I’m writing this column from a “fancy” café located in what used to be an iconic hacienda (large estate) in wealthy east Caracas. In a few minutes I’m meeting a client who needs a marketing strategy for some new products he’s about to launch.
I look around and there are all sorts of people. A group of rich kids debate whether it’s better to get a US visa in Bogotá, La Paz or Santo Domingo. A young couple counts their bills to see if they can afford a yummy piece of cake or just the two coffees. Two old ladies sit outside in the grass, the only free space around here.
I suppose this is what a “normal” country looks like. In fact, it brings back memories from my childhood in the 1990s. Political conflicts are not apparent and, at least, no one is getting into a fight with a total stranger because he wears a red t-shirt or because the flag in his cap has seven stars instead of eight (1). I think people still notice those details but just indifferently let them slide.
A few days ago we had another Chávez anniversary and even this exercise felt routine, monotonous, as if everyone had memorized their script. Of course there was plenty of genuine sentiment, be it love on one side or hatred on the other. But still, in general the atmosphere just had the feeling of a staged event.
Part of me, I’ll admit, feels at ease. The same part that feared being attacked because I forgot to remove the ID card or to put away the jacket with the logo of the public institution I worked at. The part that got cold sweats crossing “enemy territory” during the opposition’s violent protests and was exhausted from fighting family and friends out of political differences.
The other part of me, in all honesty, rejects this misleading peace. It seems, like the salsa song goes, “the calmness of desperation.” This side of me knows that this coexistence is a masquerade, with those well-set boundaries still in place. Something like reminding me I’m not part of this social clan despite being allowed to be here, in its stomping grounds, sipping this tiny and expensive coffee.
And I’m quite aware of it. Just like during my childhood, I’ll go home to a number of difficulties. But in this place we are not killing each other, there are no guarimbas, no barricades, no oil spilled or hung strings on the highway (2). We are, once more, a country that can coexist. At least that’s the feeling in the air.
Not just that, we are all dying to say that Venezuela is improving, that maybe the worst has passed, and that all our compatriots having a hard time in Peru, Ecuador, Chile, etc., should just come back home.
I would dare say that even those of us who realize the economic improvements are built on huge social inequalities try to convince ourselves: “recovery had to start somewhere,” “in the long run more economic activity will be to everyone’s benefit,” “it’s not different anywhere else.” The situation was so critical that just a bit of air is a big relief.
Truth be told, I think we also want to feel part of this progress, because we stuck around, suffered the pain of loved ones leaving, struggled mightily, tried new business ideas, and put our sweat and tears into everything, so we deserve this damn coffee in the damn hacienda of yesteryear’s elites.
So why do I feel this urge to run away from here? How do I explain this desire to tell my client to screw himself, start singing Alí Primera, tear down everything to build something different?
In a nutshell, do I want to enjoy this coffee or start preaching that there should be no coffee unless it’s for everyone? Do I want to blend in or fight this liberal order that is upon us again? Am I the only one who worries that in this progress there may be hidden setbacks?
At the end of the day, our non-normal day-to-day life is not because Venezuelans are genetically prone to fight, though, I’ll admit, we do like to rumble. Similarly, the United States has not been hell-bent on overthrowing this process for 20-plus years out of a whim. We were building something different here, something new. Has that construction moved to the background? Did it fade out of exhaustion? Do those in power still remember it?
I quiet my troubled mind, take another sip of coffee, stand up to greet my client, and smile. I quickly go over my pitch so he’ll continue giving me his business. For the next half an hour, I’ll forget that I’m the crazy person who misses the antagonism when it seems we’ve laid down our weapons to embrace peace. Time will tell if this is to last, but the struggle (even inside me) is sure to continue.
(1) The Chávez government changed the flag in 2006 to include an eighth star, and some opposition supporters cling on to the seven-star flag.
(2) Common tactics used by the opposition in the 2014 and 2017 violent street protests to cause accidents and in some cases behead motorcyclists (who are associated with Chavismo)
Jessica Dos Santos is a Venezuelan university professor, journalist and writer whose work has appeared in outlets such as RT, Épale CCS magazine and Investig’Action. She is the author of the book “Caracas en Alpargatas” (2018). She’s won the Aníbal Nazoa Journalism Prize in 2014 and received honorable mentions in the Simón Bolívar National Journalism prize in 2016 and 2018.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.
Translated by Ricardo Vaz for Venezuelanalysis.