“So, what do you want to know?” he asks me. Hamza is a medical graduate student. He’s strong and energetic, with the assertiveness and maturity of someone who’s gone through a lot.
He came to Venezuela in 2010 to study, just before the war started. Back in the 90s, he tells me, Libya was facing heavy sanctions due to the Lockerbie bombing. For over a decade these sanctions had dire consequences for the Libyan people.”People would eat dog meat and jump on ships and fight over bags of rice coming in from the outside.”
The sanctions were eventually lifted and, despite the dictatorial government, things started improving in Libya.
It’s just about two rival groups seeking power for themselves. Same here, there, and anywhere.
“In 2010 things in Libya were pretty ok. You could support yourself and your family with a simple job. Then, in 2011, the revolution started and they killed the president. And I don’t agree with that war, because it didn’t bring anything good. Nothing good comes after a war. So many people dead, and for what?”
For a long time chavismo and the opposition have managed to sustain a tacit, awkward modus vivendi. These past few months, that system broke down. Between the government’s accelerated decay and the opposition’s inability to guide an enraged population that feels it has very little to lose, the military option —either homemade or imported— seems more and more attractive for an ever-increasing number of people.
So does Hamza see something here, right now, like he saw back home?
“The thing is that here in Venezuela there never were wars like we had over there. Nobody wants a war. But what’s going on here, well, the government has some of the blame and the opposition also has some of the blame.”
There’s something that I find chilling in his point of view. I don’t know to what extent being Venezuelan and writing about what’s been going on here makes me emotional and clouds my judgment. Or maybe he keeps a certain distance from local politics. But, for Hamza, it’s just about two rival groups seeking power for themselves. Same here, there, and anywhere.
Democracy is something everyone loves to talk about but, deep down, no one really wants to practice.
None of them want what’s best for the country. They just want to rule. To have access to the financial power of the nation. And if a conflict doesn’t get solved through politics, it gets solved through violence.
Democracy, for him, is something everyone loves to talk about but, deep down, no one really wants to practice. “It’s like you say here, déjalo hablar.” The strong letting the weak put up a show just to appear fair, knowing the weak have no chance to undermine their power.
“For me, the leaders of the opposition here abandoned their jobs. All of them. They went out, the first days, supporting the people and they abandoned them. (…) Most of the population doesn’t want socialism, because it’s a failing system. It barely works in the short run, but sooner or later it ends up in failure.”
And after 40 years of socialism, he knows what he’s talking about. “Chávez had the same ideology than Gaddafi.”
Love for your country is always something earnest, but it can also be used by someone else very easily. Same deal with religion.
Back in Libya there were free houses, free cars, all the goodies a petrostate can buy. But the power was held by the president and his loyalists, who were also the ones who had all the money. There were assemblies where everyone was free to assist and have their say on what the government should do, but what the loyalists wanted was all that mattered. “And that’s the same thing I’m seeing here.”
His best case scenario? A new, third group, made up of people from both sides. One focused on winning over the people or at least on a feasible project for the country. Because one side will never leave the other in peace and, as much as he criticizes socialism, he doesn’t think highly of the opposition, particularly of its leadership during the protests.
“You see them talking to young people,” he says, angrily “someone who was studying, someone who was working on their future, and they fill their heads with these pretty ideas. Love for your country is always something earnest, but it can also be used by someone else very easily. Same deal with religion.”
In his opinion, capitalism might be harsh but at least rewards those who work and fend for themselves and punishes those who don’t. The government must provide education, healthcare, and infrastructure but its the people, through the free market, who ultimately have the freedom to decide what is best for themselves.
“I don’t go to any protests. Neither here nor in Libya. I don’t support any of them. A person must be autonomous. You work, you produce, you move on.” Though I don’t wholly agree with what he says, I can’t deny the logic behind it.
Interestingly enough, he doesn’t consider Venezuela a dictatorship. Not yet, at least. But it might be on his way to consolidating itself as one. He points out two things. The first one is the freedom to go out and speak your mind, citing the example of his uncle in Libya. The first time he spoke out against the government, they jailed him for a year and let him go on a warning.
The second time he wasn’t so lucky, they gave him eleven years.
“I can stand here and yell ‘¡Maldito Maduro!’ In a real dictatorship, I wouldn’t last half hour. In Libya, for 42 years, if you talked down the government you would disappear.”
I don’t go to any protests. Neither here nor in Libya. I don’t support any of them. A person must be autonomous. You work, you produce, you move on.
Then there’s the electoral system which, as biased as it might be, allows people to pick their leaders and lets them govern following terms set out by the law. Though for many, that might be over with the National Constituent Assembly.
“In Libya, we never had elections. Here you’ve had elections for a lifetime. Here you have a constitution and if you follow a constitution then you can’t have a dictatorship. A dictatorship is ‘I sit’ and that’s it!”
Throughout our interview I notice that, despite the criticisms he may have, he can’t help but convey an utmost respect towards the man who ruled Libya for decades, particularly his stance against Western powers and their interference in other countries.
One particular incident he points out is the case of Bulgarian nurses infecting over 400 Libyan infants with HIV. He doesn’t tell me why they did it but, nonetheless, he’s filled with indignation how these Europeans managed to walk free.
He’s thankful that his government provided him with a quality education, and a public healthcare system that might not be top-notch but at least delivered. He can’t deny the education he came to seek in Venezuela is not all what he expected, but he has managed to get the best of it, he’s an M.D. now thanks to Venezuelan schools.
Hamza has no plans to leave Venezuela. This is the country he came to seven years ago with nothing and, through his own effort, managed to start a business while staying in school. Though he’s grateful of the opportunities this country gave him, he is and will always remain a Libyan, “Libya will always be in my heart.”
This is the country he came to seven years ago with nothing and, through his own effort, managed to start a business while staying in school.
Still, he admits if things don’t improve he will look into leaving. But it’s never easy to start over in a foreign land. Less so, a second time.
On my way home, I wonder about Venezuela. Are we a puzzle, that will slowly make sense as we put the pieces together? Or just a very plain situation I try to read too much into it to avoid accepting what is right in front of me?
Call it Stockholm syndrome, or what you will, but what I feel after my interview with Hamza is a renewed appreciation for Venezuela. This is our lowest point, and yet there are dozens of countries going through far worse situations than us right now. Instead of feeling we are on an unalterable path to becoming one of them, I’m thankful there’s still hope things might turn out for the better, somehow.
But for things to be better we must work hard, and do it together as one country, wether we like it or not. That’s what Hamza taught me.Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.