A new beginning

73

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.

73 COMMENTS

  1. Good luck with this, cheers!

    I like this blog because it has far better coverage of the reality of the country than many other pages. Hope this aspect keeps up.

  2. JC you are a patriot, a scholar and a gentleman. Consider yourself and your team joined. I like the new and more diverse voices part. That has got to be part of the plan. Another huge expression of thanks to Francisco.

  3. Venezuela has definitely entered a new era, for better or for worse, and so must the blog. Firstly, i just want to manifest my support, it’s a tough transition in a tough time, but I have full faith in you, the writers and the readers. Back to the important question, the blog, in my opinion, must remain a space for reflection and discussion with a twist. Writing in a second language and with a bit of out-of-the-routine analysis are what make CC rich, it also brings together a wonderful community in a common space where cliché and prejudice must be left at the door. It has to be a teaching tool for those in the future and those outside Venezuela, like it has been for me, and when the time comes, to make the transition from opposition to alternative.

    How to make the blog better is a hard question, I must insist on the qualities that make it good, a good balance between distance and truthful caring, between on the ground reports and worldwide perspectives, between recognizing the terrible truths and at the same time our dreams. I’ve never been to Venezuela other than an hour on Maiquetía’s tarmac when I was a kid, and yet it moves me greatly.

    When the country it’s at its worse, we must give it our best. That’s my reason for going on. And at least, in my case, learning about Venezuela has increased my commitment to my country. Hopefully, one day, there will be a time where both nations are doing well. And I’ll be able to travel across to Venezuela and finally see the places and taste the treats that I’ve learned about.

    In short, buen viento y buena mar!

    • If I might add something superficial to my response. I really like the new design *except* for the title font (the article titles in the main page), it makes weird loops and circles that take away from what I feel is the tone of the blog. (Pero pues eso es lo que pienso yo trasnochado)

  4. I haven’t commented very much in the months I’ve been obsessed with this blog, but I have used it as a way to make sense of my life for the past year in Caracas. This shift sounds like a good change. I’ve been playing with the idea of getting into writing some of my experiences as a young professional chicana woman living in Caracas. It has certainly had its ups and downs. But through it all I’m still here even though I could leave any moment I want. For better or worse, Venezuela has sucked me in. If I ever manage to get something coherent that I think people would be interested in reading I’ll certainly be writing you. Good luck and I’m excited to see what the blog will bring.

  5. Best of lucks Juan Cristobal. It wondered me that among all the things you brought to attention as singular qualities of CC you did not mention the very significant fact that it is -mostly- entirely written in English. For some reason, at least to me, that simple linguistic vanity does the miracle of taking me back from the inevitable numbness that all things said about the dreadful reality of Venezuela produce in me after so many years of frustrating denounce and bitter diagnosis. So in a way, CC is for me sort of an oasis where I can still discerne lucidly on the Venezuelan thing.
    The aforementioned is obviously without prejudice of the legitimate quality of the work regardless of the language.
    Carry on then.

  6. Positive Solutions? Great News!

    What ever happened to the breakdown of goals/steps to achieve prosperity? Those were some thought provoking posts, though only a couple were covered.

  7. I feel in general supportive and I can’t wait to become infected of this optimism. I believe as longs as there is meaningful words being streamed, hope is not entirely lost, even if at times it becomes barely a soliloquy. I believe that we can change the government by force tomorrow if we had the resources, but we cannot fix Venezuelan broken culture without deep, constant, unabated and honest intellectual work. The other day a good friend showed me a great post of Carolina J. Branger about how little we value intellectual work in Venezuela, and as a scientist by education, I know exactly how real this problem is. Think about it: if society assumes that intelectual work doesn’t need to be paid, why would someone trying to fill the meal plate for the familty today, bother at all with intelectually abstract, remote musings such as “what could my children eat 20 years down the line?”

  8. Katy:

    You’ve come a long way baby! You eventually had the guts to show your balls and now you’ve even taken over the joint!

    Seriously, I think the change was much needed. Quico seemed annoyed towards the end. A bit flippant.

    There is a new chapter to the Venezuelan process that is just starting. I am sure it will be an amazing ride and you will be able to chronicle it, and we will be happy to comment on your reflections.

    Sounds like a deal.

  9. A blog in English about Venezuela is for communicating to the world, isn’t it? It is not for “thinking clearer”, is it?
    One of the things that comes to my mind is the stories I have read and heard of Russian upper class living all over Western Europe after 1918, speaking in English to each other, sometimes in French, and talking about how they intended to bring an end to the dictatorship that took over Russia.
    Somehow Russian didn’t seem to fit for them.
    They didn’t see the end of it.
    Language is an incredibly important part of our identity and it also defines the perception other people have about us.
    It also determines how effectively ideas will ever spread to one or the other group.
    Never forget that.
    I wish you success in your efforts to inform about Venezuela.

