Maybe foreigners and recent observers of our spectacular mess aren’t aware that, alongside its horrid indicators the measurable dimension of the disaster Venezuela has a serious case of national self-hatred as well.

It may not be evident at first sight. Many Venezuelans are prone to respond with the primal, basic patriotic reflex: Lo nuestro es lo mejor, con Venezuela no te metas, etc. But in everyday life in the ways that many of us are taught since childhood to deal with each other, in the words we use about the rest, in the images and ideas with which we refer to the masses we reveal a society that despites itself.

We don’t trust anybody, unless it is someone we know very well. Actually, our warmth and joviality are often a thin façade over an intense state of alert, one which tends to give way to a disposition to harm: break that crust of smiles and hermanoqueridos with anything perceived as an aggression, and you’ll see how we can go from 0 to 100 insults per minute faster than a Lamborghini.    

We used to tell old jokes built around the trope of the Venezuelan as trickster or idiot: an American, a German and a Venezuelan share an elevator; the first two behave in a rational and civil way, the third one closes the story with a comic display of stupidity. We share a long, solid history of prejudice with many postcolonial nations that survived the 19th and 20th centuries. You see it in both an illustrated form the sour motif of civilización vs. barbarie, source of frustration for intellectuals and of pretexts to autocrats and in our tendency to nod approvingly at anyone complaining about the absence of politeness inside a bus or any guerrero del teclado tweeting his repulsion for Henrique Capriles’s promenades in the slums.

An American, a German and a Venezuelan share an elevator; the first two behave in a rational and civil way, the third one closes the story with a comic display of stupidity.

You could trace the ancestry of this disdain and hopelessness about the capacities of the common Venezuelans way back; from Miranda’s bochinche, puro bochinche  final curse; to travel diaries by Europeans like Carl Appun, a naturalist outraged by the fact that no one in the Guayana jungle had a clock; and to the thesis by Laureano Vallenilla Lanz and his son, who wrote that only a gendarme necesario could rule over such an uncivilized people, a thesis that became the ideological façade to the 27-years dictatorship of general Juan Vicente Gómez as well as the 8-years regime of general Marcos Pérez Jiménez.

More recently, you can read the essays of historians like Elías Pino Iturrieta or Inés Quintero on the Apartheid system that was Colonial Venezuela, when the multitud promiscual of non-whites was the subject of permanent abuse. You can turn to the oeuvre of Germán Carrera Damas and learn how mutual hatred drove the spears and machetes of the ethnic cleansings of 1814, or you can take a look at the essays of Petare-based priest and researcher Alejandro Moreno Olmedo to understand how the typical Venezuelan family is a tribe eternally eying outsiders as potential enemies.

The polarization that took over the nation has been the perfect vicious circle for the ancient forces of mistrust: while Chávez was disregarded by many as a leader, due to his origins and physical features, and his followers labeled as a primitive mob of mendicant naïfs, chavismo learned quickly to feast on all those prejudices to ignite the bonfires of fanaticism, and to exploit the nihilism of those eager to loot the public treasury or just to lord some power over fellow citizens, whether as Cadivi clerks, CLAP coordinators, or national guardsmen.

The traditional motto of the criollo opportunist, a mí que no me den sino que me pongan donde haiga, morphed during the Chávez and Maduro decades into an extended certainty: we are a people corrupted on the core, unable and unwilling to live by any moral standards. Not a country, but a mining camp, as the playwright Cabrujas prophesied in the 80s; a horde, not a society, as the behavior of almost all forces us now, and again, to think.   

The struggles of recent times can fold neatly into the idea that Venezuelans are not only thieves but also savages: the discourse against the multitud promiscual is back with renewed virulence. Those thousands who have no option but to spend their days and nights in line for food in streets with no public toilets are called animals defecating on the sidewalks like donkeys. Those men, women and children that, in front of a cellphone camera, killed an entire shipment of livestock from an overturned truck in the countryside, were instantly classified, by the viewers in the cities who haven’t experienced that kind of eternal hunger, as prehistoric hominids, the proof that este país no tiene remedio.

