Only Complexity Can Save Us

60

“Venezuela is a complex country, and only complexity can save us”

Alberto Barrera Tyszka

What you notice first is how beautiful the sky is. Mirroring the aquamarine of the Caribbean, it suggests one of those sentimental videos about Venezuela in my Facebook feed. Second, of course, and without delay, come the bullets. So many of them. What I first processed as noise I soon realize is really the rattle of the war arsenal from which they banged. AK-47s, M74s, 387s, if it wasn’t for the malandro bling, and again that sky, this could have been filmed in Aleppo.

One particular semi-automatic pistol has this light-blue extra magazine gizmo I must admit I find rather cool. Then there are the Nike shoes, the baseball caps, the fake-gold chains, the trembling of the man filming the video.

Though kitsch, it all exudes defiance.  And, though revolting, it impresses.

I may be used to seeing malandro videos, but this one is different. Different in terms of the film and the weaponry, the scale of the cast, and – inevitably – that sky. This barrage of bullets, I later learn, was filmed in broad daylight atop a prison roof.  The occasion? A funeral for a Margariteño prison gang-lord.

Although he murdered, extorted, kidnapped and trafficked, he was nonetheless mourned by many (criminal or otherwise) in his island. All in one sentence. They called him El Conejo.

It’s ironic that this man’s passing has become the most eloquent symbol of Venezuela’s decay. Ironic not because our prisoners are better armed than their jailers, but because an obese man obsessed with the Playboy bunny and with a surprising monopoly of violence, single-handedly managed to hold the rule of law up for ransom.

They say truth is stranger than fiction. What they don’t say is it can be more pathetic than tragedy as well.

To see El Conejo’s funeral is to be brought face to face with overwhelming evidence that Venezuela has become a failed state. How did it happen? When? But, more than anything, why?

Octavio Paz, the celebrated Mexican intellectual, certainly could not have foretold the rise of the likes of El Conejo or of narcocorridos for that matter. But he understood more than most about how Latin American states could fail. So that’s where I went for answers.

 


 

 

Paz argued that the tragedy of Latin American modernity – its constant flirtation with failure – rested on the essential hypocrisy of its Independence; led not by statesmen with a history of democratic exercise but by generals of oligarchic upbringing, hungry for power and not its necessary dismantlement. It sought modernity only half-heartedly, and therefore only half-heartedly was it implemented.

“Replacing monarchs with dictators”, modernism in our continent thus began, in many ways, as farce.

A common characteristic our countries shared in the XIXth century was the absolute predominance of caudillismo. Also in common was the way these caudillos used modernist rhetoric in order to justify the coups that brought them into power. People like Santa Ana in Mexico, Paez and the Monagas brothers in Venezuela, Ramon Castilla in Peru, would continuously bring our countries into civil war in the name of Federalism or Liberalism or whatever was in vogue in Europe at the time. Yet once in power they would show no interest in implementing any of the ideals they fought for when in battle.

This basic ideological hollowness was another trait in common. Mock debates for a mock modernity, the great political questions of XIXth Europe turned up again in Latin America, but only in its battlefields, and for apparently no reason whatsoever. As Guzman Blanco’s father, legendary political machinator Antonio Leocadio Guzman, quipped during the Guerra Federal: “if they had said federalism, then we would have affirmed centralism”.

In reality all these caudillos wanted was the riches to be made in the ever-centralised, monopolised and extractive political institutions our economies were based on since colonial times. So tempting, in fact, was this treasure-chest that these strongmen would often not last long – ending their reign again in violence, being replaced again by another warlord – unless, of course, they managed to centralise more power in their hands. And when this happened – think now of Venezuela’s Gomez or Mexico’s Porfirio Diaz – modernity was reached walking backwards.

Now, from Niall Ferguson’s Civilization, to Acemoğlu and Robinson’s Why Nations Fail, this is something we’ve heard before. Independence for us boiled down to Robert Michels’ Iron Law of Oligarchy: when the prize is rich enough, the vicious circle of oligarchy is almost impossible to stop.

The brilliance of Paz, however, is that he focused less on this doomed institutional talk and more on what he believed was perhaps the greatest crime of this modernist hypocrisy: the sacrifice of a cultural identity at the altar of power.

 


 

Independence and Caudillismo

Independence was a violent severance of our historical self-consciousness. The only true battle it won was ultimately the one against our cultural self-respect.

‘We are not yet modern’, it protested embarrassedly, ‘for we are all too full of sin’.

This sin was all that remained from three hundred years of colonial South America in all its vice and glory (The Feast of San Juan Bautista, the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the syncretic philosophy of the Jesuits), which would sooner or later have to be atoned for.  The implication, of course, being on the rhetorical: ‘if only we were more like the Americans, or the French, or the Soviet’.

Latin America’s history ought to begin with Independence, our high-school teachers told us, for what had come before was but a chronology of crime and sin best forgotten.  

As Paz puts it:

At the onset of the 19th century [Latin America] decided to be what the United States already were, a modern nation. This incursion into modernity required a sacrifice: that of ourselves. It is well known what resulted from this sacrifice: we are not yet modern, but now we are in a quest for ourselves.

The consequence in Latin America of this half-hearted modernism that was also a half-hearted patricide – this, as Paz puts it, ‘suicidal cult of development’ – is a general sense of cultural and historical orphanhood.

Twin tragedies: a power elite using diverse masks of modernity to hide and justify their crimes, helped by revolutions and civil wars that only achieved these superficial changes of attire, and a disenfranchised base with no cultural ideal and no economic prosperity to cling to.

