John Carlin’s Dream

The British journalist who wrote the book that inspired the movie Invictus was rejected at the airport by the Venezuelan regime. What if he had been allowed his entry and we’d talk about sports and reconciliation?

Photo: La Pedrera retrieved

“When he woke up, the dinosaur was still there.”

Augusto Monterroso

I had a strange dream in which John Carlin, the writer of “Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the game that made a nation”, visited Caracas. Yes, the author of the book on which the movie “Invictus” was based. The one with Morgan Freeman, about rugby, yes that one.

It was an exciting dream. It’s an already classic book on, among other things, the relations between sports and politics. It chronicled Mandela in top form. I dreamt that I was going to meet him and we were going to talk about sports and politics and writing. He was going to be keenly interested in hearing how political tensions have played out on the sports fields in Venezuela. He was going to be proud to hear that his book is an important reference to many of us.

The dream of course is probably nothing but a desire for a powerful Other that can help us figure out the terrible conundrum Venezuela is in.

Dreams allow us to fulfil our wishes, according to Freud. In this one, Caracas was going to allow me to chat about the power of sports to convey a message to society. I was going to be able to me to talk to Carlin about how, when working with the Vinotinto national soccer team in the Copa America of 2011 we used Mandela as a reference to convey to the players the importance of what we represented, beyond the football pitch. It helped us to think through and resist the political pressure government subjected us to when they ordered that Polar, our main sponsor at that point, not appear at the parade they were arranging on our return. It helped us demand that, either they were all present -government and opposition- or we wouldn’t participate. 

In my dream I asked him about the current situation and we talked about the Football Federation and the National Team and how clumsily they are dealing with their circumstances. In my dream he explained to me how a dictatorship like the one in South Africa accepted the inevitability of their demise and accepted an honest negotiation of political transition after forty years of apartheid.

The dream of course is probably nothing but a desire for a powerful Other that can help us figure out the terrible conundrum Venezuela is in. It is a childish wish for simple answers, I know. 

But suddenly in the dream, Carlin was stopped by an immigration officer at Maiquetía. He was asked if he had come to work and if he had a permit. Carlin explained that he was not going to charge anything for his talk and had been invited to speak not only in an open lecture, but also with government officials and opposition representatives. He told the officer, who was a plump man dressed in military fatigue, that surely Mandela wasn’t threatening to chavismo. He didn’t receive any response. So he had to sit and wait while his hosts tried to sort out the situation.

Venezuela is not a place fit for dreamers. The scene quickly turned into a nightmare. Carlin was sent home, his passport returned only when the Iberia flight was safely in the air, on its way back to Europe. 

What Carlin does not see

In my nightmare Carlin wrote an article for a newspaper called The Vanguard. He detailed the strange dream of coming to Venezuela. He was dreaming in my nightmare. He said he had not been afraid even though he was aware that the government was handled by criminals. But, he wrote, these were not the military governments of Guatemala and Argentina he had gotten to know first hand. These are merely ridiculous, stupid and mediocre scoundrels, but not inhumane ones. At least, not that inhumane.

Our country has been bullied and taken hostage. The dimension of state terror is best expressed by the FAES and its Operations to Liberate the People, which, by even government estimates, have executed around 4000 citizens a year these last four years. The Minister of Defense, just a few days ago, flaunted the fact that military and police officers had murdered 3,404 citizens during the first nine months of 2019. Think about it: approximately 16.000 citizens in four years. How many were the reported executions of the inhumane military dictatorships of Argentina again? 

Just a few days after Carlin’s bad dream, a government opposition leader’s body appeared murdered and charcoaled on the streets of Caracas. He had been actively protesting against murders committed by the FAES in his neighborhood.

Just a few days after Carlin’s bad dream, a government opposition leader’s body appeared murdered and charcoaled on the streets of Caracas.

To recall something lived first hand in the form of a dream is a dissociative strategy, even if used consciously for rhetorical purposes. The minimization of proved state terrorism is a form of denial, the incapacity to see atrocity that has been acknowledged in public reports is a form of disavowal, specially if you are a newspaper reporter. 

There is no checklist to qualify dictatorships. After all how many victims of torture do you need to consider them horrible?

But alas, even sharp observers like Carlin still believe our serial killer, has abused us in a rather humane way. Yes, we have been raped, but on the lighter side, it isn’t the worst of rapists. Our consolation is that Nero played his harp while Rome burnt to flames; ours just farts, make jokes, threatens their rivals with clubs on national television while the country implodes.

To minimize a victim’s experience of atrocity is to add salt to the wound, in social psychological jargon, it is to dehumanize him or her. It is the seed of resentment.

My nightmare would be of little importance, but a week later, 105 countries voted to select Venezuela as a member of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. A large part of the world seems to agree with Carlin or be oblivious to the reports of arrested government opposition leaders who have been tortured in the cellars of the SEBIN or thrown out of the window and murdered like Fernando Albán. They all seem oblivious to the report written by their own Human Rights Office just two months ago.

When Carlin woke up, things were even worse than in my nightmare.