Fifty ways to say “debacle”

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Today The Atlantic publishes a sprawling piece on Venezuela co-written by our editor Quico Toro and Moisés Naím.

Call me a geek (or a brown-noser), but one of the things I liked the most about it was … its architecture.

Writing about Venezuela is a challenge. After countless stories on our country’s never-ending collapse, how do you keep things fresh? How do you tell this story in a way that doesn’t sound like you’re badgering people with one tragedy after another?

Quico and Naím do a great job, focusing on individual characters to paint the bigger picture. So while they mention pretty much everything, from the kids being robbed to the blackouts, from the massacre at Tumeremo to the drought in El Guri, it is the individual characters that leap out from the screen.

How do they do it? Well, for starters, they picked their spots.

They start with the ridiculous story of a businessperson penalized for providing toilet paper to his employees, and down the rabbit hole we go. This choice was important, because the person they start out with has to be someone The Atlantic’s readers could identify with. It’s easier to do it this way than by starting with the story of, say, a single mother who lives in poverty, for example. Once you have drawn the reader in, you focus on the rest.

The other thing they get right is that they do not get bogged down in the technical. They are not interested in the political, or in the diplomatic angle. They don’t mention Ramos Allup or Tibisay Lucena.

They want to convey the stories of the people suffering through this madness. In so doing, they let the stories speak for themselves, and steer clear of much adornment. The strength of their piece is helped by carefully selected hyperlinks they place with each of their claims.

Anyway – for those of you interested in improving your writing, I think the piece is an excellent showcase of technique.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Ha! I just happened to read this Atlantic piece like an hour ago.
    It is very well written. Concise yet thorough.
    Knowledge of Venezuela’s politics is not required.
    When I finished reading it. I went to check who wrote it. Surprised!

  2. Juan et al, it would be great if someone translate to Spanish. I think this article requires broadcast in the social media to our people in Venezuela (and abroad). Heck, it should be in French and why not Japanese.

    About the article, it was so good that I had to stop reading couple of times to contain me anger, frustration and utterly despair.

    Is violence granted?. I mean, are we reaching Gaddafi or Mussolini levels of despise to the point that the vindicta publica will make them pay for the death of all Venezuelans this last 17 years?. When you think about how many Venezuelans have died from crime, lack of medicine, crumbling health care, malnutrition, unchecked police/military violence, even for mob lynching and you think how good the ones that stole the country have had it by being plain thieves (Hugo Carvajal), drug trafficking (the Flores cousins), money launderers (Diego Salazar), and “playing dumb” blood suckers (Pastor Maldonado) or just a laundry list of corruption, scandals and a mind blowing plain ineptitude. The list is so long I can’t just manage it in my mind.

    Sorry for the rant…

  3. I have just thought of a good analogy to Venezuela’s ordeal: World War I. The “Great War” was as destructive and bloody as it was because it lasted so long. It lasted so long because it remained evenly contested. Neither side ever got strong enough to win, for years; neither side suffered so much as to give up. (Except Russia, and Russia did not actually give up till March 1918.)

    Venezuela’s ordeal is similar, in that it has been bad, but not bad enough to goad the people to break the political order. Chavismo clings to power while the damage accumulates gradually.

  4. Excellent article. Focusing on the suffering brings the failure home. I already forwarded the link to eight Venezuelans in the U.S. Kudos to Quico and Naim.

  5. I want to give kudos to Quico and Moses. Honestly, this is probably the best piece conveying the current disaster, along with its causes, in a manner that an average foreigner can easily digest and understand. It’s also short enough that asking people to read it is not intrusive.

    Good work.

  6. Agree as noted above, excellent article. It’s such a surreal situation in Venezuela I am unsure those who have not spent time there can really grasp what is happening, even reading this great article.I lived there so I know the reality. To me, it was always hard to comprehend how Pablo Escobar and his gang could hold the Colombian government hostage to comply with his demands. Kind of a similar situation in reverse with these narco thugs controlling the entire country.

  7. The article is very well written. The comments are, for the most part, disappointing, with much more space devoted to discussing the US than Venezuela.

    • I completely agree what a disappointment! It was a discussion on socialism vs capitalism. No analysis, no in-depth thoughts.

  8. As a journalistic piece this article is in tone content and devising SUPERB , Just seeing together the names of Moises Naim and Francisco is a knock out , but the story they tell and how they tell it is mesmerizing …., clearly its intended for the Atlantic reader , a very demanding bunch ……..Maybe for us Venezuelans its publication in the Atlantic doesnt say much , but the standards of the Atlantic are among the highest in US publishing and its place in the world of US and European publishing a very prominent one . Kudos to both for such excellent piece !! I am particularly moved at seeing Moises Naim take a hand at writing this piece , it shows how much he has big spot in his heart for this country that once he called home now that he is an established world wide figure , I am also thrilled at seeing Francisco’s name in an Atlantic article, not many lat am journalists have deserved that privilege !!

  9. It is an awesome article. Quico has always been a master.

    I understand that it is hard to transmit what Quico and Moises were able to transmit, but I wonder if one could not find even more freshness in ‘the debacle of what?’ Quico was the first serious person I ever saw wonder, writing that masterpiece in which he linked Chávez to Briceño Guerrero’s philosophical analysis of our corner of the world. And that W.E.I.R.D. article much later.

    I know it’s disheartening to keep working that after so much banal destruction, but I beseech y’all.

  10. Beautiful arcs. Chapeaux, Toro and Naím.
    Loved the inclusion of dramatic tangents to the vortex, highlighting the squandering of millions on an incompetent formula one driver (the boob, Pastor Maldonado) and on the nothing-to-show-for *investment* in some revolutionary concoction, if there even is one, by US activist, Danny Glover.

  11. Thank you for this commentary on the piece, Juan. It was very useful making me realize why I liked it so much in the first place, and it shows how to explain successfully what´s going on in Venezuela.

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