The result: a modernity that only existed for the privileged and that did not trickle down to a surging mass of the amodern. The fancy neighborhoods of the big cities, pride and glory of 20th century modernity, were quickly outrun by the underdeveloped and uncivil neighborhoods growing in the margins of these very cities. In this particular, Catia’s overtaking of Caracas’  modernist bloqs of the 23 de Enero is perhaps a prime example.

Indeed, nothing speaks more to Paz’ idea of an orphaned Latin America than the almost unstoppable rise of our countries’ barrios and favelas. Growing literally on the fringes of modernity, not only in terms of their access to the economy and the rule of law, but also in their architecture, music, literature and general sense of themselves, it is by understanding them in this context of an undigested modernity that we may come to an answer to the mystery of El Conejo.

 


 

 

Life on the Fringe.

Our barrios eventually took a cultural life of their own, having, in their fatherlessness, nothing else to adhere to. Yubraskas, Guainers, Yumileidis are striking names especially because they make no reference whatsoever to our native indians –they are simply the fruits of this very orphanhood we’re discussing.

If anything, their reference is to this odd post-industrial world where prans operate ungramatically through whatsapp, ride motorbikes and shoot state-of-the-art weaponry, use the Plaboy bunny of  as emblem and name their children Yusnaby in reference to the U.S. Navy vessels skirting our coast. Our cultural inspiration is so fatherless that we have resorted to recycling whatever garbage comes our way, indigesting foreign names and misusing modern items. We are the 2.0 of Noble Savages, as it were.

And in a sense, Venezuelan development in the 20th century was overrun not only in urban terms: just as rapidly as barrios avalanched inwards into our self-serving mirage of development, our Cuarta Republica was overtaken by a new populist tide that made use precisely of this bulging underdevelopment.

The fact that the Cuarta Republica failed to provide a powerful modern identity to this orphaned sector of society allowed new caudillos to arise. Chavismo in this sense is mostly not a populist doctrine of economic retribution, but a desperate cry for cultural identity. The resurgence of an ‘amulatado’ Bolívar makes even more sense under this light.

Now that Chávez is dead, and his effervescent parlocracia has been muted, a big sector of our society is again desperately looking for shelter in our fragmented country. It is in this pursuit that people like El Conejo or Yubraska can become later-day junior caudillos, and where in our desperate quest for a semblance of rational government their pleas of patronage have begun to outshout our own. Indeed, Chavismo having accelerated this trend of underdevelopment, their own orphaned vision of themselves has become the most strident fragment of our national identity.

So it’s not that we are a failed state. For an ever-increasing portion of our society state failure has been the one reliable constant. That is, for a big chunk of our society, modernity never came — or, rather, it came disguised. The only difference now is that, after so many years of orphanhood, we are such a minuscule minority that their tragedy is now engulfing ours.

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M.A. in Economics from the University of Edinburgh. Madrid based. Wealth management, roots in banking and microfinance. Voracious reader of Classics, specially the Russians, and History. Caraqueño and Caraquista, inescapably a lover of Salsa, wheat talk and Rum. Fascinated by South America's indigestion of modernity, owes his political understanding mostly to Octavio Paz, Ivan Karamazov and dad.

60 COMMENTS

  1. The common trend on Venezuela and several countries is that they go to shit when the military takes power. So, after fixing this huge mess, removing the vote to the military and a ban from public administration jobs for active AND retired military is an obvious step to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. Which is why I’m 100% for the direct confrontation that Ramos Allup is pushing.

    Besides that, you know which is the most popular leader on ALL Venezuelan society, event for the sainted lumpen? Leopoldo López. I don’t believe on the “Venezuela deserves to be a military fiefdom forever because it failed to take care of the poor” wrist-cutting, is incredibly unproductive. Right now, most people understand that things are only going to get worse with Maduro in charge, and that failed socialist ideology isn’t going to put food on the table.

    On the specific problem of criminal wanna-be caudillos, the answer is also simple: Full cleasing of the jails. 1 hour to come out naked, else, not a single living soul is leaving that place. Everybody, from the oppo, to the “pueblo” knows it, and won’t come rushing to defend the criminals that make their lives a living hell.

  2. Good post. I would add to one of our caudillos a guy called Simón Bolívar. He might not have been after money but not all of them were.

    As I have always said, Venezuela has been a profoundly medieval country. Even those who keep calling themselves “elite” have incredibly medieval views coated with some superficial “modernism”.

    Ask 10 Venezuelan university graduates living in Venezuela in what century, more or less, we got our “Independence” or in what century, take or add one, Spaniards first arrive to Venezuela…or what language Spanish derives mostly from and more than half of them will be absolutely clueless.

    Most Venezuelans see history like this: “todo comenzó con la madre que me parió…y antes existió Simón Bolívar”

    I see someone deleted what I wrote years ago in Wikipedia about the “hero” Miguel Penalver.
    I had translated something I found in Alexander von Humboldt’s writings. Here I copy it:

    “Fernando educado como su hermano, igual de flaco, pero más alto y creyéndose un adonis, engreído, los primeros días hablaba de Raynal, Enclyclopédie, libertad para los humanos. Pero luego salió a relucir toda la bajeza humana. El portugués decía que había que fundar una república blanca, en un tiempo en que la República Francesa, como no se duda, ha vuelto a introducir la esclavitud y cuando Francia está en guerra con España; en la República blanca no les dan ni a los mulatos libres derechos, los esclavos sirven a sus amos de rodillas, estos venden los hijos de los primeros. ¡Ese es el resultado de la Ilustración Americana! ¡Prohibid vuestra enciclopedia y vuestro Raynal, gente desvergonzada!”’
    Humboldt, Alexander von (2000): Reise durch Venezuela: Auswahl aus den amerikanischen Tagebüchern. Akademie-Verlag. Pág. 208

  3. This article is a jewel. Caudillismo as an expression of that Fatherlessness and Orphanhood. Jesus Christ and God and Bolívar; the Corte Malandra and Santería and Spiritism; Gómez and Pérez Jiménez and Chávez as father figures; the Virgins and María Lionza and the teenage mother of our barrios. We cling to messiahs and symbols because we can’t comprehend that, in order to live fully and build a nation, we need to take responsibility for our failures and successes.

