. That, only CAP and God know.

A third result was Mr. Rafael Caldera’s second presidency. This man used to belong to Copei, “Partido Social Cristiano.” He broke up with them before the coup d’état when he was trying to wing against CAP during the 1990’s presidential campaign. He, obviously, lost. Then he won in the third round since the second one was lost by Mr. H. Chávez Frías’ attemp. Mr. R. Caldera used to have his youth on his side during his first presidency, but this time he was an elderly man. He didn’t have the energy that he had had during the previous years of his political career. This time he seemed a bit strong at first, but somehow a bit weak. His second presidency was as bad as the first one. Yet this time the country’s economy didn’t allow too many intermissions. This time Venezuela’s economy wasn’t so forgiving to anyone’s mistake.

Mr. R. Caldera’s health was causing him to be less active than expected due to his elderly age. People didn’t see him giving that many press conferences, so people started to wonder if he were alive or dead. Hey, almost funny—but true. Venezuelans were truly worried about their president’s well-being because their financial situation depended a lot in the decisions the government made. By the way, it was Mr. R. Caldera who granted Mr. H. Chávez Frías’ political pardon. Before Mr. H. Chávez Frías obtained his freedom, he examined the possibilities of launching himself as a presidential candidate in 1998. Failure and jail weren’t true obstacles for Mr. H. Chávez Frías. He became stronger. Venezuela’s lower and middle social class saw him as an option, but some were skeptical because of his lack of political audacity. This may be understood as lack of refinement and above all a clear platform for Venezuela’s most critical situation which has been Venezuela’s financial difficulties like unemployment and high living cost. Some individuals saw him as a better option, a third nontraditional choice. Yes, as you may guess, he won the presidency in 1998. A tremendous majority voted for him. People screamed their bye-byes to the typical political parties. They were tired of their politicians’ broken promises, or at worst lack of commitment. Thus the scenery has been quite dangerous in this aspect.

Why is it dangerous? Well, this time Venezuelans won’t tolerate wrong doings as they did in the past in order to have peace in the country. This time people are prepared to fight back just as Mr. H. Chávez Frías did, but this time the fight may be against him. And you thought that the U.S.A. was divided? Well, think twice. The political division of Venezuela is as long and fast as the currents of its Orinoco River. This means that the political gap of Venezuela is as sharp as its Angel Fall, quite problematic and worrisome. If you have not understood how political divided is Venezuela through nature’s examples, imagine the pink rabbit of the Energizer battery. It keeps going and going. So let’s say it: its end can’t be found.

Irony’s Sweetness Dresses Sarcastically Loud
Remember the IVA? If you can’t recall it, let me refresh your memory. April 15, does it ring the bell? It should; otherwise, the IRS will help you with that, ouch. Yes, IVA is the constant leak in our bank accounts that sickens us without mercy. Taxes are like parents’ punishments to their kids, “honey, it hurts me more than it hurts you, but …” Now, how do you think Venezuelans feel when they have to pay tributes to the famous IVA from their empty pockets? Let’s not even mention their bank accounts, what accounts? Life isn’t fair that we know, if not from books from experience. Venezuelans protested a lot when CAP proposed and passed the IVA Bill. Nor Venezuelans weren’t used to pay taxes every time they went to the stores, whether for food, clothing, or other types of necessities. Take note: “necessities” that’s the key word. But even more Venezuelans didn’t have the money to pay those heavy daily taxes. One of the many financial threats for the Venezuelans has been the thought of the “dream come true”, the IVA. Well, nowadays in Venezuela that’s a done deal. Isn’t that hypocritical? Mr. H. Chávez Frías has kept the use of the IVA, in spite of people’s rejection. One can’t help, but feel cheated. Irony’s sweetness dresses sarcastically loud.

Don’t take me wrong. I do believe taxes are necessary, but one must have a job in order to pay those. Unemployment has been one of the financial illnesses of Venezuela. I do think that it will be wiser to take care of those things that beg for our attention. Priority means first things first. Thus how in the mere heck can Venezuelans pay those daily taxes when they can’t afford three decent meals per day? By the way, I’m not including those wealthy people. I’m talking about those who have to work at all times, whether in health or in sickness. That’s a different story, indeed picture. I won’t request Mr. H. Chávez Frías’ understanding in this matter. Actually I demand his attention here and now. Let’s cut the fat and get the fact. We don’t need to beat around the bush to say what’s cruel and real. Venezuela’s reality isn’t as good as it should be thanks to the political bull that people have to swallow. People don’t need a long speech in order to comprehend how good or bad things are going in the country’s economy. Believe me when I tell you that they know about their sad reality because they have to live it. Let’s not confuse being informal with being disrespectful.

On the other hand, Venezuelans must not be impatient with Mr. H. Chávez Frías. Many times he has said how difficult it’s to improve Venezuela’s economy. Thus we shouldn’t be surprised that this financial betterment is taking his time and our time. If we can’t contribute with our taxes, let’s contribute with our patience. Hope shouldn’t be our last resource, but the product of our creativity when good times seem scarce. Hope is like medicine to anyone’s scares. At times those who are considered to be the poorest among the richest, are indeed the wealthy ones. Hum, what about that! We must remember one of hope’s ingredients if we want it to be spicy. This ingredient’s name is peace. Let’s hope in peace from the inside out, but we must not forget to be proactive because hope and peace are always dynamic. Hope and peace are like a plant that must be watered rightly. If this plant lacks proper care, its growth and beauty will stop. Isn’t that a crime? You be the judge. Did you just say, “what about you?” Let me dignify your question with an answer. I choose hope. I choose peace. I claim for time’s clemency and joy.