Venezuela Before Chavez

(Excerpted from Chapter 16: The Ghost of Hugo Chavez: The Grateful Unrich: Revolution in 50 Countries)

Caracas, Venezuela 12-9-93

I grab a city bus into downtown Caracas. We pass beneath brown denuded hillsides chock full of tin and stick shantytowns. I will spend my time alone here getting up to speed on the current political and economic situation in the country. I read in the newspaper that there are three state-owned domestic oil companies to augment PDVSA – the state-owned international oil arm, which owns Citgo refineries and gas stations in the US, much to the chagrin of Exxon and their ilk. Caracas is a disaster zone, an empty shell of its former self. During the late 1970’s oil boom, Venezuela made a serious run at becoming the first nation in Latin America to join the developed world. Now, beneath the shiny neon signs of that era, there is only anger, squalor and disillusionment.

I pause in front of the Caracas Hilton, which juts out of the burned-out downtown like a foggy distant memory of better times. The Hilton is a city within itself, ready to satisfy the pastimes and fetishes of the elite few who have preserved their grand wealth via corrupt dealings with multinational corporations and offshore dollar accounts. Here the ricos of North and South meet to discuss ways to further cripple this nation, new tactics by which they may suck the marrow of the masses, new plans for palaces – safely out of sight of the ramshackle huts that welcome all visitors, appealing to some collective sense of justice, snarling their plans for an exotic vacation, haunting their attempts at slumber and apathy.

The recent election of Rafael Calderon, whose support came from the poor and the academic left, holds some promise for the shanty dwellers – whose numbers have swelled under the IMF-mandates adopted by the previous free-trade oriented regime. But there is no great up-swell of hope here, no real inspiration for this city of 4 million. Calderon is still an establishment figure from a wealthy family. He is no populist in the spirit of ex-President Ramon Betancourt, no visionary of the radical ideas needed to stave off these Hilton marrow-suckers. In downtown Caracas, despair carries the day.

I decide to forego the expense of a hotel, grab some cheap food and return to the plush airport, where I will meet Jill tomorrow at 11:00 AM. From there we will go straight to the Caracas central bus station, which I have located, and take an overnight to Puerto La Cruz, saving another night in a hotel. It is hard to be impressed with Venezuela thus far. Caracas is just another Latin American cholera slum.

I will not rest easy until Jill’s arrival. We do not spend much time away from one another. It is hard to believe that a vagabond like me, always striving to be independent, could have fallen so hard for a woman. But I have. She is my beauty in an otherwise dark and foreboding world.

As I grow older, it seems that everywhere I go I feel increased tension and turmoil. The world is getting madder – something I thought not possible, a badly deranged monster who has eaten several bottles of psychotropic pills all in one night. Is there no refuge from this monster?

We have missed the rugged mountains of Montana while in the Ozarks. But even those mountains are increasingly home to criminals on the run from every state in the union – right-wing neo-Nazis and couch-prone movie stars with well-paid astrologers. I feel as though my passion for fighting on behalf of the poor has weakened, and with it my will to live. Too many blows perhaps – not just from the evil system I strive to destroy, but more hurtfully and with increasing frequency from the very downtrodden, oppressed people I have tried to help.

Instead of hearing the rallying cry to unite against the wealthy, they seem to only want that wealth and that power for themselves, along with a houseful of material garbage and a bellicose attitude marked by constant petty attempts to dominate anyone they come into contact with – to be just for one moment the enforcer, the cop, the pig, the oligarch at the Hilton.

The world is filled with so much self-hatred, so much nihilism. I can only seem to find peace in the quiet of nature – equally oppressed and disrespected, but steady and sure in its self-recovery, with no desire for the kind of artificial power displayed daily by the parasites responsible for Her rape. All human endeavors seem despotic and crude, clutter in an otherwise orderly world. The rich continually screw the poor, while the poor aspire to screw someone weaker than themselves, lacking the courage to attack the elite, to challenge real power. In this climate of fear, it is difficult to maintain one’s sense of self.

The airport is filled with useful idiots, many munching on a bag of shit for which they’ve overpaid the Burger King monopoly. They are the thin upper crust of Latin America, though they are much more comfortable in Miami, where they can indulge in their self-hatred, bowing down to the Great White Father they know they will never quite be, sold out by the US dollar and the power they inherit from their yet fairer-skinned lapdog mestizo ancestors. There are no Indians here, only snotty teenagers with hair dyed red and faces caked with dead test animal residue, ashamed of their link to “savages”. Their skirts are cut short to please the patriarchs in hopes that one day they may whore their way into even greater wealth.