    We’re looking for a father, a mother and a name… and in this country at least, the search has become desperate and bloodier than ever.

    • Totally! Talk about calling a spade a spade! I love it. I mean it isn’t said enough! That is the unfortunate reality. This mess isn’t going to be fixed in one term with a simple change of government. It’s going to take years of civics lessons!

  4. This is very deep and very good stuff.
    I suscribe to most if not all of the ideas placed here. I sense a lot of Carlos Rangel’s ‘Del Buen Salvaje al Buen Revolucionario’ in these lines as well.

    I’ve always found this kind of writing, where the author refers to the marginalized sector of the venezuelan society as being class apart from his own ‘modernized’ sector, as to be a bit snobbish. But you’re making some irrefutable points regarding the need to separate them in order to understand the whole.

    Keep em coming, Andrés!

  5. I would say that some of the missed modern traits are quite in vogue in our post modern world. Some such traits are extreme individualism, materialism, moral relativism.

    Say you were born in the premodern belt of Caracas. You quickly learn the game of conspicuous consumption to flaunt your status. You also realize that you have no honest way of achieving such trophies. You are poorly educated in a world where pranes rule. The bargain is simple, one gun and a sting in the valley to get the prized iphone you so much lust for. Not only will you get your phone, you will get respect in pran-topia. Beside that sifrino you just jacked had it coming anyway, cuarta republic injustices an all.

    Say you were born in suburban US and you lust to be a master of the universe, so you work hard and go an Ivy League School, become an investment banker and sell bad mortgages or CEO to gouge pharmaceuticals… OK, maybe you dress better.

  6. No, Venezuela is not destined to be a hell hole and I don’t buy that Latin American fatalist narrative BS.
    Social and Political decay can happen anywhere. The grown ups just have to take control !
    During the Perez Jimenez Dictatorship, and shortly after, Venezuela was the brightest spot in the continent, so that break the myth.
    It all comes down to have a competent government. No voodoo. No curse.
    In Venezuela the shit started hitting the fan after implanting the wide open Universal Suffrage system from the USA disregarding our local conditions.
    That is how we descended into a Chavista Theocracy.
    Same happened to Iran in the 70’s. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that when the majority of the voting population are devoted Muslim you end up with Theocracy. Hello! knock knock, anything in that head?!
    Egypt naive and brief teasing with Universal Suffrage didn’t lasted long either. It had to turn back into a Dictatorship once again to save itself from becoming an Islamic Caliphate. lol
    We shouldn’t kid ourselves and have hopes because the Oppo won the AN.
    That was just angry votes, a knee jerk reaction.
    The unfortunate reality in Venezuela, is that the Chavez Cult is still strong.
    If we want to stop this madness and have a functional country, we have to go for election reform, the status quo is unsustainable.
    If you value Democracy voting rights should not be given away just because you just turned 18! It must be a privilege that has to be earned.

    • We think the opposition won the AN by a landslide but reality is we won 60-40. Based on the current conditions, we barely wining it and makes me worry to be honest. It is sad that after the lack of healthcare, food, and personal safety we can’t convince people.

      • Why not?
        Leaving aside the political restrictions that come with any Dictatorship you have to be intellectually dishonest to ignore the achievements of MPJ.
        Low Crimes, Jobs, Top notch infrastructure projects, Social programs that were actually delivered, etc, etc
        Mom told me they actually could sleep with the windows open ! no cages.
        Most of the significant Venezuelan infrastructure still dates back to that time.
        Caracas Architecture in particular seems frozen on that period. UCC, Torre Central, Hotel Avila, etc
        Under MPJ It has been the only time that the Bolivar currency has increased its value.
        Many of the skilled European immigration came to Vzla also under MCP and some years after.
        Can you elaborate what was so freaking wrong?

        • The thing Toro is that…when you talk about a dictatorship you CANNOT leave its true nature “aside”. Repression, political assasinations, persecution, torture, systematic violation of human rights, lack of freedom of press, lack of freedom of speech.

          They guy even had Campos de Concentración (Yes, lease bien CAMPOS DE CONCENTRACION) in Guasina Island in Delta Amacuro, where they sent political prisoners. That’s documented, yet forgotten history due to some “shiny buildings”. I cannot accept that. It will be crazy to do so. Significaría que no hemos aprendido nada, o es que acaso se olvidaron que en el 98 se decía que “se necesitaba un militar como MPJ pa’ arregla esta vaina?”.

          Any violation to Human Rights from any kind of regime MUST be condemned. To vouch for the freedom of our political prisoners to day while defending MPJ is not but a deep contradiction.

          You CANNOT measure the “development” of a country by its infrastructure. It’s like judging your human quality by the clothes you wear. It’s not sufficient measure, it’s not conclusive and definetely a falacy. Besides, MANY of MPJ architecture works were designed, planned and executed BEFORE his dictatorship. What he did was to finish the job. Does that justify his dictatorship? ABSOLUTELY NOT.