  10. Caracas Chronicles is a great medium for the presentation and exchange of ideas and information on todays Venezuela , Original purpose accomplished ( giving people abroad, unfamiliar with the country a more realistic view of what the regime is all about and about its many shortcomings, -a zany tragic story- ) there has come a time to broaden its objectives , Venezuela in turn has entered a new stage in its process towards a restored sense of country , of what we must become and what must be done to get there . CC can do a lot in helping this process along , in raising consciousness about the possibilities . In Juan and team we have a professional , honest ,, dedicated , powerfully eloquent group to carry Caracas Chronicles to what we hope is a new stage in its life without losing the old journalistic virtues that have made it a reference point for so many people concerned with the country . We bloggers and participants in its comments section will Im sure try our best to contribute to Juans ambitious new plans for CC. . Juan success is the success of all !! Lets get Going !!

  11. Great idea Juan! I think this is exactly what we need, let’s start talking about solutions and stop just complaining and having a “me iria demasiado” attitude.

  12. Great first piece!

    I agree 100% with what you have stated as your goals, your focus and am looking forward to seeing more writers too!

    Thanks to JC, Emiliana (‘tas perdida mija!) and Gustavo (Link master!)

    ‘Pa lante carajo, que todavia falta camino!

  13. I also agree with the goals.

    “BTW, we really want to put the comments back on the front page.”
    You also need the number of comments on any given post so we can see if there were any additions since the last time we visited the site.

    The list of the last 10 comments was a great help as well.

  14. I congratulate you in keeping it up with this blog and to make an effort to take it to the next level. Venezuela need all of its people and friends in all fronts now more than ever and those with the capacity, education, leadership and patriotism will be the ones making the difference and helping the others still trap on what have been discussed here for many years… The history of the Venezuela of today require other methods and different approaches as we are not dealing with a democratic regime but a dictatorial one with an objective set long time ago, that objective was to social engineer a new society based in domination and chaos. Everything we see and deal with was well planned by the architects of this mess with a very specific objective and plan. It is funny we still talk about elections and econimic polices of Chavismo today!, they have brought us to their field and defeat us in many ways mainly because the oppo leaders are still playing “el tiempo de dios es perfecto” card while dealing with the devil.

    I think that if we want to be successful and want to use the resources the country have (human resources) to get rid of this nightmare we need to think out of the box, new methods of communication, going back to Spanish and spread the word out lough enough to be heard everywhere and focus in SOLUTIONS.

    An idea will be to make a letters for the mud leaders and getting it sign by as much people as possible, focus in education post that can be spread by everyone and with a specific targets, that way you will be using your intellect, knowledge and education to help your country. What you or we cannot do is to call every person who think different or still support this mess (for many reasons) an ignorant or discriminate them for their ignorance or convictions, wasn’t that the reason chavismo took over and still use as propaganda for confrontation?

    Where are the strategist of this blog to help you? Are the Oppo leaders reading CC by the way?

    I personally appreciate the information shared on this blog and the quality of the commenters so wish you and team the best in the new CC.

  15. I am glad that CC has decided to keep going…and I welcome the change…diversity is a good thing . Buena suerte y aqui estaré para leer y reflexionar. Muchisimas gracias!

  16. Another of the seldom-posting daily readers here.

    Immensely grateful to everyone whose views, anecdotes and even humour I’ve enjoyed and learned from over the past year since I stumbled on this place via a link from another of my mainstays, ND.

    So one day I saw a CC posting from Gisela’s Husband and thought one of my relatives down there was trolling me. That’s because my Venezuelan wife is named Gisela and I could have written the post I was reading. Of course it’s a coincidence but made for some laughs with MY Gisela.

    My inlaws down there get a laugh when we talk about retiring in Venezuela (at least part time) but that’s been our dream. Hopefully between now and then changes and opportunities that will make that a more viable prospect will present!

  17. There’s no real alternative to CC, in English or in Spanish, so it’s critical that you continue, and even deepen, your coverage. Along with Quico, Juan has been the most important international public intellectual foe of Bolivarian b.s. socialism.

    I do hope that the economics side doesn’t become a repository of Republican Party rhetoric, though, ie. debt as “intergenerational theft”. That isn’t informative. By contrast, this is:

    http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/01/macroeconomic-populism-returns/?module=BlogPost-Title&version=Blog%20Main&contentCollection=Opinion&action=Click&pgtype=Blogs&region=Body

    He’s no less critical of Venezuela, but his critique “fits” with other economic information, ie. that debt is sometimes not inflationary, but rather, stimulative.

    • So, to quote Krugman:

      “Running deficits and printing lots of money are inflationary and bad in economies that are constrained by limited supply; they are good things when the problem is persistently inadequate demand.”

      I dare say that Mr. Krugman would not find disagreement with my assessment. In Venezuela, debt is bad.

  18. If the idea is to highlight the moral vices that should be attended, “The institutional character flaws” for all those who must change them (venezuelans) why write in english? No es por joder ojo, solo una idea.

