Photo: Ideas de Babel retrieved.

The nationalization of the oil industry in the mid 70s, last century, gave the Venezuelan State a level of profit that it wasn’t prepared to manage properly and wisely. Although a vibrant middle class was consolidated during that period, due to a dynamic social mobility, inequality also intensified and broadened as the party ebbed, leaving only hangovers and dirty dishes.

Our burgeoning middle class produced professionals of excellent technical capacity, also poorly connected with the needs of the wider society. In an import-dependent country, there were few initiatives focused on boosting the wellbeing of that growing population in slums, which weren’t considered part of the city. A population living under the shadow of crime and a terrible transport system that forced them to stand in line for hours to get back home. A population that the rest of the city saw as a world apart. “Those people,” citizens used to say while pointing at the mountains of bricks and zinc, as if talking about beings made from different materials, with whom there couldn’t be any sort of communion. Invisible people.

That divorce between the educated but insensitive middle class and a majority that felt increasingly out of the system’s benefits, opened a rift of mistrust that only grew with time.

It’s well known that “someone” knew how to read the resentment of those expelled. It’s well known that that “someone” knew how to fuel the problem with the dark and powerful drive of revenge. It’s well known that, once turned into a TV show, the “compensation” was limited to merely seeing others suffering the same way they’d suffered for years.

That divorce between the educated but insensitive middle class and a majority that felt increasingly out of the system’s benefits, opened a rift of mistrust that only grew with time.

And that’s how it’s been ever since. Ostensibly in the name of the poor, the ruling clique built fortunes they never imagined even in their wildest dreams. They managed the unthinkable: ruining an oil-producing nation. The project of destruction also engulfed memory and the few symbols that still kept us together as a society. The poor ended up horrifically poorer and, once the middle class had been wiped, the country was left adrift, without resources, institutions, projects or leadership to repurpose that pain, that frustration, that despair which currently  drowns the population in helplessness.

Social media, where extremism and polarization rule, only manage to increase that isolation. Overwhelmed by their own suffering, nobody seems too interested in understanding the suffering of others. Amidst uncertainty, prejudice thrives. A country without voice, without media outlets, without places for sharing, is the result of twenty years of chavismo in power.

Hard times beget their own balances and the destruction of free press produced the emergence of news entrepreneurships with a lighter structure, harder for the State to control. During that time, in mid-2016, journalist Albor Rodríguez invited me to develop an idea she’d been thinking about: a website dedicated to tell stories of today’s Venezuela as a sort of puzzle explained through its pieces. A space not meant to offer opinion or information, but rather to show the country in its everyday experiences, drawing a map of lives that remained unseen amidst the debacle that ravages us. This is how La Vida de Nos came to be.

At first we only had a formula: stories told with the factual approach of journalism, with the tools of literature, to dissipate emotion and turn personal tales into universal metaphors.

That December, we published the first four stories, still uncertain as to how the readership would take them. As we developed our poetics and methods, we started finding valuable revelations, both about the project and about the country.

We discovered, for instance, how important it is for people to to tell their story from their own perspective, how their interpretation opens spaces of resilience. Their stories offer keys to cope with adversities.

A website dedicated to tell stories of today’s Venezuela as a sort of puzzle explained through its pieces.

The journalistic and narrative visions combined allowed for public interest about the country’s problems and the intimate interest about human dramas to merge in a single space. We emphasize the human condition over news about the crisis. It’s not just about telling stories of people in adverse conditions, it’s how common people, forced to make tough choices, face life’s obstacles with an enormous capacity for reinvention.

People who’ve always lived in adversity develop tools for situations like the one Venezuelans face today. From their experiences, we extricate conclusions like understanding the importance of turning pain into a purpose, to make it manageable; or how a home with solid bonds of love reduces the harm caused by adversity; or that in moments of breakdown, illumination means accepting what’s happening, to pick ourselves up.

Thanks to comments on social media, we understand that, more than producing content, we share experiences, building bonds between the storyteller and the reader, promoting a fellowship that erase borders amidst the common tragedy.