          In addition, MPJ “obras” were drastically concentrated in Caracas only. His performance in what’s now called Human Development Index (including education, health, life expectancy, etc) was very poor. Toro…development is not just about infrastructure or low crime rates. Was Hitler good because he got Germany out of the economic crisis created by the strict conditions imposed in Versailles Treaty? Of course not!

          • Don’t worry Javier, I am with you.
            I am in not way advocating for a Dictatorship.
            As a free thinker there are no subjects that are off the table however deplorable they might be.
            All I am saying is that there were a lot of positive aspects from the MPJ regime and deserve to be studied and replicated.
            I disagree with your dismissal of the MPJ regime as just about Infrastructure and Economic Development. It is just anecdotal but my parents and their siblings happier times and achievements come from that time.
            I wonder where you got your numbers to make such statement?
            I think there is a lot of vilifying that distort the reality of what actually was MPJ.
            I don’t have all the details, but the fact that people who lived at the time wish for a MPJ v2 speaks volumes to their achievements.

    • Juan, actually I read that translation by Quico many years ago. Perhaps in 2010-2011, if im not mistaken. Its one the things that made me like this blog in the first place.

      I would love to discuss the difference of Paz and Manuel Brigue views on modern Latin America, but that may merit a post on its own. In many ways they are more similar than different, as they both tackle on the great Latin American question of Civilization versus Barbarism, are we western or are we not.

      Paz, however, I feel has more breadth than Brigue — who ultimately relies on a dialectical formula which, though provocative at the onset, does not take root when considered in a historical background. Paz, instead, dives fully into history.

      Both are great though.

  7. BTW, the title and the quote talk about “complexity,” but the word does not figure in the text. You speak about orphanhood, but how is that related to “complexity”? What do you mean by that exactly?

    • Don’t you get it !?
      It turns out that Conejo and the Street Gangs (btw, an unique Venezuelan phenomenon) have their origins in Jose Antonio Paez Caudillismo. We should know, Octavio Paz in his musings figured this all out !
      If you connect the dots, you will also understand why some folks from the barrios are named, Gual Disnei and Yuritzbeth.
      Andres presented the Anthropological evidence all the way to the Indigenous sources!
      Hence the conclusion: Only Complexity will Save us !!
      Genius !!

    • The complexity of bringing down our Independence Heroes from their altar, of calling all that came after Independence a farce, and of focusing wholly in what our purported modernity was eternally distracted from, politically and intellectually: the self-defeating rise of marginality.

      The argument, wrong as it may be according to whoever may read it, is simply much less reductionist that what modern politicians may redact nowadays. Thats what I meant.

  8. I remember the first time tried to read Russian literature, Dostoevsky’s “War and Peace”. If I were to sum it up, it read like this: Life is shit. Events occur that make the protagonist realize that life will always be shit. The end.

    This post’s pessimism reminded me of that. I want to grab the author and shake him and say, “Come on Dude! Get it together! Stop whining, figure out what the problem is, and then FIX IT.”

    • Roy
      I think you are mixing up Fjodor Dostoyevsky, author of The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot and Crime and Punishment, and Tolstoi, author of War and Peace.
      In any case, I agree with Andrés about modernity not arriving in Venezuela. Unlike him, I think modernity has not arrived to most Venezuelans calling themselves elite.
      I do think society can go through a profound transformation and lots of persons can reach modernity. To achieve that you need an open debate about our weaknesses and an ever larger group of people who promote sustainable development as a process managed by society as a whole, not some new benefactors

      • Ill take on from Kepler here (by the way, Kepler, I agree whole-heartedly our so-called elite was never modern: the fact they failed to spread modernity meant, in many ways, they were the first in a chain of modernist indigestion… It is my fault, perhaps, for not expressing it well, but this is precisely what I meant with this article)

        Whoever reads War and Peace can, first, never forget the author and second, never come to the reductionist crap of Life is Shit. The final moments of Bolkonsky at Borodino, the reencounter of Natasha and Pierre at the end, Pierres imprisonment, Maryas loving devotion, etcetera, all speak to the contrary. If I were to come up with a three word reduction, in your formula, I would use Tolstois own: God is Love.

        What can be more idealistic, indeed more optimistic, than that?

      • Ok. Full disclosure: I a read a third of War and Peace before I gave up on it. I then read a synopsis of the book and finished by reading the last chapter. It was a long time ago. Nevertheless, to me the book expressed a world view that I found to be fatalistic and depressing, and one that I reject. It is a shame that my clumsiness distracted from my point, which was that there is little point in a conclusion that Venezuelan culture is such that it can never overcome its defects. That sort of negative attitude becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    • Didn’t you read the piece? Andres told us where he found the answers. It was in Octavio Paz. The Mexican poet that passed away before Chavismo. He had all this sh*t figured it out !
      But the Answers doesn’t matter because according to Andres the Venezuelan reality is so deep and complex that nobody will be able to figure out a solution. Trouble, Corruption, Poverty, Caudillismo, Backwardness is who we are. In other words, the scum of this earth.
      That also explains why we all subconsciously desire the Chavez resurrection so he can save us from our collective orphanhood ! (Citing his reference) Wink!
      Conclusion, we need to give up because we are doomed, sooooo Complexity is the only thing that can save us !
      Got it? LOL

  9. I sometimes despair of having the same BS repeated again and again, so rudimentary , so cliche ridden , the same old tale of the meanies (Military Caudillos only interested in the loot) and the poor noble suffering masses whom no one has ever tried to help …….and the colour candy magic wand of true democracy come to save us all from ourselves …….. I would like to answer all of this but right now lack the patience and the energy , there is so much to correct and explain that the chore appears endless.