    • Bueno, vamos a escribir un poco en ambos idiomas. Lo del inglés es por costumbre, y porque muchos de nuestros lectores se manejan igual en inglés y en español.

      • Venia con la intención de recomendar que escribieran un poco mas en español y me encontré con este comentario, así que lo apoyo.
        Siento que Caracas Chronicles – junto a Miguel y a Daniel – ha hecho una tremenda labor informando a un mundo encandilado por la propaganda chavista lo que realmente pasaba en Venezuela con noticias directas, fotos y análisis profundos y gracias a ustedes he podido mostrarle a mi entorno angloparlante la situacion tal y como es.
        Pero luego de este año y sobre todo, luego de publicar su libro, he sentido también que el mundo esta suficientemente informado, pero los que no lo están son los mismisimos venezolanos en Venezuela, a los que se les ha restringido la información y bombardeado con propaganda dura, pesada, todos los días. Muchas veces encontré aquí reportes que no encontraba en ningún otro sitio, pero cuando quise retransmitirlos en Venezuela, me encontraba con la barrera del idioma y por supuesto, con aquella de ‘como tu no vives aquí tu no sabes así que no opines”.
        Just food for thought…

  19. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood with an introduction like this.You are the man with a plan.You are a walking oxymoron ; not only a salesman but a consummate geek, and because of this CCs will go strongly into the day, I am sure.

    I am not skeptical about your new ideas, I am excited about what seems to be percolating in your brain.
    Venezuela needs a deep analysis, one that covers more bases and bridges some of the gaps between reality and perception.

    This is something that not only needs to be done for Venezuela, but for each and every one of us.

    God Bless and good luck …and may our lives be richer for coming together in this endeavor as co creators of this blog.

  20. I’ll enjoy joining the fray as JC takes the wheel!! I’m sure it will keep giving us great insights and pleasure to read the comments. Thanks for the efforts.

  21. “Yes, things are bad. We need to get over it.”

    And they will continue to be just as bad or worse. I for one believe that now more than ever, Caracas Chronicles will have plenty of material to cover.

    If the end to all this madness was ever remotely close, it is now. As a frustrated Venezuelan (as most of us), Caracas Chronicles is my go-to source to make sense of the on-going disaster. If there’s one thing I look forward to is CC’s commentary on whatever the new insane headline is.

    So here’s a ‘thank you’ from a devoted reader who’s glad you’ll go on.

    Cheers!

  22. Para convencer a los chavistas, el blog debe ser accesible para ellos. Por ende, lo más aconsejable es que sea en español. Sería ideal que Caracas Chronicles se convierta en una piedra en el zapato para Nicolás Maduro y su cuerda de hampones. Que el mismo salga atacándolo y criticándolo como hace con todos los otros medios.

  23. This article reminds me of “El Carmonazo” decree, maybe a proper name would be “El Nagelazo”, My best wishes on this new stage, hope you don’t change the blog’s look too much, I liked the previous theme.

  24. Venezuelan Ambitions –

    vzlan citizens project trust to their nation for providing chaos.

    vzlan citizens exercise physical prowess through intimidation.

    vzlan citizens use verbal abuse for fulfillment.

    vzlan citizens find looting a satisfying road to the future.

    No wonder Quico “salió disparado” …

  25. Well, you had me at “a new beggining”…which is itself a very bold statement in a country where the phrase “new beggining” is 99.9% associated with people leaving the country. You can count on me as a loyal reader and friend, best of lucks to you and the revamped CC team

  26. I’m very hopeful! Not so much for a “new beginning”, but a “pivot” from the moaning and groaning to something with “meat”,as in “investigative reporting.” Especially, something with “outreaching” to real people in the trenches that are actually doing things! Maybe even getting on the phone lines again, talking to the same Chavista volunteers who were getting the vote out to reelect Chavez! You remember that post? We need to know about the suffering, if any, on the other side. It’s going to need paid professional staff, and we should all be willing to contribute some real money! There must be professional journalists looking for work now. If the opposition media need a voice, then let’s do it right!

  27. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog post. I am an Australian who called Venezuela home for the past fourteen months. Due to unfortunate events I recently had to leave your beautiful country. My heart and strength goes out to my family-in-law still there working hard every day and everyone who pushes for change. Venezuelans deserve change and a positive light to your blog will do everyone the world of good.
    I will be an avid reader of your blog, my friend. I’m glad I have stumbled upon it and wish I had have sooner. Best of luck.

  28. Today, I visit CC for the first time in weeks, during which time my 96-year old mother passed away. The visuals of the new format are dramatic, specially the photo selected for the masthead — love it! Congratulations, Juan. I look forward to reading future articles by several contributors noted in the bylined cubicles, when my family’s personal matters are more settled. In the meantime, know that I’m rooting for your management and your vision for CC, v. X.0.

    • Syd, on the personal side, I’m sorry for your loss, and I, at least, missed you on this Blog. And Juan, more power to you–the battle is far from over, and, for those of us who love Venezuela, should never be abandoned!

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