Photo: YouTube retrieved.

Carmina Burana?

Here?

During the meltdown?

It seemed impossible, and yet, here I am, in the Universidad Central’s venerable Aula Magna. The place is brimming with people but, as I get to my seat, I realize that the guys behind me are foreigners. I understood they’re coming to Caracas for the first time and they have a Venezuelan with them, their tourist guide.

As I overhear their chatter, I see they can barely believe a show like this is being staged. I can’t either.

They can’t compute how this can coexist with the crisis, and how there’s still huge cultural events. The guide is, like, outraged; he tells them that the Aula Magna is one of the concert halls with best acoustics in the world (it’s actually among the five halls with the best acoustics), and it’s all thanks to the Calder Clouds up in the ceiling.

I’ve seen it performed before, but that was back in 2012, when it didn’t seem insane to do this here.

Today, I feel guilty just for trying to come up for air.

Today, I feel a guilty just for trying to come up for air.

Looking at the show in retrospective, it’s inspiring how they dared to create: It began with Rachmaninoff’s Concerto N° 2, played by pianist Kristhyan Benítez, who had been living abroad for the past two and a half years and came back for this event. I had no expectations about the piano concerto because I didn’t know it, yet it gave me so much peace and melancholy. I’d escaped the Caraquenian vortex, a spiral so deep that it desensitizes us. It took me a few seconds to realize it had ended, and my applause came with a bit of delay. There was a standing ovation. A short interlude ensued, while the staff fixed the stage, Carmina Burana was next. I knew this staging would be different because it would have a Caracas-themed urban aesthetic, but what did that mean?

When the orchestra returns to the stage, they’ve changed their attire, it’s more informal; they’re doctors, traffic officers, drivers, chefs. They’re everyone and anyone at once. They’re us.

Carmina Burana starts and ends with the “O, Fortuna,” a quite famous piece used in “The Omen,” associated later with everything devilish. When it starts, the screens show images of Caracas: Plaza Venezuela, the Altamira obelisk, the slums. Images and music go hand in hand most of the time, everything makes sense. Caracas, everchanging like Fortune itself, where one day can be pleasurable and easy, while the next tears your soul apart. Caracas bites.

And just like Caracas is overflowing with people, the stage can’t hold as many performers as it has. Space is so short that it affects the performance a bit, even if the musicians themselves brave the adversity. During the Carmina, girls from different choirs walk in, standing in the hallways of the venue, singing and throwing paper planes at the crowd.

Children. Hope.

I wonder if my foreign neighbors catch what this means for our spirit, when the day to day is so hostile.

I, for one, reconcile with the city and its chaos. It’s true that more than living, we merely survive, but what the Bosnians did in 1993 holds key lessons for us here. There are still projects, there’s still art, parties and solidarity. The future is more uncertain than ever and living means more than surviving.

Art is resistance.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.

26 COMMENTS

  1. As I overhear their chatter, I see they can barely believe a show like this is being staged. I can’t either.

    They can’t compute how this can coexist with the crisis, and how there’s still huge cultural events. The guide is, like, outraged; he tells them that the Aula Magna is one of the concert halls with best acoustics in the world (it’s actually among the five halls with the best acoustics), and it’s all thanks to the Calder Clouds up in the ceiling.”

    Why was the guide outraged? Having a world class venue (Aula Magna) doesn’t mean there isn’t a dichotomy between staging a cultural event and the culture that is going on outside. (Perhaps something was lost in translation?)

    What is outrageous is that Venezuelans continue on under Chavismo as if what is going on (no food, water, electricity, commerce, medicine) is normal.

      • Javier, why is that? (rhetorical question)

        Nobody is holding your electeds accountable.

        Q. Why aren’t your electeds renouncing their jobs and their party affiliation? Why do people like Rafael Lacava double down on the stupid, and at the end of the day are laughing at real democracy?

