“Who will deliver us from them—?” Them, of course, are the hostage takers in all their forms: dictators, socialists, totalitarians, criminal gangs who seize the apparatus of the state to have easier access to the weapons they need to ply their real trade. They are so often stronger – freedom is not the natural state of man, liberty is like a delicate flower on a fine alpine slope. It requires perfect conditions to bloom, rich soil, temperate climate, rain and clean air; while the thistle of the brutish can germinate in any cracked and broken down parking lot. This shouldn’t surprise us, as I said in “The Burning of San Porfirio”:
“We’ll do an experiment,” he said, eyes twinkling. “We’ll put a dozen people in a room. We’ll give half of them a copy of Aristotle, and the other half each gets a Glock. We’ll see who comes out of the room.”
Nevertheless we fight – I’d rather have the dream of an high-mountain vale than the reality of a life sitting on the hot tarmac waiting upon the mercy of overlords near and far. I once wrote about Cuba’s untold story – blank pages unfilled for six generations. Sure, we know about the story told. About the Women in White, the Castro brothers, the ‘revolution’. Their crappy health care and their wars in Angola and Mozambique; their parasitic survival at the expense of one host after another. But its Cuba’s untold story that is the most compelling – the un-composed sonatas, the opuses of great novelists who could not pass the regime’s censors, the diseases uncured because the scientists were waiting in a line for beans and sanitary napkins. Music unsung – life unlived. And the unstories have extended, though we pretended we were at the “End of History”. Un-Nobel laureates sitting in refugee camps in Jordan or Bangladesh; un-Pulitzer winners crossing borders treacherous and harsh.
Of all those untold stories, the saddest for me are those I know could have been, which instead were aborted – not reaching full term, murdered by the mindless. Stories of people I have known from places I’ve been who, groomed and prepared for leadership, to do great things – end wars and spur innovation and fight poverty and misery – instead sidelined and silenced. Norbert Mao in Uganda waiting for the tired dictatorship of Yoweri Museveni to end. Morgan Tsvangirai who died of cancer just as Robert Mugabe was forced out of power. Friends in Nicaragua waiting out the corrupt despotism of Ortega, as grey starts to creep through their beards and their hair starts to thin.
Maria Corina Machado in Venezuela.
I was struck the other day by the sadness of it all. Maria Corina, who once stood tall and fearless at the center of the agora and faced down a tyrant. “You’re a thief,” she told him, and her courageous words still ricochet around a tired continent.
I was struck because, following the news of Venezuela’s most recent electoral fraud, I found myself watching a video of her unfurling a Venezuelan flag along with a few students beside a highway in Caracas.
And this made me wonder, what are the untold stories of Maria Corina Machado? She, who would make a fine president; who would stand proudly before the green marble at the United Nations and talk about ‘popular capitalism’ and liberty. Who would fearlessly fly into refugee camps and with abandon confront the rebel armies; what are her untold stories? A dramatic new economic model which would have Caracas whispered in the same sentence with Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Singapore and Reykjavik. The final arrival of the first “Latin American Tiger” country, defying 200 years of bitter, envious rent-seeking politics to chart a new way. A negotiated end to the civil war in Yemen, in Syria? A great new retaining wall against the sludge of stupidity that always threatens to drown free-loving people. Instead, the sludge has engulfed her country – and through such sludge as that nation has fallen into no light can shine, bright or faint. Not even that of a warrior princess. What would have been the untold stories of Maria Corina? Who knows—
Of course nothing is written beforehand, things have a way of changing for the better at the most unexpected moments; just ask we the relieved Americans about that. Dictatorships become both thick and brittle and eventually lose their maneuverability and shatter, often of their own weight – corruption and self-dealing causing paralysis and constipation. And I am hopeful – it does spring eternal after all. Yet as I watched the fallout from the fraud, I was nevertheless helpless to say, if only to myself (and now to you I guess) what I’ve said so many times in the past, “What a sad country Venezuela has become indeed, which allows no more stories to be told.”