Ten years blogging the Chávez era

“These days, what I find hardest to convey to my friends who live outside Venezuela is this strong undercurrent of farce that now permeates public life here.”

Quico’s first post on Caracas Chronicles went online ten years ago today. Much has changed since then, but as you can tell from the quote above taken from that very first post, much hasn’t. Farce continues to permeate public life.

We could write about how the country has changed and what it all means, but today, I want to write about how Caracas Chronicles changed my life.

Back in 2003, I’d just moved to Chile with my wife and my baby girl. My career was in a kind of flux, and as a consequence I spent a lot of time online, in this new country where I had few friends.

Frankly, I was pretty bored. A friend from home suggested this blog (what is that?) written by a Venezuelan who wrote for the New York Times. I started reading it, and I was hooked.

Of course, the surreal – yes, farcical – events back home made it easier to remain hooked, as did the odd yet strangely alluring community of commenters – you know who you are. I quickly became a regular.

Time went by, and Quico and I became friendly through the Internet. One day, he asked me to start collaborating with him on the blog. I guess I did an OK job, even though my initial strategy to use my wife’s name as a seudonym was a tragic mishit that still haunts me. Through ups and downs, Quico and I have remained friends and collaborators and, yes, we even met personally on more than a few occassions.

People sometimes ask me why I keep writing here. The best answer I can think of is that, by writing, I understand my country and myself better.

Because CC may seem like a place where Quico, Gustavo or I rant about what’s in our heads, but that’s not how it actually works. CC is an intellectual community, as close to a public square as anything I’ve experienced. I learn from Quico and the rest of you every day, and by trying to explain myself to you and receiving your feedback, I refine my way of thinking about Venezuela.

To put it in more concrete terms, there are many things I wouldn’t understand or know how to explain about Venezuela without the perspective I get from you all: the importance of a public sphere; the urban-rural cultural divide; the many discourses that permeate our collective way of thinking; the way public sector workers really think; the concept of kleptodysplasia; or how wrong it is to stage a fancy wedding in the middle of a socialist revolution.

I’ve gained other things in the process. I have learned that writing on my little keyboard can make a difference. I’ve learned to refine my writing and, sometimes, go for it. I’ve developed a few pet topics that I obsess about, such as the concept of opportunity costs, or the need to solve Venezuela’s infrastructure challenges smartly. I’ve learned to accept constructive criticism. My life has been made richer by meeting many of you personally.

The stakes a couple of weeks from now could not be higher. But today, let’s pause and remember this moment, this little space in the Internet that we – all of us – have helped create. Let’s treasure this level of – why not say it? – enlightenment we’ve reached, because we used to know things, and now we know them better.

And let’s hope the road from here on leads us to better places.

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