The pinups are joined here by jowly fair-skinned autocrats and middle managers, whose contempt for the poor is crowned by thin gray hair and the badly wrinkled skin that hides a child within – a child that may at any given time fuss or whine or beat his wife or order a political assassination if he doesn’t get to play with the toy of his choosing. Then on Sunday it’s off to the gold-plated cathedral, so adorned through the efforts of thousands of Guarani and Yanomami slaves – who were whipped, tortured and left for dead were they resistant in the least to such a divine fate. At church the ricos unleash their most furious self-hatred in fits of confession and shame that absolve the child of his prior week’s endeavors. These have included free use of the sweat, blood and toil of those ignorant and hopelessly lost souls – whom God has deemed less than human and whom may therefore be well utilized in the embellishment of God’s ornate fiefdom and the grounds of Venezuela’s haciendas.

Here in this climate-controlled waiting hell, the same practical matter haunts me as has for all the days since my eyes decided to open to both the incredible beauty of the world and to the unbelievable ugliness of those who rule it. One cannot see oneself without viewing the other. These things are as inextricably linked as love and hatred, contentedness and rage, peace and war, tranquility and passion. How to “be love” – in the words of Krishnamurti – understanding and letting go of all duality and complication that arise from our skewed Western philosophical underpinnings, while at the same moment leaping irreverently down the throat of every asshole that fucks with another – for the sake of immediate justice, of instant karma? How – on life’s precarious path – to fight adamantly and constantly for a larger justice – for an end to starvation, exploitation and other inevitable repercussions of a global capitalist system that functions by necessity on greed and through a paradigm of dominance over nature, other and self?

I have attempted to reconcile this dilemma by considering that within this either/or premise there is yet another duality, one conjured up by demented, guilt-ridden pirate minds of colonial descent. Yet these roads are different, the difference of which has made me a smoker. One road leads to stillness and observation and empathy for all – even the elite. It leads to a resignation of the soul as to the imperfections of man, a subsequent removal of a heavy load called the world off of one’s shoulders and a chuckle as one watches it writhe and contort in front of constantly observant and empathetic eyes. The other path, if taken to its logical conclusion, demands active struggle against these contortions on behalf of the global poor and of nature.

Here the load gets heavier as one acquires more knowledge. Maybe there is a tinge of Christian guilt balled up in this tight fist. But with the proper circumstances and enough courage, this path could lead to a more Utopian world where the prior line of thinking could flourish – one where oligopoly market forces are brought to their knees, while their immense wealth is distributed equitably. None of this revolutionary fervor can be seen as violent, despite the best efforts of the corporate media to portray it as such, since the suffering brought about by the current system is a daily grinding violence of its own – the ending of which can only be seen as an act of self-defense and great love. How can one argue, for example, that Ernesto “Che” Guevara – who left his comfortable life as an Argentine middle-class doctor to fight in the mountains of Cuba for poor sugarcane workers – was anything but a man of great love? Conversely, how can one argue that the acts of Mahatma Gandhi – though indeed noble in their simplicity – did anything to hold the British Empire accountable for its crime of imperialism, bring unity between Muslims and Hindus or raise the Indian peasant out of the poverty that still holds him prisoner?

Could the Ogallala Sioux warrior Crazy Horse have gently repelled the Homestake mining cartel from the Paha Sapa of what is now South Dakota? Sitting Bull tried and was shot. Crazy Horse was also gunned down but his brave assault on a United States fort that will never be forgotten in the slums of Pine Ridge and inspired the American Indian Movement (AIM) to take matters into their own hands at Wounded Knee. Would Patrice Lumumba or Kwame Nkrumah have gently repelled the Belgian and French colonialists from their Congolese and Ghanan homelands? Bloodless palace coups of Libya and Iran required political initiative, rather than quiet acceptance and observation of an unjust monarchy.

Two US Air Force soldiers parade arrogantly under the neon glow of the Burger King sign. Five more hours until my baby arrives.

“Puerta! Puerta!” he hollers. We run toward the sound and make a leap onto the tiny blue and white minibus with no time to spare. It is midnight at Nuevo Circo bus station. We are glad to see the lights of Caracas begin to fade in the rear view mirror.

We arrive at daybreak in Puerta La Cruz on the Caribbean Sea. A new port is being constructed so the beaches are muddy. We will take a ferry to Isla de Marguerita tonight. We spend the day with a Puerto Rican gypsy, drinking strong coffee and making return visits to a falafel stand. There are many Lebanese immigrants among the residents here.

