“I always feel we’ve been really hard on our fathers’ generation,” Carlos tells me, draining the last from a glass of whiskey, the ice still clanking in that familiar way.

This intrigues me.

“How do you mean?” I ask.

It’s not the kind of conversation you have before you’re deep into that third or fourth drink.

“Well, think about it,” he says, reaching out for the bottle. “Guys like you, me, in our early forties now, this was supposed to be our time.”

It’s not the kind of conversation you have before you’re deep into that third or fourth drink.

“If things had gone the way we always figured they would go when we were kids, the way they were supposed to go, we’be be reaching upper management now, climbing up from vice-ministerial rank to ministerial, eying that spot in the CEN, whatever. That’s what they raised us to do, right? But we lost all that. They lost that for us, they let these shitheads grab power and destroy the country.”

It’s a dramatically politically incorrect little riff, but also honest in a way we often don’t get to be in the public sphere.

Carlos went to the same elite school I went to: Los Arcos. We grew up around the same kind of people — for him in La Lagunita, for me in El Country. We both ended up having to get out, reluctantly. He’s doing great in the U.S.: brilliantly educated and just brilliant, he has a fantastic job for a household-name company that pays a ton of money. It’s hard to feel sorry for him —and to be sure, he’s not the complaining type. But there’s an awareness of loss here that’s not a complaint. More like the bitter recognition of an uncomfortable fact.

“It’s like, if they’d just taken better care of the country, if that generation had just done better, if they’d led with a little bit more competence and, marico, just awareness of the stakes…none of this needed to happen.”

His wistfulness mixes genuine horror at what’s happened to regular Venezuelans with regret over the social position he’ll now never get to hold. Married with kids who are way more gringo than they’ll ever be Venezuelan, he’s gradually made his peace with the thought that he never gets to go back…and neither do they.

I think back on my own upbringing, take another sip, and find myself hating myself for understanding him so completely. I know each family is different. I know my own experience is partial. I know not all of the fourth republic elite was like this. But I also know what I remember.

I remember the insouciance with which our class threw money around back in the 80s, when the generation-long downturn that brought the country to chavismo’s hands had just begun to take hold but before it had migrated high enough the socio-economic ladder to touch us.

I remember the clubby sense of unassailable privilege.

I remember the piñatas where each kid turned up with his/her own cargadora like something out of some tropical pre-k Gosford Park. I remember the trips abroad, sometimes on Viasa, other times on PanAm, which we used to see as a kind of derecho adquirido. I remember the multiple maids, the chauffeurs, the whole Venezuela Saudita lifestyle in its immense frivolity and utter blindness to its own social context.

Nobody has to tell me about this stuff: I lived it. I remember it, and I shudder.

“Chamo, my dad used to get a U.S. visa for the maid when we went stateside so someone would be there to take care of the kids during the trip…¿tú te quieres imaginar?”

He chuckles. He knows exactly what I’m talking about.

“Of course people resented the way they lived,” I tell Carlos. “Shit, I look back on it and I resent the way they lived…and I was one of them!”

La generación de nuestros papás fucked the country up to the point where a thing like Chávez was inevitable,” he says. “How can you not hate them for it at least a little bit?”

It’s a funny phrase, la generación de nuestros papás. You could gloss it either as our parents’ generation or our fathers’ generation, but if I’m honest I know he means our fathers: in the macho-dominated Venezuela of our childhood, there’s no question who was doing the fucking up.

I think back on the web of cosy family and clan relationships that got my own dad the cush contracts that generated the easy dollars that funded that insane lifestyle. His own business was construction —social housing, to be specific. He’d married the daughter of a director and key shareholder in the country’s biggest bank, so financing wasn’t a problem. And the interés social apartments he was building attracted fat petrodollar subsidies: política habitacional and all that.

Without much risk on either the financing or the customer side, he barely broke a sweat on his way to making tons of money. I suppose when all was said and done there were some shiny new affordable housing units to show for it, but I also know the balance between risk and reward he faced were obscene.

“Of course people resented the way they lived,” I tell Carlos. “Shit, I look back on it and I resent the way they lived…and I was one of them!”

He laughs.

Later that night, after I’ve put Carlos on a Uber back to his hotel, I stagger back into my kids’ room and watch them sleep for a few minutes. I wonder what Venezuela can ever really mean to them.

Now five and three, they’ve never been there.

I keep telling them they’re exactly as Venezuelan as they are Canadian, but I know I say it more to convince myself than them. Other than the mythical springhead of the arepa, they know Venezuela mostly as a place that generates stress for dad, whose job involves writing about it somehow.