Not a country, but a mining camp, as the playwright Cabrujas prophesied in the 80s; a horde, not a society, as the behavior of almost all forces us now, and again, to think.  

In this Inquisition court that the social networks tend to be nowadays, not many wait a second before posting to wonder if the Danish, the Singaporeans, or the Americans would have a different conduct if they were facing the conditions under which the majority of Venezuelans live in 2017. It’s easier to let three centuries of self-hatred kick in.

And then, something happened. On July 16, 2017.

The consulta popular is, for me, a crack in the ice no less astonishing than that one just opened up in Antarctica. A different note in the exhausted chorus of loathing. A streak of light running across the black surface of Venezuelans’ understanding of ourselves.

What thousands of people did last Sunday revealed, on an unprecedented scale, the existence of a collective set of skills developed or rediscovered over so many years of challenging normality and opposition activism. Networks woven via Whatsapp to find and send medicine or scarce supplies became channels to organize volunteering and share the proceedings of the plebiscite. The experience as members of station polls that many of us have built since 1999 (thanks for that, CNE) spread the know-how to manage puntos soberanos all around the world. The design tools and social media that we’ve had to learn to use in the last few years to get around the censor helped to spread the voice in less than two weeks… worldwide. I even think that constant contact with lethal violence gave millions of ordinary citizens in Venezuela the stamina and the courage to wait for hours in the streets to fill those three circles, well aware that, as in fact happened, there were real dangers involved.

Now we know things that we didn’t know before chavismo, and we put them to use to deliver this outstanding achievement. We are stronger, more resilient. But that’s not all.    

With no central State, no oil money and no military, regular people and institutions used to expect guidance and support from the government had to do something enormous by themselves, because the State was not only uninterested, but hostile. So the outcome of that challenge was a sort of miracle: regional opposition governments, NGOs, churches, parties and universities worked together.

What thousands of people did last Sunday revealed… the existence of a collective set of skills developed or rediscovered over so many years of challenging normality.

Take a moment to marvel in amazement at what’s just happened: Venezuelan politicians, usually disdainful of intellectuals, gave the authority of overseeing and announcing the results to the heads of the main universities. They deferred to the expertise and gravitas only academics could provide to the process. I think we must acknowledge the brave gesture of MUD strategists and parties to give a green light to the idea of this consulta popular, to build a consensus around it, to forge the multidisciplinary alliance that made it happen, and to stay out of camera view while the five University Chancellors gave the 95%  scrutiny number.   

That Sunday showed we can collaborate. Politicians and professors, former marxists and aspiring libertarians, the ones that stayed home and we the emigrés. We found that we can work way, way better than Papá Estado. We know that the spirit of teamwork that delivered the worldwide vote is the same we’ll need to form a government and to take on the colossal task of reconstruction.

So the plebiscite is more than a smack in the screaming face of the malandrato. It announces the insurgence of a more resilient Venezuelan society, able to be consensual, effective, and disciplined around a common goal centered on the lives of everyone of us, inside the country and abroad.  

Of course, there are still people who don’t give a shit. The black legend didn’t well up out of nothing.

However, we are not only that. We’re more than that.

Millions of us are prepared to take on responsibility for the future.

We are bochinche, but we are not only bochinche. We can feel authentic pride of what we’ve become.

And that’s wonderful, because we’re going to need that pride for the task that awaits us just around the corner, the second after the malandrato falls.

21 COMMENTS

  1. I have never understood the logic of those who think that Venezuelans are evil and corrupt and somehow expect any leader they appoint not to be exactly that.
    As long as Venezuelans are deeply rotten as we believe they are, its better if we don’t anyone more power than what he can gain on his own.
    “Capitalismo salvaje para los salvajes” seems to me like the only option.
    No public employees, if there is even one job that is funded by the state, it will go to the president’s cousin.
    No taxes. Better not give the moral grounding to thieves that will be then doing theft in the name of the “common good”
    No state enterprises. No public anything. Anything will be twisted and corrupted by the evil Venezuelans.
    And no fucking public roads: they are piece of shit as they are anyway.

  2. Hey all, troll this bitch!!! Abby Martin is a complete sellout. Vendapatria. Please troll this video in the comment section.

