Sunday, April 13, 2014

Silence

 

 (This text was originally published in Spanish in Prodavinci. It was translated by my children, whose work I appreciate more than I can express here)

Venezuela never lets me go.  The country where I was born doesn’t hold my hand. It doesn’t smile at me. Instead it pulls me roughly and cries aloud its anxieties, its disaster, and its deaths. Venezuela screams on signs carried by protesters that decry empty store shelves and overcrowded morgues, and the tyranny of a government with an unbridled fury that insists on consecrating the legacy of Hugo Chávez, while attempting to impose itself by means of repression.  

I’m not from the “Right.”  I never have been.  But I don’t think what Chávez left behind is a project of social justice.  Instead, it is a carefully-built stronghold of power that is meant to be both absolute and eternal.  The evidence of this can be found in Chávez’s own discourse.  Of course, only those willing to go beyond the incomplete label of “champion of the poor,” were able to see that.  

These days, chavismo-madurismo works zealously to turn the country into a theocracy and the deceased comandante into Pharaoh.  Meanwhile, they continue to reinforce this stronghold of power so that it is impenetrable and everlasting. I have seen up close how they erected its protective outer walls.  Since 2004, I have studied the construction of the media blockade that today denies Venezuelans their own reality and reduces to a minimum the space allowed to dissident voices.  It never ceases to amaze me how many members of the international Left do not realize this, how many of them avert their eyes from the number of detainees and tortured, latching onto a socialist utopia that looks nothing like the Venezuelan reality.

Maintaining power is the obsession. That is why the government insists on dividing us, Venezuelans. They have found it fruitful to polarize us, and so they tell us that if we are not chavistas, we are not Venezuelans, that they are “pure love” and those of us who disagree are “the hate.” Yet they have an entire troop (#tropa) of people dedicated to insulting and threatening dissidents in social media.  Meanwhile, the president, who also threatens and insults us in mandatory broadcasts, then proceeds to call for “dialogue” and “peace.”  Next, he defends the behavior of the militias that wage terror in the streets.  These are just a few of the many contradictions we see between discourse and actions these days.  

Intransigence, contradictions and insults are not absent within the opposition either. Radicals from both political extremes, excessive in their language and pugnacious tone, insist on obscuring reality, inciting aggression, and widening fissures into deep chasms.  They are determined to infect us with their blindness.  As a result, the government takes advantage of the opposition’s internal cannibalism.  They spur it on.  And no matter how loudly these people declare their oppositionist identity, the ones who play along with the government’s game become promoters of the late president’s darkest legacy.  Intolerance is asphyxiating us just as much as the tear gas in the streets.

Chavistas vs. antichavistas.  Venezuelans against Venezuelans. A country where recognizing the other side is now imperative.

I have lived in the United States for twenty years, but I have never left Venezuela. No matter what geographic distance exists between my country and me, I am never distant; neither intellectually, nor emotionally. I visit my country several times a year. I study it. I adore it. It always hurts to leave it behind, but I have learned to deal with that discomfort. For years I have mastered the art of “flipping the switch” from one country to the other as I travel back and forth between the United States and Venezuela. On February 12th, however, that switch broke, and I have been living in a state of emotional short-circuit ever since.



I am a university professor.  It is not merely my job; it is my way of being; my lifestyle, if you will. The university is the ocean I navigate daily.  I love the hustle and bustle of its hallways and the unfailing “Hi, Carolina”s and “Hi, Dr. A”s I encounter along the way.  But lately I have felt very alone in my university.  Every day I arrive to campus feeling more and more overwhelmed by the news and images coming out of Venezuela, bruised from my endless analyzing, and troubled by the uncertain future of the country I grew up in.  But I don’t talk about it unless someone asks.  And that rarely ever happens. People here are not thinking about Venezuela.  Their minds are on other things. The media headlines rarely mention Venezuela.  For my colleagues and students, I am the only signifier of Venezuela. It has always been that way. This has never bothered me before, nor has it modified me. But now it does. I feel that I am constantly recoiling as a result of a silent internal ache.  People around me don’t know. I remain silent because I assume they’ve grown weary of the monothematic posts on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. They must be skipping over them at this point.  