    I dont want to be disrespectful to the author who Im sure is very bright , honest and well read and of course cant scape the crappy legacy of our canonical latin american ‘thinkers’ who knew about writing lovely poetry but whose thinking usually had very little analytical and historical heft. I feel closer to what Toro Bolt has written but there is also much that he leaves unsaid…….

    Sorry maybe my mood today is not the most patient and polite ……, Im so tired of hearing cowboy and indian manichean tales that I ve had it with those……maybe Ill try to write something more constructive later on….!!

    • We all have days like that, Bill. Whenever you feel like Id be happy to discuss your views. I always enjoy your comments and respect you very much for them.

      For now I can say I do not necessarily take it from Pazs essay that he had a great liberal hope of democracy as a magic wand. Indeed, he had very sympathy for it. As he said in the Labyrinth of Solitude:

      “The hope of the North-American with its liberal democracy is that life is something that can be perfected; for the Mexican, very much alike the former’s ancestors who though that human nature lead only to death and sin, is that it is something that can be redeemed”

  10. I didn’t know CC was publishing Fiction.
    Forgive my harsh comments but you have to wonder about how Andres reached to such long winding unsubstantiated pseudo intellectual BS.
    According to Andres, we are cursed and hopeless, Venezuela is the only place where bad stuff happens so we are doomed by our self fulfilling prophecy and history. Roll eyes.

    Any Sociology, Psychology, Historic references?
    AFAIK Octavio Paz was just a Poet.

    Oh and somehow we are left concluding that “Only Complexity will save us” ??!
    WTF does that means?

    Isn’t Minimalism by managing Complexity where everybody is going these days?
    Are we talking abut the same thing here?

    Trust me, Conciseness, Clarity and to the point are virtues that readers appreciate when it comes to non-fictional pieces.

    • Paz was not only a poet, he was the greatest essayist of the 20th century. Read the Double Flame, or the Labyrinth of Solitude, before you judge him.

      In any case, I did use historical sources. From Harvard intellectuals Daron Aceremoglu and Niall Ferguson, no less. In any case, I must come to a full disclosure: I think poets in general, and literati in particular (like the likes of Paz, who read more history books than all of the UNAM postgrads combined) avoid the formulaic trap of encapsulating the human condition into psychological traumas.

      In any case, your rebuttal of my article and by extension Pazs essay is ad hominem and you offer no counter-argument whatsoever to it. Were you to, Id be happy to debate.

      Otherwise, calmly get on in life belittling poetry. Life will then be nicer, shallower and perhaps more swimmable.

      • Some much stuff that I don’t know where to start. But lets zero in with this statement for instance.
        “The fact that the Cuarta Republica failed to provide a powerful modern identity to this orphaned sector of society allowed new caudillos to arise.”
        First you conclude that they are Orphans? So we have to take that premise just because…?
        Second, why the Cuarta Republica should be responsible to provide a modern identity, and if so, how would you go about doing that? Propaganda communist style?
        Third, You reached the outrageous conclusion that what allowed new caudillos to arise (i guess Chavez) was the “orphaned sectors” lack of identity ?As if only them were responsible of the election outcome.
        I am sorry but that seems like a forced conclusion, from questionable premises.
        Some people from my neck of the woods also call this. Pulling BS out of your a**.
        Many of the things from your piece seem to be deep findings unique to Venezuela and if you really know history from other Countries you can draw similar parallels, from Pre-Western Japan to Russia, the Roman Empire, etc.
        I don’t have to try hard to find parallels between the Conejo’s funeral to Bonnie and Clyde’s in the depression era USA, or Street gangs from Los Angeles or the Italian Mafia.
        To me the whole thing is like personal musings more than statements of facts.
        I firmly believe the root of the causes of Venezuela current crisis are more pedestrian and simple that you want us to believe with your piece.
        We are just humans and these stories have repeated many times over around the world.

  11. I am impressed with the breadth of Andres´ article mostly because he goes wittingly to our historical roots where most observers and analysts avoid while searching to get closer to an explanation of what has ripped us apart in two decades and why. So, I believe he is right in his conclusion that we have ” Twin tragedies: a power elite using diverse masks of modernity to hide and justify their crimes, helped by revolutions and civil wars that only achieved these superficial changes of attire, and a disenfranchised base with no cultural ideal and no economic prosperity to cling to.”
    However, in his analysis there is a dimension of our recent history that I feel missing and which has worried me for long. It is the moral decadence in our society. I am not a moralist or fundamentalist preacher of any sort. It is just that I believe that moral standards are a powerful social binder of the kind we will be needing very much in the near future.
    The signs of the decadence are obvious, I think. The overwhelming extensión of corruption, the horrifying level of crime, the growing cruelty of crimes and represión, the falling levels of solidarity, the irrespect of human values like compassion, tolerance, fairness and justice extending to the irrespect of traditional national values, our culture, our geography, our diversity. I don´t think we can say that only chavistas are to blame. I think that unfortunately its the whole society that has begun to rot in this sense. We have witnessed kidnappings executed by close relatives of the victims, hundreds of cases of policemen and soldiers asaulting those they were meant to protect and the frequent looting of trucks in the roads, without forgetting cases of fourteen shots to steal a victim´s cellphone.We can´t just say this is a “failed state”. This is a failed society.
    I have argued elsewhere that making moral standards and requirements integral parts of our political message and stance is what differentiate us who still have hope of a lovable Venezuela in spite of the enormous inertia of the historical forces that this article has brought to the front today. Thank you, Andres. Never mind the short sighted angst of some comentators. Our problems are of much much longer outlook.