        A. Because they don’t fear the people. Perhaps they know what those seeking democracy fear to admit… the people love Chavismo.

        It seems to me (and many others outside of Venezuela) that that it is more of an indictment of the citizenry than of Chavismo. The only logical answer is that the citizenry are willing to offer any amount of forbearance to the Chavists, and are waiting for Chavismo to turn things around.

        That being said, I am a big fan of a little cultural diversion when needed. I like symphony and opera. Carmina Burana is a little dark for my taste. (Orff/Wagner/Holst etc.)

        • “A. Because they don’t fear the people. Perhaps they know what those seeking democracy fear to admit… the people love Chavismo.”

          Let’s see: chavismo/marxism exploits envy, official theft from one’s neighbor, self destructiveness, hate for the rule of law, hate for the rights of others, and self hate. Seems like a perfect fit with mestizo culture. It must be love.

  2. Thanks for the fine article. It explains a lot about some of the unbelievable contrasts, and it explains a lot about the optimism and resilience of Venezuelan character.

    “Art is resistance.” Yes. And more.

  3. What a surprise. As 80% of the infrastructure in Vzla, the Aula Magna was built by Perez Jimenez, and he was in power for less than 5 years.

    “The contract for the construction of the Aula Magna was given to the company Christiani & Nielsen, and started on November 28, 1952, with its end date set as March 31, 1953; that is, the work had to be completed in only 4 months. The hall was finished on time, as had been demanded by General Marcos Pérez Jiménez.[3] It was the main building of the Synthesis of the Arts project for the university, a campus creation and redesign carried out by architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva.[1][12][6] The hall was baptized and opened on December 3, 1953 (in a small ecclesiastical and ceremonial act), but officially inaugurated on March 2, 1954 with the opening of the 10th Inter-American Conference.[1][13]”

    If Vzla had had 17 of Marcos Perez Jimenez instead of Chavismo, it would be better than Chile today. Too bad that ship sailed long ago.

    • Seventeen of MPJ might drain the treasury a bit too much, but not a bad idea overall. Saudi Arabia is of course a monarchy. So is Sweden (but severely watered down, and if it were in fact a monarchy with executive power vested in the monarch, it might not be a failing country as it is now). Romulo Betancourt did a good job as president, and ushered in the legitimacy of democracy. Maybe too soon.

      The problem with life-long dictators, or life-long presidents, is that you tend to get more mediocre-to-bad ones than good ones, and the bad ones, like some we have heard of, screw things up so badly it takes decades to clean up the disaster. Dispensing with the church+state=holy king was a good idea.

  4. “Fascist” Bolsonaro has ended the Cuban physician program in Brazil. Brazil’s Bolsonaro is no hero, but he’s right to end Cuban doctors’ slave-labor program.
    Slave labor?

    I’m not a fan of Brazil’s ultra-right wing president-elect Jair Bolsonaro, but his decision to nix the program whereby more than 8,000 Cuban doctors have been working in Brazil as virtual slaves deserves unqualified international support.
    Under the deal between the Brazilian and Cuban governments, and brokered by PAHO, more than 18,000 Cuban doctors have been working in Brazil’s rural areas with little access to healthcare. They have received 30 percent of their salary. The remaining 70 percent goes directly to Cuba’s dictatorship.

    Sounds like slave labor to me. Cue up the Beatles’ Taxman song.

    Cuban physicians couldn’t take their families with them to Brazil.

    Just as outrageous, Cuba does not allow its doctors to take their families with them. Families remain in Cuba as de facto hostages, to reduce the risk of mass defections. If the doctors defect, they can’t return to the island for at least eight years, according to physicians who have been part of the program.
    And PAHO has been happily going along with all of this, publicly praising the program without any international outcry about its role enabling this form of virtual slavery.

