Back when pluralism started at home...

There’s plenty to sink your teeth into as, thanks to the miracle of YouTube, you watch Oswaldo Álvarez Paz’s 1993 campaign biopic with the (dubious) benefit of hindsight. 

The first thing that strikes you is the way political imprisonment weaves its way through his life story: to hear him tell it, his first political experience, at the age of 14, was going to the Maracaibo jail to throw rocks at the guards to protest against the Pérez Jiménez regime for jailing political opponents there. Think of that the next time you see a really young kid dodging tear gas canisters in a running battle against the chavista National Guard.

And then you realize that his current stint in jail is actually the second time chavistas have deprived OAP of his liberty: back on February 4th, 1992, the coup-attempt may have failed in Caracas, but it succeeded in Maracaibo, where the now Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Francisco Arias Cárdenas burst into the Zulia state governorship at midnight and held the governor and his family more or less hostage until Chávez threw in the towel the next day. (More detail on this to come, right Virtok?)

But the part that really grabs you is the nifty little annecdote, starting at the 2:48 mark, about OAP’s relationship with his AD-activist brother, Fernando. The two shared a room since childhood, and in this intensely political household, soon Oswaldo sleeping under a framed portrait of COPEI founder Rafael Caldera while Fernando slept under a similar one of AD chief Rómulo Betancourt. It’s easy to forget now how hot these AD and COPEI tribal identifications used to burn in Venezuela, but there’s something about the image of these two brothers sleeping side-by-side each under his leader’s image is haunting in its own way. 

The anecdote heads out into Baroque territory from there, with his brother’s tale of visiting dignitaries sleeping in the kids’ room, always under the portrait of the other party’s leader. But what’s most significant, I think, is that they would think to include this whole anecdote in a campaign biopic. That stories to highlight pluralism and conviviality between political rivals, even within the same bedroom, were seen as a political asset in 1993 tells a tale in its own right. One tries to imagine, today, an Aristóbulo Isturiz going out to visit supporters in Maracaibo and calmly sleeping under a portrait of, I don’t know, Henry Ramos Allup, or of Henrique Capriles spending the night under a portrait of Chávez, and it all seems perfectly fantastical. 

Not so long ago, that’s how we lived.