Photo: Latercera, retrieved.
For some days now, leftists in the U.S., Chile, Argentina, Spain, and a few other countries have been clashing on Twitter, and sometimes on the streets, with something that’s really difficult for them to understand and label: Venezuelan idiosyncrasy. Great paradoxes arise in the eyes of foreigners from a mistaken interpretation of Venezuelan reality and the traits we have (or should have).
I’m talking about people explaining how Venezuelans are without having the slightest clue. Leftists show prejudices that are closer to the far right than their self-promoted humanism: the exiled are labeled fascists or golpistas; refugees and immigrants are called turncloaks or worms (oh!). These are victims of a corrupt, totalitarian regime yet they are insulted like criminals by people who seem legitimately shocked when we retort.
I’ve always thought it’s difficult to define Venezuelans. Yes, we’re kind and direct, we talk a lot, we like to party, we’re good friends and are not heavily conservative or prejudiced. But our greatest virtue is also our worst flaw: a tropical temper that makes us face reality with exceeding joy. It helps us be happy and resist, but it diminishes our structure and formality. We laugh about things that aren’t laughing matter.
Great paradoxes arise in the eyes of foreigners from a mistaken interpretation of Venezuelan reality and the traits we have (or should have).
In Venezuela, before chavismo, there was an extensive democratic process that lasted from 1958 to 1998. Two parties rotated power: Acción Democrática and COPEI, center left and center right, kind of. Especially in the 60s, great investments were made, building schools and high schools by the thousands, and Venezuela provided free, quality education from elementary to college, allowing for true social mobility: many families left poverty, and the Venezuelan middle class, which was one of the more solid in Latin America, was born.
This access to education, social mobility, and our flexible tropical mood created something cool that might be difficult to replicate in other countries: first-line professionals with highly developed humility, and empathy.
There are business and institutional hierarchies in Venezuela as in any other country, but it’s relatively simple to get a company’s owner or manager to have some beers with his employees on Fridays. A student can confront the president of a university in his own office, and a doctor who offers lectures in England can give you a diagnostic about your grandma’s cancer because he was passing by a colleague’s consultation.
I say this because most Venezuelans are, given their history, center left. They may tell you they’re right-wingers, that they’re at the right, or at not a specific place or the spectrum (political flexibility is another one of our features), but when folks explain what they believe in, what you really see is the sense of social responsibility of center-left.
Yet what’s happening in Venezuela is extremely complex and carries a series of elements that lack exact parallels in history. It goes way, way beyond ideologies. Simplifying or confusing a society’s character for ideological purposes, and wrongly locating them in the map you carry in your head so you can figure out allegiances, guarantees you’ll contradict yourself, sprout nonsense and end up defending a dictatorship.
The oppressed of this world, the exiled, the refugees and immigrants, deserve everyone’s solidarity, not scorn. We should expand our empathy, have some coffee together, and find what brings us together, instead of trying to explain Venezuelans what their own reality looks like. You may have your opinion, sure, but if your ideological bias is too heavy, you’ll likely misunderstand what’s happening, and attack someone who’s fighting for freedom, just as you are.