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.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.
Previous articleChavista soviets
Next articleMérida Escalates
Freelance journalist, speculative fiction writer, college professor, political junkie, lover of books and movies and, semi-professional dilettante. José has written for NPR's Latino USA, Americas Quarterly, Into and ViceVersa Magazine.