Offering tools for a narrative gives people a voice, and empowers them. Showing their lives with dignity and respect exalts them. And this is part of what a country that’s starting to recognize itself in others’ needs. In the stories of La Vida de Nos, we Venezuelans discover that we’re not so different from one another, we share similar dreams and fears, we’re bound together by an experience in which, contrary to what we used to believe, we can learn much from others if we see them with respect.

This simple exercise softens the wall of mistrust. It reveals us as singular parts of a plural whole, and allows us to rebuild places for sharing. It ain’t new; it’s what literature has always done: make strangers meet and see ourselves through each other.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. This magnificent projects get to make an amazing job: to bond us venezuelans in any part of the world. To aproach us in adversity, in darkness, in troubles to find the light and kindness we need to survive. Ser venezolano significa conocer incontables secretos de la vida y leer La Vida de Nos es revivir cada experiencia, es abrir cada herida, para aprender de ella. No matter when, no matter where, no matter how many times and specially no matter how painfull it could be.

  2. This is a praiseworthy project allowing people from different milieus to share in common experiences and harships and use them to develop bonds of fellowship. I am not altogether convinced that resentments only happen when people live thru frustrations and failures but that human nature is so constituted that people find a kind of self sattisfaction when they stoke their angers and resentments against someone they blame for their ills . Too often our fate is the results of adverse happenstance or contingency , of ordinary human error and native ineptness but always people love seeking a dramatized version of why those failures ocurr that make them the crime of a loathed class of priviledged people who largely by happenstance or better opportunities lead better lives than we do , by loathing them we enhance our sense of being victims fighting bravely and heroically against a melodramatically satanized enemy , the old cowboys and indians history from our childhood . The truth of the matter is that only very few really lucky talented people get to universalize their prosperity and even then know times of trouble and frustration !!

  3. Venezuela is suffering right now, but not for a lack of sympathy with the “middle class” but because Venezuela still failed to take control of important economic sectors and remove people who are sabotaging Venezuela. In the French revolution the country was in Chaos until the committee of public safety took action and streamlined the country and put it on a war footing, that is when France began winning victories. Venezuela is at the same crossroads, where either the force of reaction can win or the forces of progress.

    Once the Committee of Public safety is finished in Venezuela, it can be deployed here too. The delays in the Mueller probe show that the US Justice system has been corrupted, they have barely found anyone in the Trump administration guilty of serious crimes because they aren’t seriously trying too.

      • Yes, thank God for Comments redux. What obviously is needed in Venezuela is a “Committee Of Public Safety (although they already have one/many: Sebin/DGICM/thousands of Cuban spies, etc., etc.) to “streamline the country”, so that “the forces of progress” can win, and NM can accomplish his socio-econmomic Plan 2025 objectives, but, remember, on a “war-footing”.

    • @Judi Lynn Ah yes, if it isn’t one of our longstanding Chavista scumbags.

      “Venezuela is suffering right now, but not for a lack of sympathy with the “middle class” but because Venezuela still failed to take control of important economic sectors and remove people who are sabotaging Venezuela.”

      yeah, RIGHT.

      That’s the difference between Venezuela 1997 and Venezuela 2017. Lack of state control over’ important economic sectors.”

      Bullocks.

      “In the French revolution the country was in Chaos until the committee of public safety took action and streamlined the country and put it on a war footing, ”

      And then it was in a more tyrannical form of chaos right up until the Committee was overthrown.

      “that is when France began winning victories.”

      Battle of Valmy: 1792

      Battle of Jemappes: 1792

      Committee of Public Safety’s PREDECESSOR Established: 1793.

      It’s a rare idjiot who can’t even read a timeline.

      “Venezuela is at the same crossroads, ”

      I’ll believe that when I see it declare war on the rest of the freaking Continent plus change, and have armies from Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and perhaps- just perhaps- “El Imperio” and its NATO friends waltzing around the countryside.

      And I would know. I’m a wargamer.

      “where either the force of reaction can win or the forces of progress.”

      Yeah, progress straight into famine, tyranny, and genocide.

      “Once the Committee of Public safety is finished in Venezuela, it can be deployed here too. ”

      Oh you sick, stupid fool. Do you even study your own analogy?

