A Chavismo of Nightmares

In Germany in the 1930s, a journalist took to collecting and curating people’s nightmares. I reflect on the terrible relevance that project has for Venezuelans today.

Image: Amnesty International

I find it increasingly hard to chronicle what’s going on in Venezuela. Images of empty grocery aisles, pictures of families separating at the airport, starving children, mutilated bodies left in garbage dumps, fear and rage and despair all pile up in my mind making a mess.

We’re first row witnesses to a tragedy that we have been warning about for too long, but we’ve all failed to forestall it. Now we stand before its consequences. Part of me wants to make sense of it all, another part wants to turn away, and a lot of the time I just end up stuck on Twitter, scrolling images and messages in a numb search for who knows what.

The picture of a family with a coffin on the back of a tow truck, along with the video of men chasing and slaughtering a cow, while the one filming it cheers on with “We are hungry, the people are hungry, ¡no joda!”, was last week’s glimpse into Dante’s tropical inferno. Nightmarish, fragmented scenes give us only a sample of the dimensions of despair common people are withstanding everyday. It defies our capacity to grieve, to digest, to understand. We have arrived at a place where our only reasonable response seems to be to tread on.

Maybe those fragments are the most honest testimony we can give of this time. Outrage is hard to put into words.

In 1933, journalist Charlotte Beradt began to recollect nightmares from her fellow Germans, soon after Hitler took power. She was careful to hide her project, smuggling it piece by piece until she finally fled Germany in 1939. The dreams are filled with authority, persecution and frustrated attempts to escape.

In one of many coincidences, many of the dreams she registered have to do with passports, official documents, unattainable or insufficient.

In one of many coincidences, many of the dreams she registered have to do with passports, official documents, unattainable or insufficient. Some dream that, after escaping Germany, persecution follows. Some are both beautiful and terrifying: a doctor in his room browses through a book of pictures, raises his eyes to see that the walls of his house, and all walls from all buildings as far as he can see, have disappeared. Protection, intimacy are all banned. Beradt recounts a recurring dream of being informed of the prohibition to dream, while dreaming.

She published them in 1966, as The Third Reich of Dreams.

La Vida de Nos has done a wonderful job trying to give testimony to our current struggles. Ever smaller fragments seem more revealing than political essays on what’s going on. Enza García spent four months at the famed Iowa International Writing Program; on her return, she tweeted on how many of her loved ones politely asked how things had gone, immediately asking how she had eaten and what the supermarkets are like.

On her way back from Caracas to Puerto La Cruz, her bus was stopped by the National Guard, who opened and searched her suitcase. “Nothing happened” she writes, “they didn’t steal from me. And yet, everything happened: yes, I’m back.”

Carlos Sandoval, a literary critic and university professor, has been writing very short chronicles of daily life on his Facebook wall. Last week, he commented on receiving his monthly bono alimentario of Bs. 20,500, equivalent to a dime, then going over to the university cafeteria to buy a coffee for Bs. 20,000, and not being able to pay for it since the punto de venta was down.

Igor Barreto’s 2010 book of poetry, “El Duelo”, describes the robbery and slaughter of a horse by hungry thieves. It immediately came to mind with the scenes of last week:

y el paisaje quedará guardado

en el saco ácido

de la desmemoria

His book doubles as a testimonial for a loss for words. En la caverna de la boca ya no veo palabras, solo hambre. Urgency, voracity drowns comprehension. Reality saturates our capacity to symbolize, to represent.

In the middle of these poems on horses, plains and hunger, a poem about Klaus Mann, Ernst Weiss, Walter Hasenclever, Stefan Zweig and Walter Benjamin, all of whom committed suicide trying to escape from the Nazis.

His book is unfortunately prophetic, it’s the chronicle of a descent into a place that you cannot reason yourself out of.

In his poem Aviso, he warns:

Frente a la barbarie


un cierto aire de cordura

que es verdaderamente


It is hard to write down a nightmare. It is disturbing and hard to fathom.

We are there.