We’re all so busy.  We have classes to prepare, exams to grade, papers to write, conferences to attend.  It’s a shame that there is no time for explanations about topics that are not in our syllabi.

My students need me.

Outside, the sky and trees are clad in spring colors.  Sunlight has banished the darkness of winter. Yet the darkness of my country remains inside of me.  So do my tears.  But no one here knows that. Perhaps some can sense it.

I enter the classroom.  I smile.  

Someone once told me that all professors are actors and the classroom is our stage.  I disagreed.  I was wrong.





Saturday, February 22, 2014

#SOSVenezuela in Athens, GA.



I was asked to be the speaker at the #SOSVenezuela rally in support of Venezuelan students.  Below, what I said:

Good afternoon,

Thanks to the student organizations and to all the students who organized this event.

Special thanks to all of you for being here.

We’ve seen the pictures of the repression in the streets of Venezuela, we’ve watched the videos. We’re here because we’re troubled by so much violence. And Venezuela’s everyday life is now marked by that terrible word: violence.

It is important, however, to remember other aspects that have been manifest in Venezuela’s everyday life for a while now and that are at the root of the current protests:

1.    The state of the economy.
a.     In the year 2013, Venezuela’s international reserves dropped 25%.
b.    The country’s annualized inflation rate was 56%, one of the highest in the world.
c.     Food inflation was 74%
d.    Health care inflation was also 74%
e.     The Scarcity index is now 28%
f.      Economic policies and the foreign exchange system have curtailed or, literally, stopped several industries. One example: the automotive industry, which used to employ 80,000 Venezuelans. It must be pointed out that there are also shortages of spare parts.
g.    The government owes international airlines 3 billion dollars; hence, some airlines have stopped flying to Venezuela, others have suspended ticket sales in the country.
h.    There are also shortages of medicines, particularly those necessary for cancer treatment.
i.      The government is trapped in its own failed economic policies and hasn't shown, so far, that it has the political will to correct them. Instead, it continues a strategy of creating scapegoats. In this way, it unloads its own responsibility on others (the business class, the private sector and the U.S.), and distracts attention.
2.    Crime
a.     According to the World Health Organization you can speak of a violence epidemic when there are more than 10 violent deaths per 100,000 people. The government says there were 39 murders per 100,000 people in 2013 in Venezuela.
b.    NGO Violence Observatory says the rate was much higher: 79 murders per 100,000 people. According to this organization, in 2013 there were 24,763 violent deaths in Venezuela.
c.     Stickups and kidnappings (express and long-term) are also the stuff of everyday life. You will be hard pressed to find a Venezuelan whose life hasn’t been touched by some sort of crime in the last decade.

These are two of the most important aspects of the context of the protests. How different opposition leaders have channeled (or not) Venezuelans’ dissatisfaction is a point of discussion. But, I want to focus our attention on the government’s response to the students’ protest. And that has been repression and intimidation by security forces and by paramilitary groups that are encouraged and defended in the government’s discourse.

According to yesterday’s report of the Foro Penal Venezolano, an NGO that gives legal and human rights assistance to detainees, there have been 506 confirmed detentions. Courts have decided that 23 of them are to stay in prison. Others wait for their day in court. The ones that have been let go, have court ordered restrictions on their freedoms: prohibition to protest or manifest publicly, prohibition to speak to the media or to express themselves in social media, prohibition to leave their city and the country, etc. Many of them are reporting to human rights NGOs that they were victims of tortures. To protest, which is a constitutional right, is being criminalized.

We have a human rights crisis in Venezuela.