      The Committee of Public Safety WILL NEVER be finished. That’s the nature of the beast. It only stopped when a coup FORCED it to stop. Mostly by its members getting arrested.

      “The delays in the Mueller probe show that the US Justice system has been corrupted,”

      Good God, If you think the delays in the Mueller Probe (which is a despicable fishing expedition) are evidence that the US EJustice system has been corrupted, I can only imagine what you think the years long hunt it took to get the likes of Carl Panzram or Ted Bundy meant.

      But on the other hand, the “Revolutionary” Tribunals that convicted people inside hours no matter the charge are PROGRESS! And purity!

      Robespierre would agree with you.

      Except I think Robespierre at least BELIEVED his eventual goal would be the creation of a democratic republic where the Committee would cease functioning.

      I don’t think that generosity can be extended to the Chavistas.

      “they have barely found anyone in the Trump administration guilty of serious crimes because they aren’t seriously trying too.”

      Yeaaaah, RIIIIIGHT.

      Inquisitor Karamazov has nothing on you, chowderhead.

  4. This effort is certainly praise-worthy, but, doesn’t it promote more acceptance of the status quo rather than attempts at change/improvement?

  5. “That divorce between the educated but insensitive middle class and a majority that felt increasin” tis quote gives authority to the current Chavista narrative. While there were some people in the elites that came from the 50s, 60s, and 70s that could fit this description, your are simplifying the complexities of their time. First, campesinos and migrant workers from all of Latin America came to Venezuela when the il boom to find low-skilled jobs or professional opportunities in white collar work. Some of the people who arrived, came and were met with a labor market that was swelling and/or already capped. This means many of the slums that came to grow from this economic reality, were left to live out their dreams in slums/informal settlements. The middle class that were given free educational opportunities or at a low price within the country were also offered phd or master degrees abroad, subsidized by the government, and hence why they became later a minority elite. Meanwhile slum dwellers took on the jobs the market allowed, married, had children and the slum areas grew. Education was offered but in the elementary to high school degrees with the free university level classes offering a seat to the best (that didnt keep lower class folks out) but we all know if you come from one of the better private schools perhaps you had more opportunity to get a seat. Anyhow, the truth is both systems grew iteratively and in parallel form, and the middle class was not insensitive. To say the latter is to legitimize a narrative used by the left that truly is unappealing after 20 years of trying to give those same informal settlements opportunities over the middle class. Nothing has changed, except how people feel, but not the reality, if anything the truth is that things have grown worse. I have an issue with characterizing the middle class in such a way. It was an iterative development of economic growth and of migration flows. Peruvians, Colombians, Argentinians, Ecuadoraians, Bolivians came to Venezuela to fund better opportunity, they were given residency cards and employment opportunities and rights. If they had family here, they could find a place with a family member is a space outside of informal settlements, but not everyone could. The rural-urban divide created more employment in cities, and basic dynamic needs created housing to grow as quickly as migration flows in these spaces…governments didnt have the logistical capacity to take-in the people as quickly as they came and moved to urban centers, leaving a affordable housing defficiency to house these migrants, and people built their own homes next to cousin and families that had already migrated earlier in time… these spaces are like yesteryear’s villages and are part of realities from every developing country in each of the five regions. It is not exclusive to urban cores in Venezuela. See Turkey, Seoul, Istanbul, cities across the 17 countries in West Africa (ex. Nigeria), China etc.

  6. The middle class in Venezuela is in large part a creature of the opportunities which democracy and a generously distributed oil income offered low income venezuelans of humble origins to get an education or build a business and improve their lot , venezuela was always a poor country , so poor that even people of education and good breeding led lives which were not that different from that of the poor , because middle classes were largely the result of very fast social mobility they lacked a class conscience of the kind that developed in other places , most middle class people came from grand parents who were dirt poor or close, ad uncles and cousins they felt affection for who still remained in the lower income classes .My own family has people who could be classified as poor or middle class and the sense of family solidarity remains strong and live . People who speak of hide bound elites who controlled the engine of power and wealth for generations dont know what they are talking about , they lack even the most primitive knowledge of Venezuelan social history …the ladder of success and government connections ran thru the area of politics and friendship with people who had gained power thru the exercise of political activity .