    Empire Files: Constituent Assembly Dictatorship or Democracy in Venezuela?

    • I’m not so sure she is worth the time. Another TeleSur lapdog? I wish I had a nickle for every armchair Marxist I met who DOESN’T live in Venezuela but pouts epic, about how great Chavismo is. Emersberger, Weisbrot and the half-wits from Venezuela Analysis. What a waste of time.

    • That character is merely an useful idiot for the regime: irksome yet harmless. Don’t waste your effort.

      If you want to direct your “escarche” against someone, try the foreign-based Telesur mouthpieces cashing SIBICI checks overseas: Alfredo Jalife (Mexico), Ilka Oliva Corado (Chicago), Atilio Borón and Marco Teruggi (Argentina), Pablo Jofre Leal (Chile), Itzamná Ollantay (Guatemala) and especially Fernando Buen Abad, who gets extra rat points for defending the Venezuelan kleptocracy from a cushy Paris apartment and his lead role in the “Red de Intelectuales y Artistas en Defensa de la Humanidad” guiso.

      And do it in person. Online hate mobs are more of a silly nuisance than an effective way of protesting.

      Speaking of Telesur, have you seen their English Twitter recently? They are so desperate for young leftists that they’re posting memes now.

  3. First half: Uncivilized, yes. Thereby, me-first/distrustful/often even barbaric, yes. But, self-loathing, no. Second half, from “The consulta popular on…”: yes, yes, yes–and, all of this means that the Venezuelan society will keep itself (with a little help from friends, if needed) from complete Communist domination, from which, if it were really self-loathing, it might not be able to escape.

  4. Simply brilliant! Thank you! I need to memorize these arguments for when I hear the old self-loathing machacado again. This piece reminded me of a survey they did once at the metro, at 5 am, asking Venezuelans if we were lazy. Most respondents said “yes” although they were already on their way to work before dawn.

    I’ve been thinking that the whole “barbarie” thing has to do with what Acemoglu and Robinson call “extractive institutions” (and they’re getting more extractive every day). When reason and the values of the enlightenment don’t get you anywhere; when sucking up to El Chivo is the only way to get ahead, actions may seem “irrational”, but they’re actually the necessary response to perverse incentives.

    But now, something has changed, something is changing. Getting organized without a single macho leader is not only possible; it has become necessary. For our own good.

    Just one thing: *despise ourselves, not *despite. Despite everything we’re capable of, we can still (sometimes) despise ourselves. Hopefully, not for long.

  5. Meh. You aren’t much different from most South Americans and Central Americans. To me, you are all hot blooded and distrustful…. but that’s what I find so appealing about you. I liked it so much, I had to marry one of your distrustful, opinionated women.

    My experience with Venezuelans is only 30 years old, but I can honestly say that since 1999, I have seen Venezuelans become more distrustful of government and more trusting in their fellow countryman. In my opinion, this is a good thing. (There is an old adage here in “fly-over” country in the United States… Q. “How do you tell when a politician is lying? A. His lips move.”) You don’t trust military strongmen anymore than self important Socialist windbags. But when push comes to shove, you can count on your neighbor. Bravo!

    It appears that after Sunday, Venezuela has grown up, and gets to sit at the grown ups table. Enjoy that beautiful unfiltered taste of REAL democracy. I had a lot of faith… but my distrustful, opinionated expat wife? I think by the tears I saw on her face Monday, she was perhaps as surprised as the author.

  6. Any attempt to profile and simplify the character of a big diverse population with a few words will meet with failure.
    I’ve lived my first half in Venezuela and the other in the USA. I can tell you there are common treats to humans that mold the character given the environment in which they live in, more than innate characteristics.
    You can find the most despicable low life Venezuelan as well as a the most beautiful cultivated character too. From poor but nice to rich but nasty or vice-versa.
    Same for the USA or almost any other country.
    There is some truth about the self loathing, but that disappears as soon as Venezuelans travel and experience other people and regions around the world and realize they are as bad or as good in certain things.
    As a group, we have grown in civics going through the Chavizmo catastrophe and became a bit more sensible to others and less naive about dangerous elements.
    However, in my opinion, , the Democratic spirit has been about the same since before Chavizmo, that was built in our 40+ years of Democracy history, and that we have always appreciated back then as we do now.

