In search of lost empathy

Copyright Ben Perkins (aka Mr. Moraima)
Copyright Ben Perkins (aka Mr. Moraima)

(A guest post by friend-of-the-blog and sometimes-collaborator Moraima García)

As a long-time reader of the blog, I have to confess I was more than a tad skeptic when Juan announced where he wanted to take the blog, talking about trying to be optimistic. After all the destruction, can hope still live? No, I said to myself.

Then … my grandmother got sick and I saw the other side of polarization.

My grandmother is 86 years old and quite healthy, despite having borne nine children and living a really tough life working the fields in the mountains of Yaracuy. Now she is showing her age, and we know that from here on out, every year with her around is a bonus we are tremendously fortunate to enjoy.

Recently she suffered quite a serious episode, an infection that caused severe dehydration and low blood pressure, made her unconscious, and made us think the worst was coming. Since she lives in the barrio of Las Adjuntas, it’s quite challenging to find medical attention, but there is a fire station nearby, and in Venezuela they also provide emergency medical services.

That is where my sister went when my grandmother was taking a turn for the worse. They came up the stairs to check on her, administered fluids, and recommended waiting to see if she would improve. They asked to be called if things got worse.

They did, and later that night the firefighters went up the hill again (fifty six steps, I’ve counted them) … and took her down those same stairs in a stretcher to get her to a hospital.

They knew finding a taxi past 10:00 pm was going to be difficult and expensive, so they let my mother, aunt, sister and cousin ride in the ambulance with them. At the public hospital, doctors recommended going to a private lab that could quickly run some tests to find out the type of infection that was causing the problem. Running them at the hospital was going to take until the following day, and waiting was not a good idea.

The firefighters took my sister in the ambulance to the private lab, waited there with her until the results were done, and then drove her back to the hospital to avoid the risk of a woman alone taking taxis or public transportation in the vicinity of the Perez Carreño Hospital, which is not the safest area in the city. While they waited, my family shared a few black beans empanadas they had brought with firefighters, a good thing since there wasn’t any place to get food at that time.

With the test results, the doctors were able to finally figure out the course of treatment. They released my grandmother at around 2:00 am. The fire fighters’ ambulance was there, waiting to take them all back to Las Adjuntas … and up the stairs the stretcher went.

We are happy to report my grandmother is doing really well.

Beyond our immense gratitude to these public servants that did their jobs and much more, what this story made me think was that, despite all the chaos and polarization, there are countless people in Venezuela doing their job to the best of their abilities, and even going out of their way to help one another. As I wrote this, I remembered the doctors that, while being brutally repressed, still stopped to aid the government bureaucrat that had fallen victim to the effects of tear gas.

This is also Venezuela. I know that, for example, seeing the Tupamaros sitting at a table to have a “dialogue” with the MUD can make a lot of people fall into despair. Still, we need to remember that the minority of thugs currently holding the country hostage does not represent all of Venezuela. They don’t even represent the half that still voted for them a year ago.

I’ve heard people saying that a natural disaster would be something that could bring the country together, but I hope it does not need to come to that. I hope that small acts of kindness and solidarity, like the help my grandmother got, can remind us that Chavistas are not from Mars and the opposition is not from Venus. We are all from Venezuela.

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  1. During the floods of 1999, it was impressive to see how people momentarily ignored Chavez’ polarizing rhetoric and came together to help victims and rescuers.

    • In 1999 there was barely time passed since the wax doll started to poison everybody with his hate speechs, he reached power in 1998, but as an effect of the hideous polarization that chavism has shoven down our throats, you have diosdado, who when he left Miranda’s governorate, he actually withdrew all the workers who were helping people that were affected by some floods due to heavy rains in that time.
      Okay, I know the guy is a two-legged piece of garbage, but he could get away with that one because chavists were already filled with rage and hatred from chavez’s rethoric.

    • Actually, it was during the deslave crisis that first grave signs of the chavista inoculation started to show.

      Working as a volunteer in la carlota, during the frantic days of the air bridge operations to rescue stranded people out of Vargas,and to send water and staples to those isolated etc.

      I witnesses first hand how military personnel (specially mid ranges, not the soldiers) were beginning to show a disdain for civilian volunteers. I had personally a few clashes with some that were very uncomfortable with the non-dependant pueblo.

      A way to say with citizens that had skills and motivation to work independently of the upcoming Communist regime.

      Inoculation and indoctrination started first within the military, …. Its hard to remember 1999, to go back to the Plan Bolivar 2000 days, to remember Chavez turning away US help on ideological premises….

      All propaganda and BS. I also witness in person, US Marines troops running combat water treatment plants in Tanaguarena…. Boots on the ground, (while they probably were in evac mission of US people and interests)

      …At the same time the nomenclature was rejecting the official offer for medical ships and other relief efforts…

      half a generation later, we are still suffering the effects of the castrista take over with little sings of hope.

  2. She has a point. We all came from the same country, we all have similar backgrounds and idiosyncrasy,despite our differences we all want to live in a better place. And we have to give value to this people who’s doing so much with so little .Thank god your grandmother its getting better and you and your family found this angels that help go trough this situation. The Venezuelan it’s not a bad person, i recomend the reading of the books of Padre Alejandro Moreno, “And we go out to kill people” (Y salimos a matar gente) talks about the road we’ve taken because of the circunstance that surround us. Sometimes we just criticized and think we have the right solution for problems that are even more complex we can think of. The hope is the last thing we can lose, even when we think there’s no reason to have it.