I suppose White Russians faced something like this this sometime in the 1920s or 30s, Cubans in the 70s or 80s, and now, well now it’s our turn. The rational, thinking part of me knows they’re basically two little Canadians, that the odds are stacked overwhelmingly against them ever feeling Venezuela like their own. But I find it hard not to cry at the thought. And I find it hard not to rage all over again against la generación de nuestros papás, now not just for what they took from me, but for what they took from them.

22 COMMENTS

  1. As a father living roughly during the same period Quico describes, with a son in Los Arcos and a house in La Lagunita, as a oil industry executive, I remember the story somewhat differently. I remember it as a rather successful story of a Venezuelan born and raised in the middle middle class, who was given by his parents the opportunity to get an education and once he got it worked hard to get ahead and did get to the very top of his industry. During this time I often saw the type of fathers Quico describes but they were around me, I did not belong in that group, a group which – by the way – has always exIsted, next to Gomez or PJ or to Lusinchi or Herrera or Chavez or Maduro, next to the seat of political power, doing deals in lunches that lasted five or more hours and ended at night, after three or four bottles of whisky had been consumed. I like to think that, in parallel to this group of nation-fucking fathers Quico describes there was another, large group of hard-working fathers, honest and dedicated to improve Venezuela’s society and to st a good example to their sons and daughters. I sincerely hope my son would not be talking about me the way Quico’s friends talk about theirs.

    • Kico isn’t talking about the many dirt-poor peasants who came to the city, worked their a***s out and climbed up to a middle class status.
      Kico is referring to his dad’s generation of masters of the valley, same-rich-guys-of-always, those who passed from developing-world-wealthy to first-world-wealthy through protectionism, who sent their kinds abroad to elite schools on government scholarships they didn’t need (they could Eqsily afford them), who multiplied their easy-made money with currency control schemes, the same guys who fought with everything they had against a free market economy and ended up surrendering paradise to a bunch of resented thugs in the hope that these malandros would help them cement the protectionist state that made the super-wealthy, keep the dreaded competition away from their doorstep, and local consumers their hostages.
      Those guys are the generation most deserving of their own children’s hate that ever existed… Even the nazis really believed that what they were doing was ultimately right, but this guys knew what they were doing was sinverguenzura of the worst kind.
      Kico is spot on placing the responsibility where it is. It was not the masses who put chavismo in power, but those who enabled and made it politically viable, by giving its logic a justification (more actively than they themselves would like to admit 20-30 years later) but I think he is somewhat naïve… I feel he’s accusing his dad’s generation of being insensitive to the needs of the poor, but he simply forgets that they actually made a great effort to destroy anyone with a reasonable idea of how to make Venezuela a modern, free economy and open oportunities when the petrostate model was clearly heading to disaster.

      • I have always admired the generation of Venezuelans who got educated abroad and returned to their country around the 1960s. They built many of the institutions in their desire to create a better future for all.

      • Gosh, Cry me a river. How at the same time that you cry for social justice end up doing a call to end the crony capitalism that socialism always ends up at? It’s an insane exercise at doublespeak that always amuse me. That generation at the same time enjoyed the fruits of the bonanza that was brought about by the socialist policies of AD, COPEI, URD and the other socialists. The problem of Venezuela was the lack of freedom always pure and simple.

  2. Happy father’s Day Francisco
    Ronald Reagan used to say that democracy is always one generation away from extinction.
    This isn’t just the fault of your father’s generation.
    Interestingly the UN’s list of countries with the highest crime / murder rates listed the top 10 as Latin American or Caribbean countries.
    I have friends in Brazil, Venezuela and Honduras. I have asked all of them why their countries have so much political turmoil, corruption and chaos.
    None of them seem to take the question seriously. Political instability has worked its way into the Latin American culture.
    People that visit the tourist areas or the cruise ports rarely see and appreciate the level of poverty that is widespread throughout the region.
    Buying votes with public funds always seems to end in corruption.
    I believe that the true recipe to reducing poverty is economic expansion. This will certainly make some people wealthy.
    Income inequality isn’t the issue. Rather than reallocating pieces of the pie, making a bigger pie is the solution. Then the same slice becomes larger.
    The poor would not have been any better off if you were also poor.
    Bill gates, Steve Jobs or any other wealthy American did not harm the poor by being rich.
    The opposite occurred. The tech boom created jobs and reduced the cost of many consumer goods. The big TV’s, cell phones and computers all were greatly reduced in price which made them affordable to those of lower affluence.