But, violence isn’t only what we see in the streets or in the courts of a justice system in a country in which the government party controls all branches: executive, legislative and judicial. The government’s discourse of demonizing and intimidating dissidence is also violence.  And that discourse didn’t start last week. For years the government has assigned demeaning labels to those who think differently: escuálidos, apátridas, golpistas. The latest one: "the fascist right." Half of the country is "the fascist right." Under that label there are people who locate themselves in every point of the left-right continuum. A critical scholar like me is also "the fascist right." All of you for being here in support of Venezuelan students are, by the government’s definition, also "the fascist right."

This isn’t the only violence in the government’s discourse. I encourage you to read government officers tweets. You will find a lot of violence in their 140-character strings. Furthermore, the president threatens on national television. Not only does he threaten opposition leaders like Henrique Capriles, María Corina Machado, and Leopoldo López who’s now in jail; but also opinion leaders who aren’t politicians. Writers, artists and journalists who oppose the government have endured the hacking of their Twitter and email accounts and continuous phone threats for several years.

The president also threatens the media, whose situation in Venezuela is dire too. The government’s non-renewal of the broadcast license of oppositional TV and radio outlets, censorship, self-censorship and media buyouts by economic groups with close ties to the government, have all reduced to a minimum the window for dissident opinions. 

Media is my expertise. I’ve been studying the Venezuelan telenovela industry for more than 15 years. I’ve seen how the straight jacket has been placed on the country’s media and how it has been steadily tightened. These recent events evidenced this. But, the silencing has been in the making since 2004. And, after having domestic media totally under control, the government now goes after international media outlets. The government ordered Venezuelan cable companies to take out of their grids NTN24, a Colombian news network. Why? Because it was broadcasting from the streets of Caracas on February 12th, while Venezuelan networks were showing cartoons and cooking shows. This week, the government threatened to do the same to CNN en español. And it has already revoked the press credentials in Venezuela of several CNN reporters and producers. These actions speak volumes about the government’s real colors. They were executed after CNN en español broadcast a conversation between pro- and anti-government students moderated by Patricia Janiot, whose credential was also revoked and who was harassed by immigration and customs officers at the airport. CNN en español organized a dialogue and these were the consequences. This is what the Venezuelan government really thinks of dialogue. Some people believe that the government is overplaying its hand. After so many years of research, I must say that THIS has always been the government’s hand: intolerance and repression.

Violence engenders violence. Violence is the government’s game. This is the reason behind its actions and discourse. Those who take advantage of the people’s discontent to create more violence are playing for the government. They’ve become what they adverse. Venezuela needs peace. This can only happen through true dialogue. Through the real acknowledgment that there are different political positions and that dissent is valid. It can only happen through the respect of the constitutional right to protest peacefully. And I underline the word peacefully.

I started my remarks today by saying that we’ve all seen the pictures and videos of the events in the last two weeks.  But, I’d like to add one more picture: 



This is my mom. She’s 83 years old and yesterday she went to Altamira Square in Caracas, where many of the protesting students are, and gave out slices of the pound cake she baked for them. I found the photo in Twitter, I don’t know the person who took it. But, she has given us a picture of the Venezuela that has been forgotten in the midst of all of this: the country whose smile is wide, warm and welcoming, the one that is delighted to cook a feast for others, the one that extends its hand and hospitality every single time. It’s the Venezuela in my heart, the one I always want to go back to, and the reason why we’re all here.


Thank you very much.



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Venezuela de Ultramar

Carta abierta de escritores, artistas, periodistas e intelectuales venezolanos en apoyo a los estudiantes.


Ante la grave situación que se vive en Venezuela, donde el gobierno de Nicolás Maduro y su cúpula militar han desatado una feroz represión sobre estudiantes, periodistas y ciudadanos en general, sometiéndolos a ataques con fuego real y a salvajes castigos corporales y psíquicos, dejando a su paso una estela de asesinados, torturados, detenidos, y medios de comunicación anulados en su labor informativa; nosotros, escritores, intelectuales, periodistas y artistas venezolanos que vivimos en el exterior, exhortamos a la comunidad internacional a que exija al gobierno de Nicolás Maduro:

1.- Respetar los derechos humanos de sus ciudadanos.
2.- Liberar a los participantes de las protestas que han sido detenidos.
3.- Desarmar a los grupos paramilitares.
4.- Restituir la libertad de prensa.
5.- Ordenar la inmediata apertura de una investigación, con la presencia de organismos internacionales que garanticen imparcialidad, para determinar la(s) responsabilidad(es) en los crímenes cometidos durante las protestas.

