I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.

“Howl” by Allen Ginsberg

Cracking jokes about gruesome killings or people starving. Obsessively checking on loved ones, fearing something bad could have happened to them. Trying to calculate the risk every new person represents. Feeling numb and powerless, not being able to sleep at night, bursting into tears for no apparent reason, and telling no one about it.

This is our normal.

At least this is what I and many others have come to accept as “normal,” in a doomed attempt to retain some peace of mind.

The last few weeks, however, have been everything but normal. What was unthinkable a few weeks ago is happening now. The sheepish acceptance of chavismo’s latest step towards unrepentant and unashamed authoritarianism quickly morphed into a massive popular protest movement that nobody saw coming. I mean, who’s talking about political parties’ validación now? Or even about the OAS?

It feels risky, even reckless to allow yourself to imagine things might change. 2014 lives among us.  

And that’s when I feel it, buried deep inside. First, I tried to ignore it. Once I realize that it’s not a fleeting emotion, I savour it, curious to taste it after so long. But, in the end, I’m paralyzed with fear. You’re terrified because, like a virus, it’s growing and now won’t leave.

This is one of the most perverse ways Venezuela wrecks your mind. You end up asking yourself: Can I let myself do this? Can I feel hope?

I don’t have the answer. All I know is that it feels risky, even reckless to allow yourself to imagine things might change. 2014 lives among us.  

The Past is Here

“That was the moment I felt the proudest to be Venezuelan,” a friend of mine told me. Living as an illegal immigrant in Spain now, he participated in the protests in Maracay, took in all the tear gas, and went head-to-head with police officers in riot gear.

And he wasn’t alone. Almost half of my college acquaintances were involved, one way or another. If you couldn’t camp out for days, at least you showed up at the designated time, brought them water bottles and meals or took pictures and recorded videos to share later. You did your part.

“We are out there, doing something for Venezuela,” he said. “We’re not sitting comfortably, typing in front of a computer screen.”

But I didn’t. I wasn’t there.

I was at home, trying to follow the whole thing online or through Whatsapp, too afraid to feel hope, or to do anything. Part of me thought on joining them, face the oppression in the hopes of having the slight chance of building a new Venezuela.

Another part of me was more realistic: I’m not a fighter and have never been one. Slow, clumsy, overweight, and unathletic, I suspect would be pretty useless in case of emergency.

Nonetheless, I still remember the words of another friend of mine, an activist who is now studying Political Sciences in Chile, berating me for my attitude.

“We are out there, doing something for Venezuela,” he said. “We’re not sitting comfortably, typing in front of a computer screen.”

I was the other kind of Venezuelan —the cautious supporter of the cause. Those who, despite writing things on Facebook and Twitter, would use a mixture of cynicism and indifference to disengage, unconsciously following chavismo’s game of pretending everything was fine. I thought the whole thing would be over by the end of the week.

2014 broke the spirit of many in very different ways… A slow kind of bitterness lingered in the air. Many just wrote off Venezuela as a lost cause.

When I realized it wouldn’t be, I did my best to keep my mind focused on my job: writing pop culture articles, including film reviews. Two times a week I would go to a movie theater in a shopping mall in Las Delicias Avenue. A few blocks down the road where protests would take place. One time I watched 12 Years a Slave as the ruckus from the protestors clashing with the police filtered into the room.

As protests wore on, I started to think things would actually change. Chavismo was at its weakest point, and things in the country couldn’t get any worse. Or that was what my sweet, 2014 naive self, who could still afford to go to the movies, was thinking.

2014 broke the spirit of many in very different ways. One of my acquaintances from college spent almost two years in prison. A former professor of mine, an Air Force captain, was court-martialed for treason. A slow kind of bitterness lingered in the air. Many just wrote off Venezuela as a lost cause.

I escaped inwards. In the following months, I focused on writing about pop culture, to avoid thinking about much else. One day, the website I had been writing for couldn’t afford to pay us anymore.

Then I had nothing. No job, no goals, no will, no ambition. I would wake up around noon, have lunch for breakfast, and then go back to bed and just lay there, watching whatever was on TV or wasting my time online, usually spending hours researching something that caught my attention or just watching funny videos on YouTube.

life goes on, and so does Venezuela. As long there’s a country, there’s an opportunity.

“So, this is life,” I would think to myself every now and then, usually before going to bed just before dawn, thinking how I just wasted another day in my life.

Creative writing helped me manage part of my frustration. I took a course, which forced me to interact with people again. I even met my now very best friend, online.