    • Venezuelan elites are quite different from North American elites. They are economically liberal (center-left) and socially ultra-conservative.
      The generation of elite Venezuelans Kico writes about did everything in their power to prevent Venezuela from becoming a free market economy (which is the only way to make the pie bigger).
      They multiplied their wealth under a protectionist mega-petro-state and when the model was clearly heading to collapse, they refused to make way to changes. This guys would only allow the pie to grow if it was guaranteed that it would continue to belong to them, keeping competition out and away from their doorstep, in a country they have always considered their personal property, and its citizens their serfs… instead they decided to blame everything squarely on corruption (which is an inevitable by-product of protectionism) and came to the brilliant conclusion that what the model needed was a revamp, with a stronger leader and “more discipline”, you know, something like a nationalist, military leader… The rest is history.

      • The people at the top of the North American economic and political food chain are rent seekers. Quite literally in some cases. The people who drive major policy decisions are working on their behalf. With that has come economic and political instability. 2008 gave us MAGA.

        The notion of the North American businessman bravely competing in open markets on the basis of ability and the quality of his product which will enrich and improve the world is not a reflection of reality. He has been brought low by slow growth, hubris, being invested and distracted in nonsensical culture wars, nonsensical real wars, fear, an inability to change, and so now he is looking no further than to weaken the regulator over his particular little corner of the world in order to squeeze out a few more bucks.

        The first moves by the new administration in Washington were not to open up new markets for great American products. One was to eliminate rules on reporting payments by private companies to foreign governments, and another was to call for a commission to look into non existent voter fraud of allegedly third world proportions. That may not be a big deal in the great scheme of things but the two actions are symptomatic of a shift that is going on right now, apparently.

        If North America were ever in a different category than the other Americas, it isn’t any more.

        • The article was about the generation of Venezuelan papas of the 60 and 70, and what and how their actions, have, or may have caused the destruction of Venezuela today.

          Then Canuck, you take that and bash America, and specifically the current administration. Really ??? WTF

          What is more, you end with an “if … ever, then it is not any more” piece of dribble.

          So, here is my take on the 250 year model, of that “North American” you so despise.

          240 years ago, some amazing “Americans” of mostly european birth, created the US Constitution, which as well, was the by-product of
          many great thinkers of the past, mixed in to the uniquely American Experience of the time.

          The result, was a set of rules, and laws, that were written down on some parchment. Thats it. Some dumb piece of paper, that could be pissed on, burned, or lacquer and ignored. Words are words.

          But those Amazing “Americans” did something that had never been done before. They agreed to follow those rules, and the most amazing of all, there ancestors did as well to this day.

          That Constitution, has been changed, and modified. The government that derived from it, has been an exceptional model, that has literally changed the world for good. The world is maybe 50% Democratic, and 80% Capitalist, up from 0%.

          Yes, there has been corruption at times, and many errors in judgement, political fighting, assassinations, and a civil war, but the people of the world for the most part have incredible freedoms, and opportunities that did not exist

          Today, many can argue that “Better Constitutions have been created, and even signed”. I do not know, but it seems reasonable to believe.

          Whether fact or not, the most important (again) aspect of our Constitution is the fact that it is followed, that the institutions created, in its shadow have checks and balances, and balances and checks, so that WHEN the corruption occurs, it eventually is expelled.

          What my interpretation of Quitos letter, was that his parents generation was like any American or European parents of the same class. Probably, hard working, capitalist, family oriented, modern, etc.

          VZ like the USA is a land of immigrants, a land of great beauty, and has a bounty of natural resources, that few countries possess.

          So why the destruction?

          Crudely, they and their fathers, pee’d on their Constitution. They did not follow it when it suited them.

          Am I wrong?

  3. tenía tiempo sin leer algo que me moviera tanto. Increíble reflexión, Quico. Hay que reconocer nuestro rol en como desencadenó todo esto.

  4. Francisco, although I find your argument compelling and as usual well written, I think is unfair to blame your father, let alone a generation. Blame, as any lawyer will tell you, is wholly personal. There is no doubt that corruption was rampant, and easy money was made, but there was also some hard work going on. Yours is a newer version of blaming the Spanish conquistadores for all of our ills.
    Your father did not do such a bad job when I see what you write, so give him some credit.

