Venezuela through Fresh Eyes

 If you read Spanish and have an hour or so to spare, you really should check out this rivetting first-person account of life as a dignitary invited to a chavista Judicial Conference. Dr. Pedro Salazar Ugarte, the Mexican legal scholar who penned it, is an extravagantly gifted writer – though one in need of an equally gifted editor! A puzzled Juan Cristobal thought him an odd duck, a kind of "PSF-in-reverse", in that he comes across as a naïvely idealistic liberal dazzled (and horrified) by the otherness of Venezuelan political culture. I mean, hell, the guy insisted on buying bolivars with his Mexican bank card…at 2.15!

His write-up comes closer than anything I’ve read in ages to showing what it actually feels like to come face-to-face with chavista autocracy for the very first time eleven-years into this movie’s runtime.

The thing is far too long to translate, but this tidbit towards the end was too telling not to relate. After the conference had ended, the Supreme Tribunal organized for a little excursion on the Teleférico – the cable car that takes you to the top of Avila Mountain, where Supreme Tribunal head Luisa Estela Morales would host a farewell dinner for the assembled jurists. Salazar Ugarte takes up the the tale:

Though the old Hotel isn’t particularly interesting to a tourist, it was announced to us that given its past as a luxurious spot for the elite, it had great symbolic value. Convincing us of that much was the task entrusted to one of its young workers. Her mission seemed straightforward: letting us know where the dance floor used to be, what the bar was like in the 1970s, etc.

But the chief magistrate of the Supreme Tribunal was expecting something different. And so, when the girl was getting ready to finish, Dr. Morales asked her point blank: "tell us, please, who is restoring and remodelling this place?"

To which the girl, who gave no hint of having any aptitude for verbal sparring, answered: "um…some workers". You could feel the tension right away, and the chief magistrate did nothing to attenuate it: "yes, of course, but which authority decided to restore it?"

To which the girl responded, mumbling, "the ministry of people’s power for tourism".

The answer, obviously, was not satisfactory.

"And…who stands above that ministry," demanded our host, unembarrassed.

"Ah!" managed to reply the girl, "president Hugo Chávez Frías". Silence ruled the room; a scene full of pathos.

Even more pathetic was the worried interjection of the Supreme Tribunal’s head of protocol, who hurried to confirm that, in fact, the president had ordered the hotel’s restoration, and had also decreed that it should henceforth be known by the indigenous name of the park where it stands: Waraira Repano.

Do read it all.