  3. Still, All people have different agendas, different interest, different ethics and different ideological motivations. We may all live in this country, but the fact that we all are “brothers” doesn’t mean that one of then will not hurt us (History shows that: Spanish Civil war, Secesion War in the USA or, if you’re catholic, Cain and abel).

  4. At a human , person to person level , people from opposite sides normally have no difficulty in routine situations of being friendly and helpful to each other , it happens all the time , in queues , in public places of all sorts , every one complains (even most chavistas ) . maybe less loudly than others and if one of them wants to defend the regime they usually do it with low key politeness . People like ( and are adept) at making jokes of everything and that deffuses a lot of tension between people with different views . Lots of oppos have family and friends on the other side with whom they maintain good relations and vice versa : Of course there are fanatics but the mainstream mood is one of easy going tolerance . Its always been part of the culture !! There is always something about the other person you can like and identify with and if you show it with a bit of humour then they are disarmed and willing to meet you the same way.

    Remember on returning from a oppo march with family trying to cross a busy car filled corner and a gentlemen evidently coming with his family from a chavista march stopping and letting us pass while saying with a smile , dont know why I do this , but I cant help it.!!

  5. And who’s to blame for the dangerous “us vs. them” rhetoric that brought us here in the first place? Chávez and his incendiary rhetoric, praised by the left as a fight for the poor had disastrous consequences, and we are living them right now. But as you said, let us hope that empathy is not forever lost.

  6. Did you say a natural disaster could bring people together?? Look around there is no worse natural disaster than the one that has taken over the country by storm and won’t let go. If what “they” say is true then there is nothing to worry about, because Change is on its way then ….

    • A natural disaster wouldn’t bring people together, it would accelerate the collapse of the regime. This lot can’t run public services even under normal circumstances. The public outrage in the aftermath of (God help us) an earthquake in Caracas for example, as people die while bureaucrats focus on stealing the relief funds, would make what we’ve seen so far look like a picnic.

  7. Encouraging tale this from Moraima. Seating with Tupamaros in a dialogue table at this point pales to much worse dialogue situation in countries that have gone thru civil wars that kill hunded of thousands. It is precisely to avoid reaching those levels that you seat now and one hopes that empathy a la Moraima is found in many quarters of this polarized society.

    • The problem is that the meetings are now basically behind closed doors. That is the same as in Zimbabwe.

      The opposition, apparently, thinks it is either cadena or closed doors. There is something wrong with Venezuelans. Ever heard about using one single channel, the People’s channel, to show Venezuelans what they and the government are discussing that will affect us?

      • Kep,

        Cockroaches thrive in the darkness. As soon as the room is illuminated, they scurry for cover. This government cannot survive the light of day.

        • I know, the MUD knows it but the MUD doesn’t seem to understand what the game is. They think
          either “people are going to get tired of cadenas” (as if we only had the alternatives cadenas or closed doors) or “what for? It takes longer”.

          They don’t understand: since Ancient Greek times the debates – or at least parallel monologues as we saw in Venezuela – are not destined to convince your opponent but to show the public who’s a jerk or a fool.
          And of course the regime will oppose any further such event but we can only win by demanding it…not in front of them but in front of everyone else!

  8. Of course there are good and bad people on both sides, and it is always good to remember and honor that, but Chavismo continues to repress, and develop, and it continues its illegal power,and we cannot forget that either…anything less is dangerous wishful thinking.We cannot make others change their minds, but we can fight for the future of Venezuela with or without those who support us.Polarization is the way it is, and it is political, not personal.

  9. I have argued this subject with many people, including Venezuelans, who think that there is something inherent in the culture of the Venezuelans to be “vivos”. I disagree completely with this point of view. When any group of people are confronted with a situation in which there is no apparent future, the only logical way to act is to grab whatever one can in the moment. As soon as the situation changes to one of political and economic stability, people start to plan for the future and invest in the future. Once people’s vision is extended beyond just today, their attitude changes, not just with regards to their finances and their work, but also with regards to their personal relationships. I have personally witnessed this change in attitude in a country that was “aun mas arrecho” than Venezuela. Once stable and sustainable conditions are restored, I think everyone will be surprised at fast Venezuelans will respond accordingly.

    • Roy, You haven’t lived long enough there before Chavismo to know that.Even before when most people were fine….being “vivo” was admired.

  10. I’m a long time voluntary firefighter, after having spend about 4 or 5 years of active duty on Caracas, I can underwrite this article totally, and of course, I cannot miss the opportunity to expose my point of view as firefighter.

    Sometimes we work with the nails…the paramedics do his/her job frequently with basic medical supplies alone, also its quite frequent to find ambulances in service without air conditioning, the protective garments used in the fire/rescue operations, are in poor condition due the use (in some specific cases they should last about 3 years maximum), many vehicles, fire apparatus and other support units are off duty because they are too costly to repair to cite a few points… but despise this barriers, we work with great disciple and abnegation, and sometimes (as the blog entry suggest), with self-renunciation to our own physical security.

    The firefighter’s are Venezuelans too…they are underpaid (compared to other professions in Venezuela, don’t mind the paid FF in the rest of world), some small fire depts. in the inner country simply have to choose between paid the personnel this month or paid the food the next, they also suffer from the attacks from both sides, and often we are forbidden to respond calls in some so called “high society” areas, solely in the mood of the commanders on duty.

    BTW, I’m not a reader of this blog, I come stumbled here by a close friend that’s knows about my “alter ego” 😉

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