    You remind me of Mike Rutherford’s song:

    The Living Years
    Mike + The Mechanics

    Every generation
    Blames the one before
    And all of their frustrations
    Come beating on your door

    I know that I’m a prisoner
    To all my Father held so dear
    I know that I’m a hostage
    To all his hopes and fears
    I just wish I could have told him in the living years

    Oh, crumpled bits of paper
    Filled with imperfect thought
    Stilted conversations
    I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got

    You say you just don’t see it
    He says it’s perfect sense
    You just can’t get agreement
    In this present tense
    We all talk a different language
    Talking in defence

    Say it loud (say it loud), say it clear (oh say it clear)
    You can listen as well as you hear
    It’s too late (it’s too late) when we die (oh when we die)
    To admit we don’t see eye to eye

    So we open up a quarrel
    Between the present and the past
    We only sacrifice the future
    It’s the bitterness that lasts

    So don’t yield to the fortunes
    You sometimes see as fate
    It may have a new perspective
    On a different day
    And if you don’t give up, and don’t give in
    You may just be okay

    So say it loud, say it clear (oh say it clear)
    You can listen as well as you hear
    Because it’s too late, it’s too late (it’s too late) when we die (oh when we die)
    To admit we don’t see eye to eye

    I wasn’t there that morning
    When my Father passed away
    I didn’t get to tell him
    All the things I had to say

    I think I caught his spirit
    Later that same year
    I’m sure I heard his echo
    In my baby’s new born tears
    I just wish I could have told him in the living years

    Say it loud, say it clear (oh say it clear)
    You can listen as well as you hear
    It’s too late (it’s too late) when we die (it’s too late when we die)
    To admit we don’t see eye to eye

    So say it, say it, say it loud (say it loud)
    Say it clear (come on say it clear)

    Written by B.A. Robertson, Mike Rutherford (gb) • Copyright © Peermusic Publishing, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Imagem Music Inc

  5. I have a feeling the same conversation will be had in the context of global warming a few generations from now. Some actively polluted in large quantities, others worked hard to prevent climate change, others just drove their SUVs, but in the end, the indisputable fact is that we gave something to our kids that was worst off than how we received it ourselves.

  6. When I read this I immediately thought: John Le Carre’s A Perfect Spy. Le Carre’s father (at least, in his book) got rich off the war effort in England. He of a generation that did so, with varying degrees of English respectability (which is the best respectability). He became the father of a son who lived two lives at the same time: the idealist and the betrayer, the blue blood and the revolutionary, the high brow sensibility and the scrapper. It is the foundational quality of the spy, apparently, but also of a certain kind of compelling writer: those who are inside and outside at the same time.

    The joke in this piece about resentment is hilarious and profound.

  7. I see it as quico. Not because we were in the in, but rather in the out. Our family was always an outsider to the inside on values I guess. We saw what went on and although professionals and state employees some, did not participate of the party/ turned rave/ turned orgy of the clientelar petro state.
    Our fathers generation! That’s where is at! However it is our generation ( we still can) and our children’s which is showing the way! Chamos como neumar, and los chamos vinotinto U20, who will conquer the future they deserve!
    Quico, your writing and leadership for this blog allows you to claim it too! You all are part of the solution, happy Father’s Day and happy 150th as well!

  8. I saw it from another perspective, a gringo who grew up with my feet in both Lartio and Yankee cultures. Actually, here in Southern California the two cultures are so intermingled it’s impossible to pull them apart.

    However my wife grew up in El Tigre and and the separation between the ricos Quico describes, and the have-nots down in the El Tigre barios (there must be thousands like it across Venezuela) was so wide and the sheer number of have-nots so high, that resentment ran deep as the ocean.

    Chavismo was the blowback for leaving most of the population behind. It would have taken a true visionary to see this coming and to realize the solution was to slowly but surly pull the bottom up, and dissolve the resentment. But no sustained effort was made in that direction so when the have-nots finally had a say in things, their solution was to pull the top down, to pillage, scam and loot just as the ricos once did.

    And now the have-nots are no more willing to give up the little they have then the ricos were when the tide changed. Of course market forces are forcing a shift that no one knows how to negotiate. And soon they’ll be doing so, or trying to, with no money.

    Fact is, equality cannot be enforced. But when the opposite is state policy, when the pie is horded by the few, one day it is likely to vanish altogether.

  9. Quico, thanks for the thought-provoking piece and for all the good work you do. However, I think you assign blame a little too broadly and, at the same time, not broadly enough.