    Here are the “Fascist” conditions Bolsonaro wanted for keeping Cuban physicians in Brazil:

    Bolsonaro….had said he would not renew the Mais Medicos — More Doctors — program unless Cuba accepted three conditions: that Cuban physicians receive their full wages; their medical degrees be validated by Brazil; and they be allowed to bring their families.

    That’s Real Existing Fascism that “Fascist” Bolsonaro wanted for Cuban physicians in Brazil: paid full salary, living with their families. 🙂

    On Wednesday, Bolsonaro tweeted that, “Unfortunately, Cuba has not accepted.” Hours later, Cuba announced it would withdraw from the Mais Medicos deal and that it was starting its repatriation of Cuban physicians right away.

    Cuba was earning a big hunk of scarce foreign exchange from its physicians in Brazil.

    Exporting its doctors has become one of Cuba’s main sources of foreign income. There were about 37,000 doctors working in 77 countries in 2015, most of them in Venezuela, Brazil and Central America, according to a Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania study. Cuba earns an estimated $11 billion a year from this trade.

    The loss of Brazil represents a big drop in Cuba’s foreign exchange income from its physicians.
    Had he been elected, Haddad would most likely have continued this exploitation of Cuban physicians.

    From perusing other articles, it appears that the “Mais Medicos — More Doctors” program employed 18 thousand physicians, 8 thousand of whom were Cuban. From the New York Times:Cuba Is Pulling Doctors From Brazil After ‘Derogatory’ Comments by Bolsonaro.

    More than 8,000 of the 18,000 doctors currently employed by the Mais Medicos program are Cuban,

    To put this into perspective, according to the World Bank, Brazil has a population of about 209 million, with 1.85 physicians per 1,000 inhabitants- which would give Brazil 3.87 million physicians. Compare that to a reported 8,000 Cuban physicians in the More Doctors program- a drop in the bucket. As long as the Brazilian government gives sufficient financial incentives, it should be able to find physicians inside Brazil.

    • UK = 2.2
      US = 2.3
      CA = 2.1
      SM = 47.35 (San Marino)
      CU = 5.91

      San Marino is an outlier, as is Cuba. SM has a population of about 33,000 people, and my guess is that it offers favorable taxation, so many Italian doctors roost there. Real estate prices are probably through the roof. It is not a member of the EU.

      • What is CA and CU? Central America and Cuba?

        One should also remember that Brazil is the plastic surgery capital of the world, so I’m curious how many “real” doctors we’re actually talking about.

        And I wonder what Bolsanero is going to do regarding VZ medical professionals.

      • Consider this claim published in Counterpunch, a far lefty site. The Achievements of Hugo Chavez.

        *In 1998, there were 18 doctors per 10,000 inhabitants, currently there are 58, and the public health system has about 95,000 physicians;

        Counterpunch claimed that under the beneficent governance of El Finado, Venezuela went from 1.8 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants to 5.8 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants- which is close to the 5.91 you report for Cuba.
        That 5.8 figure per 1,000 inhabitants for Venezuelan physicians is completely fictional.

        A high school peer of mine occasionally writes for Counterpunch. He wasn’t as batshit crazy back then, but considering how he was in high school it wasn’t difficult to see how he ended up that way. Batshit crazy, but brilliant- Merit Finalist.
        World Bank: Physicians (per 1,000 people)

    • I’ve been bitching about this for decades, and calling it exactly that:

      Slave labor.

      The icing on the cake is that the Castros have had the balls to BRAG about this, and stupid journalists quote it as one of the good things coming out of Havana, without mentioning the important details.

      • It was even worse for Cuban physicians in Chavezuela during the oil boom.Brookings Institution: The Cuba-Venezuela Alliance: The Beginning of the End? (June 2014)

        It is important to keep in mind that Cuban professionals are paid much less than their government receives from Venezuela in payment for their services. As of 2010, Venezuela paid Cuba approximately $11,317 per month on average for each professional it provided.(18) By contrast, Cuban doctors reportedly receive $425 per month, although this is more than double what they received six years ago and similar to what they earn on medical missions to Brazil.(19) Cuban doctors would be earning only up to $64 a month back home.(20) It is clear that these services are both a major item in the Cuban-Venezuelan trade balance, as well as a significant source of revenue for the Cuban government…

        When it comes to getting needed foreign exchange, the Castros are more rapacious than the capitalists the Castros so resolutely condemn.

