Today, March 5th 2013 at 4:25 in the afternoon, they announced President Commander’s death and I –it’s even funny- was at a meeting in an international organism, surrounded by foreigners. Ha! One can never anticipate where one might be in those moments. And it’s not that I wanted to cheer marching band’s style, nor throw fireworks in the air, it’s just that the reaction in that moment lasted for what seemed to me like a second. There were a couple of tense facial expressions, maybe a little bit of indifference and zas! 30 seconds later we were back to the corporate mood that can only be framed by a Power Point presentation. I didn’t have the time to participate in the rumble.
Four hours later I has heading back home, and while I was eating a ham and cheese sandwich, watching some declarations on TV, I realized that no longer people referred to the President in the present tense, him who had occupied so many hours of so many days, so much space in the media, on the walls, minds, hearts and mouths of people; for better or worse, Chávez produced strong feelings in public opinion. Just like that, all of a sudden his verbs were conjugated in the past tense. It doesn’t mean I’m celebrating, but I do confess I embrace the idea of a change in the course of things. Be as it may, it is the end of an era.
I remember I was in elementary school the first time I heard his name, and ever since he was part of my every day. Because of my family, social status, empire’s fault or whatever you may call it I grew up on the political wing contrary to the official one. I have no other reference: to me, government is a clumsy and red device, covered in plastic and freshly printed polyester; it sounds like a reactionary left party’s speech, it smells like oil and oozes resentment. Those who swore by the “Samán de Güere” made up the tale about the Bolivarian Thieverylution with a very successful narrative and with a creole showman in front of it. He came to break paradigms… and balls; by God he broke some balls!
Dichotomy, schizophrenia, bipolarity, I’ve never really know what to call this country, the one I was meant to live in. Ever until I started college I had never really spent any time with a chavista, maybe because I was from the country or I was too naïve for it, but truth is it was something foreign to me. Until I began college I was an opponent by inertia.
And then it was time for me to move to Caracas with Carlos, a cousin of mine who was a lot of fun and also a chavista from head to toe, therefore we’d just avoid the subject. It was also the tome for me to live in the ghetto, Parque Central, the one my friends from the East side call “the West” and my friends from the West call “Downtown”… people from Caracas would know. I understood how wrong some people were about the country’s political reality, how far we were from the so called “fraud” from four years ago. I saw with my own eyes humble people who truly supported a guy I was, until that moment, convinced was a complete incompetent.
But along came the Student Movement, and I discovered I liked public affairs, economics and understanding systems. I went to massive concentrations and violent protests, I painted my hands in white, I cut red gags and voted for depressing politicians, I was a witness in an election center, I crafted dead frogs to make fun of a law bill, I made some cardboard gravestones with messages, I carried around a walkie talkie radio to help stop the traffic and let the students pass, I performed conversations about the Constitutional Reform on the subway, I voted NO, I helped run some exit polls, I went to Model United Nations in NYC and screamed at some Canadian socialist wanna-bes for speaking of sulfur when we were at the UN Headquarters, again I voted NO and NO, I cheered “U-U-Ucabistas-Ucabistas-U!”, I collected signatures, I was part of a call center, I said I Also Wanted To Be a President, I handed out flyers, I smelt the tear gas, my picture made it to newspapers’ front pages and some magazines, I caved from some flying bottles coming from government supporters, I jumped in the “Fear Free Zone” protest, I held up signs on malls, I saw police’s whale truck, I was pushed by national guards’ plastic shields, I was called an escuálida in spite of being chubby, I marched through the middle of the street claiming I didn’t agree, I collected all sorts of political shirts, I campaigned, I counted votes, I sat in front of embassies, I wrote and I cried my electoral mourning. I built up my own opinion and now I wasn’t an opponent because I was used to it but because I had a conviction about it. I understood why I thought differently.
Chavez came to mean that on October 8th, 2012, I thought my country wasn’t the fertile land I thought it was. I understood that as long as there were abundant petrodollars he would not leave by any means, and that it might be the time to start gathering my stuff because one thing is to put up with an autocrat when you own a house and your life is already set, or when you don’t expect much from life waiting just for a “little help” or “a contact” with the government; one thing is to survive through generalized mediocrity hoping that things might change, and another thing is to put up with all that being certain that nothing will ever change, that you have very few opportunities, that you have to surrender to paranoia at every corner, to know that you’ll live with your parents well past your 30s because there is just no other option, and that being an entrepreneur means walking into the dark side for a lot of things. I resented him and I promised myself for a long time I would call out his name so I called him CH, Esteban, Chiabe or President.
But today, Mr. Chávez I come to thank you for helping us build a social awareness the hard way, for getting young people interested in public affairs and for the political economy lessons, you were truly a master of communicational strategy. Thank you for teaching me which economic way I do not like, teaching me that social benefits without financial sustainability can only be paid with oil rent (while there is some); teaching us that excessive regulations cause scarcity and recession. I appreciate you leaving us in good terms with the Chinese; God knows that’s the future of the world. Thank you for having taught me that you didn’t just show up for the job description, you wanted to prove that in Venezuela there are too many standards with very disproportionate realities and there was no public acknowledgement of such thing. Thank you for teaching me that statistics belong to those who pay for them. I appreciate you putting on the spotlight the fact that professional people do simply not walk away from government, because incompetence in power can finish up even a great corporation like former PDVSA; politics are about negotiation between parties representing different interests, so if one leaves the table one commits Sin of Omission. Thanks for letting us know that the institutions we thought we had by the 90s were just the illusion of them, the so called Disguised State of Cabrujas, and for making us realize that we never really got over the caudillo paradigm. I complain about you trying own color red, but I’ll let you have that one since it was such a great extravaganza. Thank you for showing me first hand why it is we must always set rules and how easy it is to become fond of power. You showed me that loyalties could be bought and that one does not need to be coherent with what we say and do in order to become a boli-bourgois, I mean, millionaire in this country. And finally thank you for letting go, even if it wasn’t your intention, because we are prepared it, come what may. I’ll drink a rum to you memoir, Mr. Chávez… may you rest in peace.
PS: I learned to write to express my discontent with your policies and by that I thank you too.