It was a very slow recovery, but made me realize life goes on, and so does Venezuela. As long there’s a country, there’s an opportunity.

Too Heavy a Burden

And now, here we are –same crossroad, yet completely different. We have far more in our favor than back in 2014: a more focused opposition, committed to the street; the bitter aftertaste of the diálogo; and people who have been pushed one time too many and have nothing to lose.

Meanwhile, the government tries its best to make everything look normal, as usual. It is failing spectacularly at it, revealing itself weakened instead. From peddling back a TSJ decision to the shameful treatment Maduro received in San Felix weeks ago to Aristóbulo rambling about love tomatoes. I actually have become a fan of Maduro’s Lynchian vlogs. It’s a hypnotic mix of despair and delusion.

And yet… I can’t quite commit myself to feel hope. I just can’t.

God knows how many electoral loses I’ve cried, how sad it makes me to know all the people who have died and will never see the end of this, how powerless I feel seeing the future of so many children compromised just because some drug lord in olive green wanted a new condo in Miami for his mistress.

And all of this while they stuff their mouth with words like “peace,” “justice,” and “love”. While they threaten us, gaslight us, abuse us over and over until another status quo seems harder and harder to get.

So, excuse me if I don’t know if I will feel hopeful when something good finally happens.

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Wannabe writer, freelance journalist, college professor, political junkie, bibliophile, cinephile, semi-professional dilettante. José is locked in a constant battle to manage his time for all the things he's passionate about.

39 COMMENTS

  1. I heard from a preacher once about what was hope; he said: If you are hoping for rain and you are going out you better carry an umbrella. Otherwise your hope is futile.

    In Venezuela if one hopes for a change then he better works to make it happen.

    Hope is inside us as well as the determination to do our upmost.

  2. I don’t demean those who fight the good fight by keyboard-minds can be won, sometimes very important/influential ones. I don’t demean fear/loss of hope in your situation, for that could well be the norm of many innocents suffering the same injustices. I do think the lessons of history and the strategic inconvenience of a Castroite primary tumor on continental South America augur well for an end to your nightmare in the not too-far distant future….

    • Really? Venezuela is a security issue we can all agree about. The only nation that can do something may not be able….lets see

      • The results from doing nothing will be much worse in time than those from doing something. No nation far away will respect/fear a nation that can’t even control its much nearer national interests….

  3. I just can’t imagine how this changes without an all-out civil war. Even if Maduro gave up, the likes of Godgiven Hair and many others will not. The stakes are too high for them.

  4. If my calculations are correct, the opposition has about two years to become something very different.

    Hope dies when the Constituyente goes through. And it will go through.

    • Your calculations are all wrong. You can feel this is different. The country is financially finished. No-one including the vultures will loan the government even a dime. Hyper-Inflation is but a minute away. There is no food, no medicine, and no jobs. King Maduro has no clothes – No one but maybe 10% hardcore chavistas believe a word he says. Another 15%, follow him for his CLAP SCRAPs, and red t-shirt handouts. Last year, 75% were against him – which wa bad enough. Now the fool is doubling down on Bolivarian BS with a topping of marxism.
      The people have FINALLY had enough. It will not be stopped. More deaths, More repression, will only ignite the low burn that is now happening.
      I argued a few time in the last 6 months, that deaths were needed to occur for change, as Venezuelan born blood was the necessary ingredient. MUD and the elite wanted to talk. They were right to set the stage for reason, and to stand by the constitution. But events are now beyond there control.
      Watch out. The next few months, I believe will be a bloody mess.

      July 5th is Independence Day. It may, just be Maduro last.

        • I would have to agree with Fred.

          It is not about what normal metrics tell you will topple the government.

          It is about what a small group of people need to have to continue to be in power.

          Look at the Cuban example. 50+ 60+ I don’t know how many years, and they are still there.

          To put it bluntly, as long as those in power have their privileges and ways to kill those who oppose them, they are not going anywhere.

          Regardless of their sins.

  5. Excellent emotional piece.
    My response has been outrage !! (Supreme Arrechera)
    Even though I left Venezuela in 1995 these events have motivated me enormously to fight until freedom, democracy and justice are restored. I would do anything under my power to see Maduro and his cronies face justice for the rest of their life. We won’t allow a group of criminals to hijack our lives.
    Enough is enough.!!!!

