“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” That’s what communism gives us; those who preach ‘progress’ in order to seize power give us instead a stale sort of stasis. Eating and re-eating the same saltine cracker. That’s what Venezuela has become – the endless marches one indistinguishable from the previous and the next. Some red, some multi-colored. Filling streets for a season in order to then go home and stare out the window as life trudges on. The same speeches – although the orators are older; speeches against the communist government by people I have known in my youth when they also were in theirs. Forget we are now both middle aged. Diatribes by aging communists, who have grown fat and bald with disease and bile until they finally keel over to be replaced by another, also growing fat: leeches all. The same elections; where the outcome is never in question. The same debates: socialism, the ‘poor’ and the ‘people’ and the ‘indigenous’, the oppressors and the oligarchy and the empire and the conspirators – a script written a century ago that varies little.
Beneath it all, the military and the gangs. It’s really just an organized criminal enterprise fermenting under the façade of ‘public administration’. “Here the public owns everything” which of course means the public actually owns nothing – it’s those with the guns who command. And the end result is always the gun.
Democracy rarely ends in a bang; usually the last cry of the oppressed is a whine. A whimper. Venezuela’s democracy has been dying for 19 years. Maybe 25, depending on how you count it. Two generations, people staring at the television screens as one by one they go black.
Ten years ago now – ten years. Maybe that was when it ended. It certainly was dramatic. Hugo Chavez had just won a landslide re-election in a contest that was free but not fair (a distinction without a difference, thanks Jimmy Carter!). Rapid change was going to begin. 2007 – that was the year; nationalizations of Venezuela’s oil fields, collapsing Chavez’s own tri-color support base into one monolithic political party called – wait for it – the Socialist Party. A referendum on a new constitution that would do away with democracy once and for all. And, some payback. Ending the last public TV station whose editorial line did not bow to the whims of the despot.
Forget that RCTV was the most famous in the country’s history. Forget that for more than half a century it had seen the rise and fall of politicians and dictators. Forget that it was not the news or the opinion pieces that the people watched, but the Soap Operas – so famous I have seen them on Malian television dubbed into French.
That was ten years ago now – 10 years. A decade. While across Latin America new movies are being made, new ways of filming tried, new producers and directors and actors are making names for themselves, in Venezuela it’s still the same socialist speeches live-streamed on the seized airwaves. They can’t even be bothered to make their own soap operas anymore; oh they tried but it didn’t go well. Socialism is just as boring on the big screen as it is in real life. Socialist Realism the soviets called it – noble tractors plowing rebellious fields; faceless men standing, and dying, in stoic service. Russian Futurists – novels and movies written by and for the Borg. Yawn.
After a while they fell away. Nobody noticed.
Ten years since that year; since we left – my little family. Zanzibar and Cairo and Obidos and Istanbul. Birthdays and anniversaries – celebrations. Surgeries. Campaigns, wins and losses. I wrote four novels – my little boy, who has never been to Venezuela, now chastises me about the real meaning of photosynthesis.
All the while the Venezuelans have sat there in their “socialist paradise” staring at that blackened screen. For them, the day the real music died was ten years ago – leaving them only with another fat tyrant shoddily playing a piano, bread and circus for the enslaved.