    Last Sunday, I experience a sense of Rendezvous with the old Venezuelan way, rescuing Democratic values together.

  7. Great article! This is phenomenon that I call the Fallacy of Viveza Criolla. I actually have an article that I prepared on the subject (from a different tack) but never finished.

  8. The design tools and social media that we’ve had to learn to use in the last few years to get around the censor helped to spread the voice in less than two weeks… worldwide.

    To get 7 million to vote on two weeks notice without any mainstream media help is an accomplishment to be proud of.

  9. Uno de los mejores posts de este blog y sin duda el mejor del año, en particular la primera mitad. Los hábitos que el venezolano lleva en la sangre no cambian de un día para otro y lo del 16 de julio será por tanto flor de un día pero ojalá yo me equivoque y usted lleve razón.

    • Actually, the first part of this post makes one wonder whether, after almost 20 years of revolution, we have learnt anything at all. Every country in the World can be described in those terms used by ROC, even countries with stable and advanced economies (the US, in particular, springs to mind).

      What makes a difference is the quality and specially the stability of the public institutions of a country. Public institutions create the automatic mechanisms under which such disputes present in a society are resolved. Black legends about a country’s people are good material for bad historical novels, and little else.

  10. Gracias por tan excelente Escrito!!! Cómo Sociólogo caminando en silencio y sin ningún distintivo, temprano en la mañana en Barcelona, España para ir a votar, comenzé a ver gente Tricolor… al cabo de 15 o 20 min mi impresión fue exactamente la misma que usted expone… en ese fervor, en esa procesión, en ese acto civil… se presentó un Venezolano que tenía muchos años que no veía… pero que ciertamente conocí y disfrute… un Venezolano boconless, opinaticoless and fatuoless!!! Se presentó un Venezolano humilde fresco humano sincero y muy dispuesto, muy bien dispuesto!!!… esos Venezolanos ya eran bastante escasos y raros hace 25 años cuando salí de Venezuela a realmente re-hacerme, crecer y ver Mundo… Mundo del bueno y mostrarle a muchos que ser Venezolano es sinónimo de trabajo, de ayuda, de ser equipo, humilde, y algo muy importante de”Dar la Talla” y hasta sobresalir notablemente a punta de Méritos en cualquier país del Primer Mundo!!! Gracias… Ese es otro detalle… Dar las Gracias… Éramos un País que daba las Gracias, agradecido y lo perdimos… cuando das gracias y te das las gracias… creces y te haces más sabio… aprendes a disfrutar y disfrutarte haciendo disfrutar a los demás…

  11. I don’t think denying the negative character of one’s culture is very helpful. It might feel good (just ask the Germans), but it’s sure throwing reality to the wind.

    And…

    “In this Inquisition court that the social networks tend to be nowadays, not many wait a second before posting to wonder if the Danish, the Singaporeans, or the Americans would have a different conduct if they were facing the conditions under which the majority of Venezuelans live in 2017. It’s easier to let three centuries of self-hatred kick ”

    The Venezuelans are living under these conditions because they asked for it. No one complained when they got something for nothing under Hugo…didn’t care and even cheered when he stole from “those” people and gave it to them…but now that THEIR gravy train has broken down, no more handouts and the country is collapsing, you find something noble in this plebiscite?

    It sure ain’t time for Venezuelans to pat themselves on the back. That’s a long, long way off.

  12. Muy enaltecedor y motivante, gran artículo.
    Sin embargo el tema sobre ¿qué o cómo es el venezolano? no es posible cerrarlo en un espacio tan corto.
    El detalle es que en Venezuela, la cantidad de personas cuyos valores están signados por lo que resumimos como “viveza criolla” es demasiado alto en proporción a la población y el resto, que no lo es, es muy permisivo. Mientras que ese resto recto y civilizado no se plante firme, masivamente, para que los vivos no encuentren caminos, seguiremos transitando por el país que hemos tenido, sean en la cuarta, la quinta o la sexta.
    Y luego, ni hablar de los delincuentes. Ese es otro tema.

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