  6. You’re at a place most of us get to sooner or later. What you are experiencing can be called many things but it is simply powerlessness. The answer is so simple but the hardest thing many of us will ever do – simply let God do for you what you have been unable to do for yourself. Advice that has kept countless numbers of addicts and alcoholics alive and prospering. This works for everyone, I trust you will soon again live in the type of Venezuela you love. I lived there in the 70’s and biggest problem I had was getting used to all the drivers pounding on their car doors.

  7. At the risk of sounding cheesy to no end, I have to say that listening to this little video touches a nerve in me, because, as a lot of other venezuelans, I’ve become quite fearful of feeling hopeful about the country’s situation.

    https://youtu.be/nQ8fPgcZKvo

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQ8fPgcZKvo

    “Hold on to hope, it will not abandon you.”

    “Evil will thrive onto those who fall into despair”

    “But despair cannot defeat the power of hope.”

    “Hope is the voice that will never be silent.”

    “Hope is the stream that fills the wells of courage.”

    “Hope is the light in the darkness.”

    And in spanish, for the latin-american audience:

  8. Pretty accurate description of what 2014 did to a lot of us. The slowdown of the protests came just a couple of months before my departure date. I was disillusioned but hoped that protests would kick back up. After visiting a few times in 2015 and seeing nothing but a couple of guarimbas here and there, I knew there was not much to hope for in terms of political change. That last time I crossed the Cruz Diez floor in Maiquetia was with a much heavier step. I even had to take a break from the news of Venezuela for a while.
    Fast forward to today and my new European friends excitedly call me after they see the news reports to say “This is it, isn’t it? It’s finally happening! The government can’t possibly survive these protests much longer! It has to call for elections soon!”. My hesitation to agree with those statements severely confuses them, every time.

  9. I get the exact same thing – except (I think, I can’t assume) mine is linked to lifelong depression. I’m terribly unathletic and have slow reflexes and tend to freeze in fear, so never wanted to venture into protests while I lived there – also my friends didn’t protest (not beyond marching occasionally anyway) and being on the spectrum and with depression makes it hard to go outside to just protest with random people. It’s just not my place.
    Living abroad I have now earned my doctorate and am working in research, and I dream of the day when I can go back and use what I have learned to help rebuild. I believe we all have our way and time to shine and contribute to the reconstruction of our country. It just isn’t all the same – and that is to be respected.

    As to feeling hopeful, I’ve never felt that myself anyway so no idea what it’s like. I find that a healthy scepticism keeps rock hard disappointment at bay.

  10. Hope is what has carried the human spirit since the dawn of time.

    Never forgot that we are all interconnected in one way or another. Be it as humans, countrymen, specs of dust that flow through the universe. Every single grain of sand is important.

    I admire your confession and the guts to admit it.

    I challenge you to keep putting your grain of sand to the cause. (I’m sure you have contributed in some shape or form and will continue to do so)

  11. “One time I watched 12 Years a Slave as the ruckus from the protestors clashing with the police filtered into the room.”

    I gather from your words that you kept watching the movie while the protestors were clashing with the police.

    The sad truth is that by doing nothing you empowered the government.

    Is not your “fear to hope” actually your fear to take a stand? Do you want to keep on watching moves while others fight for you?

    • I think that the point is a bit that we all have different ways to battle this government. Jose’s emotions kept him from being able to engage with the resistance, and his own way of being (“slow, clumsy, overweight, and unathletic”) prevented him from joining protests.

      He may have been frightened and by his own admission unwittingly buying into government’s narrative of pretending that ‘everything is fine’, but that’s not a reason to berate him right now. Right now he’s writing and contributing to the cause in his own way, with the skills that he has.

      That those of us who don’t have the skills and the bravado to go outside and physically battle, or the mental resilience and drive to contribute to that same physical battle, is something that I think should be respected. Otherwise lots of the people who even run this website would be useless to us – Toro to begin with, he doesn’t live in Venezuela and he’s just comfortably sitting in front of a computer. Doesn’t make his hard work any less worthy as far as I’m concerned, in fact it is very important work.

      Point is: if Venezuela ‘needs us all’, it can’t be so we can all go and do the same job and make those who can’t do it for whatever reason feel unworthy, unpatriotic and shit. It has to be so that everyone can do what they can, whatever that is, so long as it is for the good of the country.

      And Jose, apologies if I have somehow missed the point of your article.

    • Usually people will try to carry on with their “normal lives” even in the middle of a bloody dictatorship as long as possible.

  12. The moment your friend was most proud to be a venezuelan was when he was fighting other venezuelans that were paid by other venezuelans which in turn were elected by other venezuelans which when they elected them said it was mostly because they hated another group of venezuelans.
    Nothing good will ever happen. This country was doomed from the start.

