(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.