    • Regarding the Venezuelan character I hold only one lone conspiracy theory: There have long been studies correlating increased criminality in populations born in areas of high levels of lead poisoning. Venezuela burned leaded gasoline and it burned a lot of it for decades and did not stop until 1996.

      It could very well be that a more restrained, neurotypical generation won’t emerge among us until lead levels in the air and soil have seriously abated. The good news is, that generation might be coming of age now.

  12. Sin duda uno de los tres mejores artículos que he leído en esta web, por no decir el mejor. Leyendo los comentarios da la impresión que unos cuantos no lo han entendido. Parece como si buscasen La Purita Verdad que explique los últimos doscientos años de la historia del pais y claro, este texto no se lo proporciona y entonces no les gusta. Es cierto que Octavio Paz no pasará a la historia por su “analytical and historical heft” por citar a Bill Bass pero su visión y las palabras rescatadas aquí siguen teniendo sin duda alguna fuerza explicativa.

    Es un placer leer artículos como este. Mis felicitaciones pues para su autor.

  13. Allow me to simplify. We are in the land of the living, not the dead. The problem began in the barracks in the 70s. You can thank or blame guys like Rafael Caldera for integrating the military and not letting military counterintelligence do its job of weeding. Everything else is bullshit

    • Good one.
      But, everything else is bullshit ? Really ?
      What about the unbelievable fact of allowing a Military Coupster responsible of murder to become elegible for public office, let alone the Presidency ! LOL
      I’d like to understand the mindset, the political environment and impunity that allowed that kind of madness !
      Naive is the polite word. Pendejos is the most appropriate adjective.

  14. Many white educated guys are clueless about their own. From the military to PTJ and Disip, you have always treaded on your own, clueless to what the military and cops where up to. You did this by choice. Nobody forced you. You never integrated them into society instead shunning them to the armed forces where it was decided they could stay. Many white skins saw their military career dreams nixed by this during the 80s as they where nudged out because they did not belong. The white man in power planted the seeds and then fanned the flames. Blame your own during the IV

  15. There are two things about the history of Latin America that explain why Venezuela is the way it is: (1) an economic model based on extracting wealth rather than creating wealth, and (2) institutionalized inequality.

    The economic model can be seen in the silver mines of Bolivia, the Spanish galleons heading back to Spain laden with treasure and in the daughter of Chavez, who apparently has somehow acquired the mind-boggling sum of 4 billion dollars (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3192933/Hugo-Chavez-s-ambassador-daughter-Venezuela-s-richest-woman-according-new-report.html). Nothing much has changed. In South America, whether it’s Carlos Andres Perez or whether it’s the Chavez family, high office is simply a license to steal, to extract.

    The inequality is entrenched and is a hangover from the encomienda and hacienda systems. North America didn’t have gold and silver so the first settlers had to create their wealth from agriculture. The best way to stimulate agriculture is through property rights and that’s what they did – they gave land titles in exchange for so many years work. The result? By 1900 most people in rural North America owned some land. Hardly anyone in South America did.

    I lived in Venezuela for four years, from 1998 to 2002. During my first week in the country I was taken to the most luxurious country club I’d ever seen (Izcaragua), yet at night in the hills behind our casa colonial I could hear the popping of gun fire (“that’s just the police cleaning up the barrios” I was told). It always seemed to me that compared to a country like Australia, Venezuela was two different countries.

    I guess that’s the lesson for Venezuela from these last 17 years: you can’t leave people behind, and if you do, it’s at your own risk.

    • I am sorry, but that was not my experience and I live there for half my life.
      Venezuela abolished slavery back in 1854, the United stated did it 11 years later !
      You can call a black person in Venezuela “Negro” and is a sign of affection. Here in USA it remains a taboo word because is considered offensive. Also, We never had segregated schools in Vzla or anything like that, unlike the USA.When I was studying in the University I met people from all kinds of social stratus and races, and guess what, the University was tuition free fully paid by the Government.
      Free Higher education doesn’t exist in the USA and still in 2016 the concept is considered radical!
      All the above plus other social programs were in place before Chavez came to the scene.
      No Gold in North America !? I guess you need to read some history. San Francisco, California owns its existence to Gold!
      If Venezuela was all about crushing the poor to their place, Chavez would have never been elected, and trust me he did not even qualified.
      If anything you can blame Venezuela for is for Pendejos and soft with thugs and malandros.
      Venezuela is not perfect as the culture can be considered inferior in terms of civics manners compared to the USA standars. There are other little things like People tend to cheat more, Rich or Poor. Lack of punctuality, planning, etc
      But Your Victimhood version of poverty and class struggle in Venezuela is deeply flawed and inaccurate.
      I think since the second half of the 20th century Venezuela have done a good job in regards of Social Justice.

      • The Californian Gold Rush was 1840/1850s. I’m talking about a much earlier period, from about the 1620s, when European migrants started settling on the East coast.

  16. In the movie Traficante, Benicio del Toro delivers final line “this is the land of wolves and you are no wolf” ….same can be said of BRV.

  17. El caudillismo es de vieja prosapia en Venezuela , en parte es la cultura machista que entroniza el macho arrecho que manda y que a nadie se doblega , nos encantan esas figuras , entre nosotros abundan los gallitos que se ofuscan por necedades por defender su dignidad viril. Sobre esto leer a Axel Capriles .

