A new beginning

Amanecer Parque CentralAs most of you know, Francisco Toro – the founder of Caracas Chronicles – has decided to step down and hand me the reins of the blog. Though I feel honored, and at the same time capable of taking on this challenge, I would be cheating you, dear readers, if right off the bat I couldn’t provide you with the answers to two basic questions.

The first question is – why go on? What can we possibly say that hasn’t been said before?

A few days ago, Miguel Octavio wrote that according to its audited financial figures, PDVSA’s total debt stands at more than $43 billion. This amounts to roughly $1,400 per Venezuelan. Add the other assorted debts – government bonds, debt to China, debt to the private sector, and the debt to the Central Bank – and we’re talking a total public debt of about US$245 billion, or roughly $8,500 per person.

Think about that for a second – a family of five in rural Zaraza, for example, owes $42,500.

After fifteen years of this madness, if you were to ask the average Venezuelan on the street about this – hell, if you asked your average well-to-do, over-educated friend – the answer will probably be more or less the same: “I feel no guilt. There’s got to be some sort of benefit to living in this country.”

By benefitting from this system without raising our voices loudly enough, we – all of us – have become accomplices.

The Chávez Revolution is an example of inter-generational theft, and your grandchildren, along with those of Doña Petra de la Esquina, will have to toil away to pay this debt in fifty years … just so you can fill your gas tank for free. We should really consider changing the national anthem to the “Dale! Dale!” chants we yell at kids hitting piñatas. And yet life goes on, and most of our citizens carry on blissfully unaware of the moral choices they are making.

But is it worth it to keep repeating this? It’s a topic we’ve gone over time and again. Isn’t it time we got off our sopabox and quit pontificating?

Turns out it is worth it, because the message hasn’t been delivered in the right way.

I don’t think I have to tell you that one of the biggest flaws we bloggers have is lack of humility. We’re right, everyone else is wrong, and if everyone else understood our point of view, things would work out better. Since they don’t, we leave in a huff of frustration. Op-ed writer Carolina Jaimes has a piece in today’s El Universal that is a perfect example of this attitude: I’m right, everyone else is wrong, and I hate this damn country.

Of course, if that’s the point, then yes, the blog has indeed said everything that needed to be said.

Venezuela stands at a crossroad: the demise of chavenomics can only end in outright, Cuban-style dictatorship, or a deep economic crisis that is going to be incredibly hard to come out of. The second scenario is clearly preferrable, but it is also the most challenging, since it involves a tricky transition that can only survive if we manage to bring chavismo into the fold of normal politics. And for that, we need to develop greater empathy not just for chavista voters, but also chavista policy makers – the very same ones that are ruining our country.

In other words, we have a lot of work to do, not just in terms of convincing people that the current path leads to ruin, but in understanding why we landed here in the first place. It’s not that they are wrong and we are right. We need to look hard – into the Venezuelan psyche and into Venezuela’s institutions – to see where we’ve failed. Only when we address our institutional character flaws openly, only when we address our vices and lack of virtues, will a genuine healing process begin. That is where I would ideally like to take the blog.

The second question I need to answer is: how can we make the blog better?

After giving it much thought, I think Caracas Chronicles has played into the general funk that Venezuela finds itself in. Reading any opposition op-ed about Venezuela has become akin to kissing a dementor – cold dread fills your soul, and everything becomes dark.

It used to be there was an opposition echo chamber, but now it is fitted with padded walls. We are a nation that has stopped dreaming of a better tomorrow.

The new Caracas Chronicles must break with this. It must offer positive solutions to the many challenges we face because, quite simply, despair bores me, and it bores you too. Yes, things are bad. We need to get over it.

This has to be reflected in the tone of the posts, and even in the images we use. No more hazy shots of the Ávila – a cliché if there ever was one. We need to rescue the beautiful Caracas from deep under the rubble.

The new Caracas Chronicles must also bring in new voices – more young people, more women, different professions. I feel like I have put together a team of writers that will help me on this journey … but more on that in a later post today.

That, dear reader, is why I think the blog should go on, and how it should go on.

Deep down, though, we know the meta-reason for all this goes beyond the X’s and O’s and into the realms of feelings. Ultimately, if we give up on Venezuela in her darkest hour, will we be able to forgive ourselves? With media outlets shutting down left and right, are we also going to cave?

I don’t plan on doing so. I hope you will join me.

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