        • $11,317 per month? And the doctors just got $425 per month, on average?

          I had no idea the disparity was that much, so mathematically, it IS slavery.

    • As the spouse of a physician, I get to listen to first hand analysis of said problems.

      My wife has spent a lot of time mentoring young Colombian and Venezuelan physicians. If there is one thing that ails medicine on this planet, is the dependence on physicians to diagnose/treat everything. She is a HUGE fan of mid-level practitioners (Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Practitioners, Nurse Midwives, etc.). The salient point being that these mid-levels must be highly trained (with an actual background in science), and not these frauds pouring out of Cuba in order to fill the Castroists coffers.

      90% of what is seen in outpatient clinics can be cared for as good or better by mid-levels than if staffed by a physician. Its a paradigm that many physicians don’t want to admit that works, but there is a worldwide dearth of physicians and it isn’t going to get better. Physicians are expensive to train and fewer people with the right temperament are going into medicine. Healthcare needs gatekeepers. And one physician can (depending on the paradigm) supervise 3 to 20 mid-levels.

      That is what is needed and that is where medicine is heading whether we like it or not.

      • Oh, that definitely makes sense. And we patients in the states see it for ourselves every day. The mid levels can handle 85% of the routine stuff.

        So I’m curious what your wife thinks of the AMA, whom I would guess, is against this kind of thinking.

        • The AMA (and every other professional/advocacy group) has their agenda. The problem occurs when agenda meets reality.

          There are fewer and fewer top shelf candidates* willing to undergo the rigors of a medical education. 4 years of undergrad, another 4 of medical school, an internship year, then another 3-6 years of residency… and a fellowship of 1-2 years. That is a shitload of life that is put on hold in order to self actualize.

          And at the end of the rainbow is long hours** for adequate pay (soon to be inadequate when socialized medicine hits) with a tort system that awaits ONE unintended outcome and an archaic licensing system that is more concerned about annual fees than protecting the public.

          Our #3 is looking at a career in medicine. She has everything going for her. But the closer she gets to making a decision, the more apprehensive she gets. Nearly EVERY physician she has spoken to has tried to talk her out of a career in medicine. So what does that say about a career in medicine when physicians are telling the most highly qualified, with the best temperament to do something else?

          *Q. What do you call an utterly incompetent person who graduates last in their class, from the worlds worst medical school?

          A. Doctor

          **The work/life balance is horrific. Especially if you want to start a family. Unless you work in dermatology, you will NOT work anything less than a 65 hour week.

          • Dermatology is the way to go–every little skin lesion is pre-cancerous, and often-unneeded MOHS surgery is $5-10m a pop, for 2 sessions of 15 mins each.

  5. What’s the name of the concert hall around the corner from the Caracas/Anauco Hilton? Is this the same place?

    In 1988, my brother-in-law got us front row center seats for Franco de Vita.

    I had never heard of him, didn’t really love what I was hearing, and it was torture sitting in the front row trying to act polite and excited.

  6. Several thoughts: Living in Caracas/Venezuela IS surviving–just walking from the Aula Magna to a parked car, especially if at night, is a big risk. The 8m Bolsonaro-ejected “doctors” are rumored to be sent to Venezuela under similar payment conditions (Cubans just took over Ven.’s Sebin secret service, whose previous Ven. General Chavista head is now a prisoner). Cubans working in Cuba’s Melia hotels are payed $20 or so/mo. (they can keep European tourists’ usually miserable tips), while Castro/et.al. collect $1m/mo. for each Melia Cuban employee).

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here