    El caudillismo tambien tiene su origen en la naturaleza particularmente sangrienta y destructiva , larga y desvastadora de nuestra guerra de independencia (murieron de hambre o asesinados una cuarta parte de la poblacion y todo quedo en la ruina) , otros paises tenian clases sociales de terratenientes civiles que dominaban las riqueza y el poder y que sobrevivieron las guerras de ndependenci, aca a los mantuanos los aniquilo Boves casi hasta el ultimo hombre y siendo un pais pobre y arruinado no desarrollo nunca una clase civil prospera que pudiera ejercer un control politico como en otras partes . Los ilustrados modernos no podina surgir por que eramos un pais sin control ni direccion compuesto de regiones aisladas unas de la otra sin recursos para erigir las instituciones de un Estado moderno hasta el advenimiento de Gomez y el petroleo.

    Como podiamos pretender ser modernos si apenas podiamos mantener como una ficcion la existencia de un Estado Venezolano . Hay unas paginas de un autor de inicios de siglo que explica el culto desaforado a bolivar y a la gesta de independencia por que estando venezuela tan fragmentada y separada sin caminos ni contactos lo univo que nos unia era el culto a Bolivar y la epopeya libertadora , Nadie recuerda esa pobreza ,ese primitivismo de la miseria que nos ahogaba apenas hace un siglo . Mi padre para movilizarse de Caracas a Merida tomaba un vapor que lo llevaba a Maracaibo y de alli cogia una chalana que lo trasladaba a travez del lago de Maracaibo hasta el gran ferrocarril del tachira en Encontrados que al llegar a El vigia permitia coger una recua de mulas y unos autobuses para llegar hasta merida .

    Es con Gomez que arranca la construccion de un Estado,un proceso que nunca ha culminado , que era un trabajo en progreso cuando Chavez asciende al Poder y lo destruye todo .

    Es una ficcion que los caudillos formaban elites militares , los caudillos militares eran gente casi toda de origen humilde , nada aristocratico, ni Paez ni Crespo ni Gomez ni Marcos Perez Jimenes eran de familias pudientes o influyentes (tampoco lo fue nuestro primer caudillo Boves) .

    Cuando los campesino empiezan a aglomerarse en las grandes urbes se rompe poco a poco el tejido social que mantenia las formaciones familiares del campo , en la ciudad todo se corrompe , la prosmicuidad y la irresponsabilidad de los machos infieles a sus parejas e hijos abandonados hacen que la poblacion cresca desordenadamente y con enorme ritmo . Venezuela pasa de 6 millones en 1960 a 31 millones en el 2015 mientras que Chile en ese periodo pasa de 8 millones a 18 milones en el 2015 , ese crecimiento acelerado impide a los servicios del Estado atender a las necesidades de esa masa de gente , surge una clase marginal que es muy dificil rescatar por que los huerfanos , hijos abandonados se crian con faltas de disciplina y sentido de la solidaridad social , con fallas y danos mentales y psicologicos que ni mandrake mucho menos el pseudo estado clientelar que apenas fuimos capaces de crear en Venezuela.(sobre esto leer al padre Alejandro Moreno) .

    Ahora la descomposicion social y politica es total por que no hubo tiempo de crear las clases medias que podian en una democracia inmadura como la nuestra exigir la creacion de un Estado funcional y efectivo , profesional y tecnocratico , menos con la corrupcion que trajo la version criolla de la democracia . Chavez represento el triunfo de esa sociedad corrupta y primitiva , cargada de narcicismos frustrados , de machismos delirantes que se creo bajo la sombra negligente de la cuarta republica . Lo hizo a punta de inculcarles odios virulentos e histrionicos que emulan un tono pseudo marcial (no genuinamente militar) y un anti americanismo tipico de nuestra mentalidad de pueblos acomplejados . Maduro es una caricatura maltrecha de ese caudillismo morbido y megalomaniaco que fundo Chavez.

    • So Bill, do you think that the Chavez phenomenon was something unavoidable for Venezuela?
      Like something that was bound to happen given the Venezuelan conditions no matter what?
      I see it more like an unfortunate sequence of events that allowed someone like Chavez to take hold.
      Similar to a Person that goes through unfortunate circumstances and unfairly ends up in a deep crisis regardless of his personal qualities.
      Chavez could have easily went down like a footnote in history as the infamous Militar that failed at a coup attempt and I guaranteed you we would have been in a much better Venezuela now even with mediocre politicians.
      The fact that he was pardoned from his crimes has nothing to do with Venezuela at large but specific actors (Caldera). The fact that he could become eligible as a political candidate is another unlikely event that amazingly played out to his advantage.
      The fact that low Oil prices prepared the ground before him and went up during his tenure for the longest time was again a fortuitous event that had nothing to do with Venezuela history, Caudillos or Venezuelans attributes in particular. Chavez without Money wouldn’t have lasted his first legal term.
      It didn’t help either that the September 11 Attack happened making the USA divert all their attention to the Middle East.
      For this reason I think it is kind of pointless to look for the Cat’s fifth leg here.
      Chavizmo was simple a bad mishap that we never deserved and needs to be eradicated from Venezuelan politics. All this is rather part of the “resource curse”.

    • Bill, si en mi artículo no se leyó entre líneas esto mismo que acabas de sintetizar tan lacónicamente, pues será mi culpa no saber hacerlo. Pero estoy de acuerdo con el 100% de lo que acabas de escribir.

    • Bill, si en mi artículo no sugiere entre líneas esto que acabas de sintetizar tan lacónicamente, pues será mi culpa no haber sabido expresarlo. Lo cierto es que estoy de acuerdo con el 100% de lo que acabas de decir.