    Many of the executives, industrialists, lawyers and doctors who comprised Venezuela’s elite in the generation that preceded Chávez were honest hard working men who deserved their success and deserved to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Were even some of the good ones socially insensitive and spendthrift? Sure. But, the great majority of them were not members of the corrupt class that deserves the true blame for creating the conditions that led to Chávez. Those stole tens of billions from government coffers and couldn’t have cared less about public service, focusing instead on lining their pockets at the people’s expense.

    But even the corrupt class does not deserve all the blame. The Venezuelan voters of all classes who voted for Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1988 share in the responsibility. They chose to reelect a man who had led a kleptocracy in the 70s. They preferred to remember the freak riches Venezuela enjoyed during his first term thanks to the Arab Oil Embargo, than to recall the astonishing corruption of the time. Sadly, they proved true the adage that “people get the leaders they deserve.”

    By the way, I’m a Los Arcos grad and former CCC member.

  10. Our fathers generation definitely failed on two accounts: it exploited the petro-estate as if there was no tomorrow (in a sadly perfect example of a self-fulfilling prophecy) and disregarded politics and civic duty as someone else’s problem, not theirs. Just remember how their own parents generation was significantly more involved in party politics and gave us basically every president in the modern era bar Chávez and Maduro (the only two presidents from our parents generation!). Having said all of this, our generation is no less responsible for this mess (I’m 43 as I write this). We were the last generation that received an education that allowed us to integrate in any functioning economy of our choice. We were the last ones that were taught by academics running away in the post war and from both European and latinoamerican totalitarian regimes. They gave us an pretty decent education that in many cases we used to run away and find jobs in other countries. The “generación del 17” was never that lucky: learning foreign languages from non-native speakers, never lucky enough to have had met those crazy Russians, Polish or Spanish professors that taught us only 20 years ago. I could go on for pages with this, but I’ll close saying that this whole intergenerational “hate” (however mild) adds to the other hates that el chavismo left the country as their legacy: political, social, racial, educational….

  11. Every man has four lives , an inner life , that composed of his innermost thoughts, feelings , ambitions,,,,,a personai life made up of his dealings with his parents wife children parents , sibling closest friends and relatives , a social life made up of his contacts and relationships with the people he works with or relates to and finally a public or civic life made up of the things he does at a political or civic level , for most people ( and by cultural design) the last life is the one which claims the least time and responsability , the one men one vote rule , limits quite a bit the political life of people who are now endowed with political gifts ambitions conections….

    When I look at the life my father led and the way he raised us his kids and the kind of people we turned out to be I can find no fault in how he did these things , he was decent and honourable in all the things he did , and if all people in our generation would have turned out as we did ….we would be different country , closer to normal ideals …..I can say the same thing for myself and for my children . I dont take blame for the life others chose to have even if they did not correspond to my ideals , we were a free country and no one would tolerate me telling them how they should live…

    We were born into a world not of our making , with its own collective virtues and vices , with its own mediocrhe customs and random heroisms , democracy was a system were people who were interested in politics might think of changing and challenging the values of the world we inherited , but not everyone got invited to that ball , the rules in the ball also were not that helpful because people dont understand the factors that contribute to their fate until its too late …….

    I saw what was happening when Chavez became the darling of the common people , I knew what the outcome might be , but even if I exprssed my opinion and tried to stopp him nobody paid any attention to me, I think he was the catalizer of our national ruin and that even if the world we inherited was full of imperfections it would never turn out as bad as chavez made it …..but do I take blame for the result ….not one bit . Im no political demigurge nor ever prtnded to be…

    What I did was personally prepare for what was coming and that I did quite well , that can benefit my family and myself but not the rest , I am deeply sorry at how things have turned out would do anything to help but I dont feel guilt at what happened ……I m not good at finding moral sattisfaction in groveling at my guilt …….50% of the time haphazard circumstance will decide our fate , and the other 50% of the time my own competence at looking out for myself and my own ……..

    Trying to do the best for our country is a responsablity but not because we or our parent are personally guilty of anything ….

  12. Too harsh Quico.

    Your Dad just took advantage of the social capital he inherited. He could have been a playboy instead.

    The pattern of privilege that comes from going to the right school and knowing the right people repeats itself the world over. It is not because of an exclusionary mentality but the network of people you know and trust. As you described, if you grow with someone, you really know him.

    Turn it around here in the US. Do you want to be a Tech executive? Then you go to Stanford. Want to be in finance? U Penn. Want to buy a professional baseball team, make sure you are born in the Bush family like W.

    As the add said ‘don’t hate me because I’m beautiful’. Change it to “don’t hate me because I am well connected”.

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