    • What a stupid comment this was. By your definition I suppose that every country that’s ever gone through a civil war has been “doomed from the start”.

      We are all doomed people!!!! Stop fighting and lay down to die!!!! Seriously….

  13. Of course, if you don’ t fight, you will never have any hope. Hope is only for those who fight. They earn it.

    I left Venezuela when Leonardo Padron called Altamira protesters illiterate. That did it for me. Even now, when someone mentions Fernando Mires or Luis Vicente León, I feel like throwing up. Everything they say has the impact of a puputov for me. That’ s how I feel about the MUD, too. But right now, I am regretting that I left, because I would like to fight like I did in 2014. I am proud of the people. We resisted even when our own leaders betrayed us. So yes, if we win, I will say that we are the greatest people ever, without any doubt.

  14. Man, if you are in Venezuela, you are doing already much more than most of us. I left just when Chávez was elected, didnt stay to see what it was clear to me was coming, and here I’m, almost 20 years later and I’m still obsessing over all the news, and feeling a bit of guilt and shame.

    Keep safe. Help in any way you can.

  15. Jose,
    This a brutally honest and moving essay.
    I have thought about trying to urge you to never give up hope without all of the cliches that generally come to mind. I can empathize with your situation but not fully understand how terrible conditions are as I am in America.
    When you feel like you have no control over your circumstances and don’t see a positive change in the future, it is easy to fall into despair.
    The suffering of the Venezuelan people and the courage they have shown in the face of armed criminals that are supporting this terrorist regime, should give you hope for the future.
    There is an old story that I remember hearing as a child. A king once pondered what saying or advice would survive the ages. He asked the wisest men in his kingdom to advise him and after much thought and deliberation, they returned to him with this simple line.
    “This too shall pass”
    No man, no regime, no dynasty will last eternally in this world. Every single one of them will change.
    As our societies have become more and more interconnected, tyrants have had a much harder time staying in power. The seizure of the media no longer stops the truth from getting into and out of these oppressive societies. People of other nations demand that their politicians act in support of freedom. Institutions are publicly shamed into divesting their investments in these countries. International pressure has been successful in defeating tyrannical regimes throughout the world.
    Sometimes the struggle is much longer than anyone would like. A day under the rule of a tyrant is one day too long. Nelson Mandela was jailed for years and never gave up hope. The African slaves in the US sung about the freedom that Heaven would bring them. Their faith kept the slave masters from being able to break their spirits, no matter how brutal their lives were.
    Have faith. Have faith in your God, that he will protect you. Have faith that he will give you the courage to confront your abusers. Remember when someone else needs help, God is using you to answer their prayers. Be honored that he chose you to help and never see it as a burden.
    Have faith that the next generation will oppose this dictatorship until it falls. The students that have only known Chavismo and desire something better are in the front lines of this battle every day. They can not be scared away with tear gas, rubber bullets and beatings. Bloodied and bruised they return with more determination to free Venezuela every day. No amount of brutality will ever extinguish their desire for self determination.
    Have faith. Have hope. Be confident that the Maduro regime and Chavismo will pass into the dustbin of history. Once again you will live in a Venezuela that is free, safe and prosperous.
    Do all you can to resist. The smallest good deed is better than the grandest good intention. Do whatever possible to help your neighbors and friends that collectively will depose this unlawful band of criminals that is occupying your country.
    For we all know: This too shall pass.

  16. Dont worry, the students have a secret weapon: el PUPUTOV.

    This will change the momentum of the battle. I was thinking that Venezuelan students would rise to the challenge and be good at something other than drinking, partying and screwing. I was thinking they would build a drone and take down the government drone, or they would use guerrilla tactics and hackers to surgically strike at the heart of Chavismo. That is, students who use their brains to topple these red baboons.

    This time they have one upped themselves. I really hope this new strategy of throwing excrement bombs at the colectivos and the GN will change the tide of battle. If they are successful, this will be the “Brown Revolution”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQeeD7eeoNo

    Viva Venezuela! Viva los estudiantes! Viva el Commando del Mojones!

    • Niven’s Law: Never throw dog shit at a man with a rifle.
      Pournelle’s Corollary to Niven’s Law: Never stand next to a man throwing dog shit at a man with a rifle.

      The only things I can guarantee the “Puputov” will generate initially is a mess on the streets and a lot of pissed-off men with rifles. That may result in martyrs for the other side, but then what?

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