Venezuela, que fue una alternativa democrática en medio de las dictaduras de todo signo que azotaron al continente americano y que en el pasado apoyó a las víctimas de represiones similares en otros países del mundo, merece vivir en libertad.

Letter in English

Firmas:

Carolina Acosta-Alzuru (EEUU)
Mónica Amor (EEUU)
Alexander Apóstol (España)
Miriam Ardizzone (España)
Aymara Arreaza (España)
Ophir Alviarez (EEUU)
Victor Azuaje (EEUU)
Betina Barrios Ayala (EEUU)
Gustavo Balza Gamez (España)
María Lorena Bello (EEUU)
Cecilia Bellorín (España)
Loriel Beltrán (EEUU)
Anadeli Bencomo (México)
Lisa Blackmore (Reino Unido)
José Luis Blondet (EEUU)el labio. orma de confirmarse.r gracias cubren el mapamundi.apes.                    ngua, en el labio. orma de confirmarse.
Adriana Boersner Herrera (EEUU)
Leonardo Bonett (EEUU)
Irene Bou (España)
Lorena Bou (España)
Julio Tupac Cabello (EEUU)
Silvia Cabrera (Alemania)
Margarita Cadenas (Francia)
Paula Cadenas (Francia)
Celia Calcaño (Francia)
Reinaldo Calcaño (Canada)
María Cecilia Camacho Capodiferro (Austria)
Pedro Camacho (Argentina)
Alessandra Caputo (España)
Amalia Caputo (EEUU)
Marian Castillo(España)
Nayarí Castillo (Austria)
Roberto Castillo (EEUU)
Beatriz Castro Cortiñas (España)
Juan Cristóbal Castro (Colombia)
Jeffrey Cedeño (Colombia)
Silvia Celi-Borges (Francia)
Daniel Centeno (EEUU)
Israel Centeno (EEUU)
Juan Carlos Chirinos (España)
Doménico Chiappe (España)
Hecsil Coello (Uruguay)
Fernando Conde (EEUU)
Francesca Cordido (España)
Juan Ignacio Cortiñas (España)
Alejandra Cubero González (España)
Elena De La Ville (EEUU)
Guillermo de Yavorsky (Francia)
Linda D´Ambrosio (España)
Ana Lucía De Bastos (España)
Elian E. Degen Canelón (EEUU)
Dina Di Donato (EEUU)
Fanny Díaz (Israel)
Carla Duarte Vidal (Brasil)
Andrés Duque (España)
Juan Carlos Durán Canal (España)
Silvia Fassardi (EEUU)
Antonio Fernández Nays (España)
Carlos Fernández de Larrea (España)
Carmen Leonor Ferro (Italia)
Víctor Galarraga-Oropeza (Francia)
Elvira García (Francia)
Pedro José Garcia Sanchez (Francia)
Marina Gasparini Lagrange (Italia)
Amada Granado (Chile)
Miguel Gomes (EEUU)
Eleana Gómez (EEUU)
Elizabeth González (Alemania)
Guaritoto González (Francia)
Manuel González Ruiz (España)
Ricardo González Coll (Francia)
Jacquelyn Grifith (EEUU)
Gabriela Guedez (EEUU)
Gustavo Guerrero (Francia)
María Alexandra Guerrero (Alemania)
Rafael Guirigay (Azerbaijan)
Leroy Gutierrez (Uruguay)
Camilo Hernández (EEUU)
Claudia Hernández (Alemania)
Diana Hernández Aldana (España)
Karlinda Hernández (EEUU)
Manuel Hernández Silva (España)
Sonia Hernández (EEUU)
Rafael Rene Jaén Brillembourg (EEUU)