  18. Andres,

    I am in agreement with Bill Bass and ToroVolt. Please consider that there will always be smart, strong, and ambitious men (and women) among us. The beauty of a market driven system is that it can provide a fair and level playing field so that such men have a different and more productive path to power and riches than via the government. Imagine all that energy and creativity channeled into building business empires instead of political ones. There is little that is essentially “wrong” with Venezuelan culture. There are successful modern countries whose cultures harbor far worse vices than those of Venezuela.

    After the eminent fall of the current regime, Venezuela will have an opportunity to fix some of its problems. And the primary problem is that political power is far too centralized. Funding state and local governments via the federal government must stop. All state and local governments must fund themselves through taxes, thus providing accountability. Many of the current functions of the federal government must be eliminated and distributed to the states. The federal government much become MUCH smaller.

    Once the federal government has much less power, it will not be so attractive for would-be caudillos.

  19. Apart from all the excellent comments on this subject concerning cultural/other determinism, I think the IRRESPONSIBILITY mentioned by one as a hallmark of Venezuelan culture/society derives not only from the Colonial caste system/holdover, but from the reigning Catholic religion. Whereas in the Protestant ethos, for example, Horatio Alger, working hard/diligently could forge ahead personally/socially, the pre-Petro State Venezuelan found this difficult to impossible, but could always take comfort in the fatalistic notion that the after-life would be better than the present. Evidence of unwillingness to take personal responsiblilty for one’s actions is present in such use of the reflexive verb, as , “Se me choco el carro”, or, “Se me cayo el vaso”. Also, the usually abysmal state of Venezuelan education has kept a lid on the vast majority of Venezuelans having the upward mobility to form a true middle class, much less to become responsible voters who understand their rights/obligations in a functioning modern democracy.

    • I choked myself with laughter at the “se me choco el carro”. Seriously. Well spotted sir!

      I completely agree w that inherent difference between Catholic and Protestant sociopolitical influence. Paz did also: his main point is we suddenly wanted to become modern out of nowhere, we the children not of the reformation and the illustration, but the counterreformation and absolutism. As he succintly put it, we hoped we could skip the 17th and 18th centuries for free.

      In the Labyrinth of Solitude he also says:

      “For Americans their central belief is that life in society is something that can be perfected; for us Mexicans, who agree with their puritan ancestors that life is bound to death and sin, is that it is something that can be redeemed”

  20. Good post, but I kind of disagree on the main point that puts Venezuela as being just another latinamerican country whose society suffered from the lack of the king figure after independence.

    Venezuela was different and it was different precisely because we were not an important colony for Spain. We were a Capitanía General, as opposed to Viceroyalty. Colombia, Mexico and Perù were the rich, important countries, and they all were the main countries in their respective viceroyalty. Venezuela used to be part of the Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada, but then got separated and became a Capitanía General.

    So the King was a far away figure and our attachment to the king was lukewarm when compared with other countries in which Royalty was much stronger.

    Independence came from Venezuela not by chance, but because Venezuela’s society had all elements ready to be able to completely liberate itself from Spain.

    So, I would be cautious to interpret Venezuela history and the current Venezuela society from the perspective of a Mexican intellectual whose understanding of history is necessarily tinted by the predominant position that Mexico had during the Colony.

    For good or for bad, Venezuela was no Mexico, Venezuela was no Colombia and Venezuela was no Perù.

    Venezuela was Venezuela, from day one.

  21. I’m not nearly as well read, profound or eloquent as some of the other gentlemen that have posted here. However, having lived in Venezuela, Mexico and the U.S. It is clear to me the that one key difference is how the American Culture and Latin cultures approach the rule of law. In the Latin cultures the rule of law is much more lax; the implication that its institutions are much malleable.

  22. Carlos Rangel wrote that one difference between the way laws were dealt with in latam and in anglo countries was that in the latter the laws were more lax pliant and practical than in latam , but they were strictly enforced while in the former the laws were harsher unbending and more demanding but for the most part they were ignored .!! .

    There is in latam culture a certain disdain and dislike of impersonal institutions which are felt to be demeaning of peoples dignity, of their individual natural right to do their will so that what really counts are personal or tribal like relationships ……… thus our love of shortcuts and social and personal connections ….

    Typical of this attitude was the colonial stance in spanish america ‘la orden del rey se respeta pero no se acata’ , the kings writ is honoured but not obeyed , most of the time because they thought that the kings order coming from far off spain where impractical as they ignored the real situation where his orders where to be enforced.

    Going deeper I sometimes feel that mediterranean cultures are largely nomophobic , that they value personal freedom even if arbitrary more than they do impersonal rules , morover that these for the most part are viewed as abusive or silly. While in northern ‘europe there is a true cult of abstract solem impersonal rules and institutions, a nomolatry that doesnt exist in the south of europe . .

    You see this divide in other things , when the Roman Church became wordly and allowed wordly and corrupt considerations to marr its spiritual legacy and relished in the building of beautiful representations of saints and other supernatural figures , the northern countries saw this as intolerable , rebelled against the Churches roman authority , condemned the mediterranean love of icons and religious artistry and took up its own form of Christianity one much more rigid and demanding of strict compliance …….(puritanism , calvinism) .

    The enlighment which cast the foundation stone of modernity and its offshoot romanticism flourished most of all in Brittain ( specially in Scotland) and in France ( where it was rabidly anti church) , accompanying it was a love of rationality , of order , of social solidarity and discipline something wholly strange to the meditarranean ethos . In time the englightment evolved and became something men from all over the world could identify with except that there always remained in those countries where nomophobia and love of beautiful appearances had reigned an attavic attachment to the old values which has never totally gone away….

    Hope that beign carried away by my musings I havent ended by confusing even more an alredy difficult historical topic ….if so …my apologies

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