Fever

When you fall violently ill, or when a country's in crisis, there's no such thing as "waiting for the right time" to act.

There’s a specific moment, if you pay close attention, when you know you’re going to get sick. That pre-mucus, post-nasal drippy-tasting moment of surrender to pathogens, after which there’s just no turning back.

For me, this week, it came on Monday, at precisely 4:17 pm. I know because I made it a point to look at my watch and write it down, in case it ended up being a critical piece of information for the E.R. doctor, when I ended up on a stretcher in some overrun hospital somewhere.

No, I’m not paranoid or a hypochondriac. I live in Venezuela and there’s some pretty weird African mosquito shit going around.

In a matter of hours, my coughing fits got more violent, my bones began to ache, and I started shivering uncontrollably for minutes at a time. This was followed by a sustained fever, searing headaches, and bizarre bouts of numbness in my hands and feet.

It was awful.

So awful, in fact, I wouldn’t wish what I had upon Diosdado himself.

(Ok maybe I would, but that’s not the point.)

By 3:00 am on Tuesday delirium began to set in to what would’ve otherwise been a restless night with bad flu-like symptoms. I got seriously scared. Day after day we hear stories about people dying from lack of medicine.

Hell,” I thought to myself, “I don’t even have running water in my house right now. It’s being rationed.”

I was too sick to be properly indignant, but I still was. Because no matter what we might have been fucked into believing is normal, the thing is, it’s just not. It’s unacceptable.

Remember “unacceptable?” Or did we already let them scrub that one off our low-rent caribbean newspeak?

It’s unacceptable that six newborns died last week due to lack of basic medical equipment in Táchira’s main hospital, bringing their total death toll of newborns this year to 36 babies. That’s five dead babies a week in one state. In a country with a trillion dollars in oil revenues in the past 12 years.

Now I’m feverish and pissed. I take it back. Unacceptable is way too weak a word.

Yeah, there’s a crisis in Venezuela. Crisis this crisis that. The word rolls easy off the tongue. It’s only when you put a face to the tragedy that it gets harder to swallow. And doubly so when that face is feverish and staring back at you from the mirror.

Each and every one of 230 thousand children not going to school because public funding for their daily meal plan was cut has a face. These days, kids are more useful waiting in supermarket queues with their mothers anyways (an extra ID number equals extra food rations to feed the family.)

An entire generation of Venezuelan kids has been cheated out of its potential due to poor nutrition, leading to learning disabilities and growth deficiencies that will haunt them – and us – for decades to come.

We knew this would happen several years ago. How’s that for kickstarting a plan for economic development?

It’s Tuesday. 5 a.m. As I drift in and out of delirium, I try to calculate if it’s even worth going to a clínica. I weigh the odds. The smart money says they’ll have nothing to treat me with. Why even go out just to writhe in pain in an unfamiliar bed when I can do the same at home?

I know it’s painfully urgent that we stop the human cost of this government’s incompetence, by changing it. Because it’s already too late.

It’s one too many cancer patients who died without their chemo treatment too late, it’s one too many mothers standing in line instead of parenting too late, it’s one too many young men killed due to power outages too late, it’s one too many women menstruating into restaurant napkins too late, not to mention one too many victims of torture and repression too late.

It’s too late because, just like my fever, Venezuela’s economic sickness also had a peculiar moment when it started showing symptoms, meaning, impacting human lives: It was over two years ago, in 2014.

And action needed to be taken.

So said the National Association of Pharmacists.

And the National Association of Cattle Ranchers, and of commerce, and of dairy farmers, and of university professors.

And that’s why La Salida was proposed. It was a call on citizens to urge for regime change through peaceful, constitutional and electoral means, but also immediately – by underlining how unacceptable the human misery that would flow from inaction would be.

I can’t stand idly by while someone’s in pain knowing there’s something, anything, I can do about it. Or to put it in more cynical terms, I couldn’t live with myself if, two years down the line, lots of preventable death and suffering happened and I couldn’t say I at least tried to stop it. Because knowing it was happening, and waiting for the right time to come along before I acted would make me, at the very least, an opportunist, at most, an accomplice, and let’s be frank, in every instance, kind of an asshole.

I really don’t care if banking on people’s suffering as part of a tactical calculus is smart politics. It’s inhuman.

Could you look her in the eye and tell her that ridding her of this evil government was your plan all along, but you just needed her to pelar bolas un poquito más until the timing was just right?

Far from the reckless self-serving act of electoral sabotage some want to portray it as, La Salida was an earnest intervention on the forces of surefire death and destruction: it was the best, most responsible and ethical way of trying to prevent an already guaranteed slew of misery from befalling upon an innocent populace, entranced by smegma-laden spells of petropopulism.

To define La Salida as a series of open-ended protests, guarimbas and garbage fires is to miss the point entirely. It’s choosing to remain myopic for fear of having to confront the truth.

Those were tactics carried out by a dispersed array of people venting their frustrations the best way they knew how, and by people with the foresight to see that if they didn’t do something – desperately slim though their chances of success might be – we’d soon enough end up where we actually did end up. Here.

La Salida was a frank acknowledgment of the obvious, inevitable fact that urgent regime change through constitutional means was and remains the only way to solve this disaster and prevent further tragedy.

And isn’t that, almost verbatim, what Henrique Capriles said yesterday?

At this point of previously inconceivable crisis, I don’t really care anymore who calls for regime change. To do so would be petty. There are lives at stake and every second wasted could amount to more. True and sustainable regime change, and nothing else, is what needs to happen.

But as long as Henrique Capriles is having his fun under the sun of Salidismo, claiming he (well, God, really, but who’s counting) finally got the timing right, he’s not allowed to shit on all the people – some still in jail – who, through much tear gas, repression, torture and ridicule, paved the way for his consequence-free press conference calling for…La Salida.

As it turns out, my little bout with chikungunya was profoundly unpleasant, but not life threatening. 

I know that now.

On Tuesday, just before daybreak, I didn’t know that. All I knew then was that I was as sick as I’d ever been, and if I didn’t start to get better on my own, no help would come. And right at that moment, right through the fever, then is that I was glad, that back in 2014, I did everything I could to prevent this situation. That even if I failed, I fought.

There’s dignity in that, and I held fast to it.

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