Some of the issues brought up are undeniable, such as the deterioration of public services, difficulties in access to food and migration, but some others, as we will see below, speak volumes about the concerns of the Guardian and their privileged local sources.
Absent from the piece is any discussion of what Chavismo sought to achieve, what worked and what did not, as if this “collapse” was either inevitable or by design. There is also absolutely no mention of the constant hostility, led by the US empire, that the Bolivarian Revolution has had to face since day one, nor is there any discussion of the escalating sanctions aimed at asphyxiating the economy. In cutting off access to global credit markets and blocking financial transactions, US-led economic sanctions make food and medicine imports more difficult and thus deepen the country’s current crisis – a fact largely ignored by the Guardian and its mainstream counterparts. (1)
There is also a disingenuous underlying claim that everything follows linearly from Chávez’s election in 1998, to get readers to interpolate simplistically between the crisis of today and the imagined wonderland that existed before Chávez, which the Guardian and its local voices yearn for. The same dishonest argument appeared in a previous piece published on the 20th anniversary of Chávez’s landmark victory.
The goal is obvious: drill into the reader’s head that the slightest of radical ambitions is doomed to herald the apocalypse in order to present the current capitalist world order as the best of all possible worlds. Given that the Guardian’s main enemy at this stage is Jeremy Corbyn, the use of Venezuela as a weapon on the home front is not surprising.
The Guardian correspondent was taken on a tour of Caracas by the director of El Estimulo. Who better to provide an unbiased perspective than the director of a newspaper that has been rabidly anti-Chavista from its inception and is unabashedly on board the foreign military intervention train?
We are told about the downfall of a “glamorous” city that used to be a “mecca for foodies.” Another interviewee tells the Guardian, “You truly felt, as we used to say around here, in the first world.” This already gives an idea of what we are in for, but the best is yet to come (see below).
The Guardian later catches up with a resident from upper class neighbourhood La Florida, who unveils the real tragedy. One-hundred and eighty square meter apartments in this posh part of town have seen their prices fall from US $320,000 to $100,000! And the owners of the empty apartments, now living in Europe or the US, are matter-of-factly and absurdly referred to as “exiles.” The Guardian conflates this (non-)issue with the hundreds of thousands that have migrated to try and earn a living in neighbouring countries, which is quite telling.
The Guardian treats readers to one last tale of woe from this poor victim of tumbling real estate prices, which happened as he returned from “a recent trip to Miami,” only to find the airport in Caracas suffering from a power cut. Gone are the days in which the typical Caracas resident (in the Guardian’s worldview) could have a trip to Miami without any incident! (2)
The final section of the article is the most revealing, as the Guardian correspondent wants to use the monumental Teresa Carreño theatre as a symbol of the decay of Caracas, and he has a former director of the theatre, Eva Ivanyi, at hand to help him sell it. Thanks to a collective lack of awareness and basic sense from all those involved, we were presented with the following quote from Ivanyi:
“[Teresa Carreño] symbolised the future. It signified civilisation. It signified Europe. It signified success.” [emphasis added]
And there, ladies and gentlemen, is the worldview of Venezuelan elite in a nutshell. Future/success/civilisation are synonyms with Europe. The goal is to act like Western elites and impress foreign correspondents. This is in fact nothing but a reflection of the role that the Venezuelan bourgeoisie, like other neo-colonial bourgeoisie, has always sought to play on the global capitalist scene. Never aspiring to be more than mere intermediaries for foreign capitalists, Venezuelan elites were also never able to project their own culture beyond imitating their Western counterparts.
The crisis in Venezuela has nowhere to hide, but the Teresa Carreño complex is probably where it is least visible. Theatre and dance groups, some of them from the art college UNEARTE in the premises, rehearse in its ample spaces, social movements gather, schools organise field trips to the assortment of museums nearby. Little cafes and restaurants abound, some quite expensive and others not so much, with live music and plenty of entertainment. Theatre, dance and poetry festivals also make frequent use of its spaces.
Of course, this is mostly Venezuelan culture, which the Bolivarian Revolution always exhorted Venezuelans to defend/uphold, as opposed to being “second-hand westerners” (3). Therefore, not very civilised in the Guardian’s eyes. But the Guardian’s claim that Teresa Carreño, even just the theatre itself, now serves mostly for government political events is plainly false, as a simple look at the complex’s Twitter account will reveal.
If we are trading anecdotes, a friend of mine once told me how he was arrested as a teenager while reading a book in the very same Teresa Carreño, under the law against vagrants, in the 1980s. Simply put, people with his skin colour were not allowed to frequent these spaces. This is the “civilisation” that the Guardian and its interviewees yearn for.
Finally, the Guardian correspondent also complained about the smell of urine. If we are going by the smell test, perhaps he can be sent to Manhattan next so he can proclaim the failure of capitalism.
“Fallen journalism” in the title might suggest that a once proud, honest newspaper with high standards had become a tabloid single mindedly devoted to making up stories and promoting the return of Tony Blair. Rather, it is more the case of a newspaper with low standards, trapped in its own liberal bubble, that keeps sinking to new lows.
Then again, the Guardian’s claim that Caracas has “fallen” is also misguided. Having a city that is a “jewel” in the eyes of foreigners, where good honest real estate speculation can take place, or where upper class snots can dress up and pretend they are Europeans, is not the goal, at least not for anyone with the remotest desire for social justice.
Among the biased reporting there is also the familiar dishonesty, for example referring to the “immense poverty” that Chávez found in 1998 between quotation marks, as if it were a figment of his radical imagination. Poverty was 60% and extreme poverty 30% when the Bolivarian Revolution came to power, having actually increased during the previous two decades of unfettered neoliberalism, while “foodies” wrote rave reviews and Caracas’ nightlife was booming.
Chavismo earned Venezuelan elites’ horror and hatred by opening up spaces, both political and cultural, like Teresa Carreño, to those that had been rendered invisible for centuries (4). Of course, there is a whole story about how, especially in the economic sphere, the Chavista government always sought coexistence with these vested interests but none of that debate is found in the Guardian’s piece.
There is not a single mention of the constant imperialist aggression, nor of the deadly sanctions that keep worsening an already devastating situation. The overriding idea is that any attempt to deviate from the neoliberal consensus will lead to doomsday, which seems to consist of vacant luxury apartments and majestic theatres being less European. The Guardian and its local assortment of right-wing newspaper editors, upper class homeowners and former theater directors just wish Venezuela would go back to its neo-colonial heyday, and that the wretched of the Earth would become invisible again.
(1) None of this is meant to excuse the orientations and policy choices of the Venezuelan government, especially in recent years.
(2) One cannot help but be reminded of another Guardian classic from the recent past. In a piece dedicated to the plight of shopping malls in Venezuela, another symbol of “civilisation,” we could read the following: “Malls have become a haven for Venezuelans as the country has become one of the most violent in the world. In many areas, they are also the only places to see movies.”
Because if you cannot watch the latest Avengers instalment, what is the point of finding safety?
(3) Reference to a famous song by Chilean group Los Prisioneros called “¿Por qué no se van?”
(4) This is by and large not metaphorical. For example, the barrios in Caracas, despite having hundreds of thousands of residents, were for a long time marked in municipal plans as “green areas,” with all that that entailed in terms of (lack of) access to services.