Verónica Jaffe (Alemania)
Blas Kisik (EEUU)
Liliana Lara (Israel)
Indira Leal (EEUU)
Adriana Loaiza-Tennenbaum (EEUU)
Andrea López López (México)
Antonio López (España)
Fabiola López Durán (EEUU)
Margarita López (España)
Magdalena López López (Portugal)
Fernando Lugo (Puerto Rico)
Rubén Machaen (Argentina)
Eva Márquez Velandria (EEUU)
Wladimir Márquez (EEUU)
Pablo Marrero (España)
Nydia Marsella (EEUU)

Claudia Martín Carmassi (España)
Denise Martinez Breto (Italia)
Juan Manuel Matos (Madrid)
Diana Medina (España)
Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez (España)
Manuel Antonio Mendoza (EEUU)
Andrés Michelena (EEUU)
Corina Michelena (Rusia)
Mariela Michelena (España)
José Javier Míguez Rego (España)
Rossana Miranda (Italia)
Juan Pablo Mojica (Colombia)

Valentina Monagas Tovar (Francia)
Gabriela Montero (EEUU)
Marco Montiel Soto (Alemania)
Patsy Montiel Moronta (España)
Luz Ainai Morales Pino (EEUU)
Andreína Mujica (Francia)
Boris Muñoz (EEUU)

Moisés Naím (EEUU)
Linda Ontiveros (España)
Liseth Ortega (Singapur)
Adriana Ortiz (Canadá)
Eduardo Ortiz Viso (EEUU)
Indira Páez (EEUU)
Tomás Páez (España)
Guillermo Parra (EEUU)
Amalia Pereira (España)
Nela Ochoa
Antonio Ochoa-Piccardo (China)
Luz Pérez Ojeda (Francia)
Xavier Padilla (Francia)
María Gracia Pardo (EEUU)
Luz Pérez Ojeda (Francia)
Kelvin Osorio (Buenos Aires)
María Carolina Pina (Francia)
Camilo Pino (EEUU)
Alexandra Poleo (Francia)
Sandra Portillo Lafuente (España)
Carol Prunhuber (EEUU)
Carlos Pulido (Francia)
Juan Rafael Pulido (Francia)
Marieli Quiaro Maggiorani (Alemania)
Gabriela Rangel (EEUU)
Cheryl Riera Rivera (Canada)
Cinzia Ricciuti (Italia)
Raquel Rivas Rojas (Escocia)
Maday Margarita Rivero (España)
Patricia Roncayolo (Dinamarca)
Carlos Rondón (España)
Paola Romero (Inglaterra)
Esther Roperti (España)
Magdalena Rosello (España)
Karina Sáinz Borgo (España)
Adalber Salas (EEUU)
Lisbeth Salas (España)
Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles (España)
Elvia Sánchez (España)
Ervin “Wincho” Schafer (Brasil)
Claudia Sierich Georgi (Alemania)
Leonora Simonovis (EEUU)
Manuel Silva-Ferrer (Alemania)
Marco Tulio Socorro (España)
Mónica Socorro (Francia)
Andy Solé (España)
Blanca Strepponi (Argentina)
Gonzalo Tovar (Perú)
Alina Tufani Díaz (Italia)
José Urriola (México)
Vicente Ulive-Schnell (Francia)
Keila Vall De la Ville (EEUU)
Patricia Valladares (EEUU)
Gustavo Valle (Argentina)
Pedro Varguillas (EEUU)
Paula Vázquez (Francia)
Víctor Vegas (España)
María Teresa Vera Rojas (España)
Nelson Urdaneta (Argentina)
Rodrigo Urdaneta (Argentina)
Ruth Villalonga (EEUU)
Carmen Victoria Vivas Lacour (Francia)
Vitier Vivas (Francia)
Vivian Watson Molina (España)
Karina Wesolwski (Colombia)
Lena Yau (España)
Gregory Zambrano (Japón)
Leonardo Zelig (EEUU)
Slavko Zupcic (España)