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    • People who speak of hide bound elites who controlled the engine of power and wealth for generations don’t know what they are talking about , they lack even the most primitive knowledge of Venezuelan social history …the ladder of success and government connections ran thru the area of politics and friendship with people who had gained power thru the exercise of political activity .

      Exactly so. Do the math. Oil has driven the engine of the Venezuelan economy for the last century or so. From 1976 on, who controlled the disbursement of oil revenues? Venezuelan politicians. Before 1976, Venezuelan politicians also had a degree of control over the disbursement of oil revenues, but not as much as after 1975, as the government didn’t own the oil yet, but “merely” collected taxes from it.

      For the umpteenth time, I recommend a CC article that can be found in a link located in Venezuela for Beginners. Scroll down to :4. From the archives: The Petrostate that was and the petrostate that is . The Petrostate article does an excellent job of pointing out that disbursement of oil revenue to the populace was done well before El Finado was elected in 1998. The main difference between before and after 1998, the article points out, is that the political parties were in charge of disbursement before 1998, while after 1998 the disbursement was personalized. El Finado was now seen as the source of disbursement.

      In any event, it wasn’t the Criollo “oligarchy” descended from the Conquistadores that was in charge of distributing oil revenue, but politicians that had been elected.

  7. I must reiterate that Chavismo was of course a tragedy, but also the logical consequence of of own people.

    Just look at Chavez or Maduro or Delcy, etc. A mirror image of the vast majority of our “pueblo”. Except a bit better educated, except perhaps for Masburro, although he’s learned a few tricks in the past years travelling abroad.

    You have countries like Honduras or Nicaragua, or Haiti mainly because the Educated Elite does not rule. People with higher moral values. You have indios leading indios, accept the fact. Except that the leading Indios in power are criminals, like a good portion of the remaining populace. Thieves, unscrupulous.

    That’s how you get a country like Kleptozuela: Zero education, zero LAWS and PUNISHMENT. Total ignorance and corruption. That’s what we allowed it to be for the same 2 REASONS.

  8. What happens in lamentable Third Word countries such as Venezuela? The rich get richer and the poor poorer. Then the filthy rich corrupt simply get the hell outta of the mess, by the thousands, such as Ramirez or the Derwicks. It ain’t rocket science. Once the oil and the cows run dry, the ones still in power keep stealing, while the poor – once complicit – populace have nothing left. So they are forced to get out. By foot. Se acabo la fiesta pa ellos. No all, but many were Chavistas and corrupt. But when the money ran dry, it’s out to Colombia or Chile. Result? A mayor humanitarian crisis for the rest of of the more civilized nations and neighbors. A liability. To the tune of 4 million people getting the hell out.

    But of course, before that, several hundred thousands of major thieves became very, very rich and are having fun in Europe. That’s how that works. The smarter thieves end up focking the less educated and less skilled people. (Many of them thieves too, but at a different level).

  9. The nationalization of the oil industry in the mid 70s, last century, gave the Venezuelan State a level of profit that it wasn’t prepared to manage properly and wisely. Although a vibrant middle class was consolidated during that period, due to a dynamic social mobility, inequality also intensified and broadened as the party ebbed, leaving only hangovers and dirty dishes.

    Where did you get your data on inequality? This is what the World Bank has. It can be interpreted several ways: slight decline in inequality from 1981-1998, or an increase in inequality from 1992-1998.

    GINI index (World Bank estimate) for Venezuela
    1981 55.6
    1987 53.4
    1989 45.3
    1992 42.5
    1995 47.8
    1998 49.8
    1999 48.3
    2001 48.2
    2002 50.6
    2003 50.4
    2004 49.8
    2005 52.4
    2006 46.9

    https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.GINI?locations=VE&view=chart&year_low_desc=false

    • Thanks, Boludo.

      I never understood the inequality argument. If you take a country where 100% of the population is poor, and increase the potential for economic growth and enterprise, maybe in a few years only 50% of the population is poor, 40% is middle-class, and 10% is rich.

      You have dramatically increased inequality. Is that bad?

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