Playa del Aqua, Venezuela 12-13-93

The three hour ferry ride drops us at the dry desert port of Porlamar. There is raw sewage flowing into the sea. A short taxi ride takes us into a much different world of swaying coconut palms and white sand beaches. The sea is distinctly Caribbean blue. Drinking water is piped under the sea from Puerta La Cruz. Even the fanciest hotels ration it.

Venezuela is a country that had gotten used to the high standard of living afforded it by its oil wealth. Now, with oil prices near record lows and the IMF demanding cuts in basic social services in return for a continuation of loans, the country has regressed into a mosaic of half-completed construction projects, shut-down universities and infrastructure collapse. In 1982 its proud citizens required only four bolivars to buy a dollar. Today it takes 104 bolivars to buy that same dollar.

I watch Canadian tourists basking in this low-budget Caribbean option. There are few Americans, since Venezuela is in “dangerous” South America. Local vendors peddle blankets and jewelry in hopes of earning their dinner. They remind me why I am here. It is not so much the thrill of travel that has again lured me from the comforts of America, but the education as to the underpinnings of global poverty and strife, a connecting of the dots of imperialism and greed, a puzzle that fades from the mind back home, where the media is eager to conceal any clues.

The sea has a calming effect on people. They come to the beach to take their clothes off and with them the veneer of socialization and economic status that suppresses their true selves. Clothing is just another tool of oppression. Textile industries have led industrialization in many nations, enslaving naked nomadic people into factory servitude and consumerism. Clothing is a convenient way to lock people into certain occupations, to reinforce separateness between types of workers, to divide and conquer. Gandhi targeted the textile industry. He began spinning his own simple clothes and encouraged others to do the same.

Here by the azure seas there seems less division, less self-importance, less tension. Curious eyes scan the beach with a contented trust – even a love – not found in the squalor, strife and haste of the city. Sexual expression is rampant and there is a great deal of posing, a natural response to a year filled with self-censorship and office repression. People show off their bodies with great pride, begging others to see their natural beauty, using their flesh to draw in others to view their soul. There is a sense that we have all returned to a tribal animal state, that we are in open rebellion against the captors of our bodies, our minds and our souls. We are crushing fear and reassembling ourselves as whole.

The ferry ride back to the mainland is grand. The sun shines brightly on the calm blue-green sea. A school of dolphins picks up our scent and races beside the modern vessel nearly the entire way. We want to see Angel Falls at the edge of the Amazon – where giant anacondas guard the ancient Yanomami against gold prospectors at the mouth of the Orinoco River. But we hear that the falls are only visible via expensive helicopter tours, so we decide to head west, bypassing Caracas for the university town of Merida, in the foothills where the northern Andes Range begins.

Dean Henderson is the author of five books: Big Oil & Their Bankers in the Persian Gulf: Four Horsemen, Eight Families & Their Global Intelligence, Narcotics & Terror Network, The Grateful Unrich: Revolution in 50 Countries, Stickin’ it to the Matrix, The Federal Reserve Cartel & Illuminati Agenda 21: The Luciferian Plan to Destroy Creation. You can subscribe free to his weekly Left Hook column

8 responses to “Venezuela Before Chavez

  1. Laura Marian

    It must have been an interesting experience for you Dean; by reading this I can see that Venezuela is a beautiful rich country/ life there used to be good for people but imperialism and greed destroyed it and created so much poverty. Sad , very sad…

  2. Eric Jacobson

    Dean, a well-written collection of paragraphs.

    I’ll have to say what you described here, the rotting city of Caracas, with its poverty strewn about its hillsides, and the visage of a rotting city that some years ago was “prospering” due to its vast but mismanaged oil resources,
    left me with a sad, sinking feeling.

    The disparity between the wealthy and the poor is growing daily, even here in the West. The plutocracy that rules the roost here in the US, and has for many decades, has shoved its destructive, hegemonic tendrils into so many other countries bringing ruin both economically and environmentally to so many unfortunate people.

    My favorite farmer/philosopher, Wendell Berry has much
    to say concerning modern Christianity which I contend is vastly different than the true and simple commandments of Christ to”love your neighbor as yourself, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and to live our days simply in the moment.”

    Berry writes: “Despite its protests to the contrary, modern Christianity has become willy-nilly the religion of the state and the economic status quo.
    Because it has been so exclusively dedicated to incanting anemic souls into heaven, it has been made the tool of much earthly villainy. It has, for the most part, stood silently by while a predatory economy has ravaged the world, destroyed its natural beauty and health, divided its human communities and households.”

    “It has flown the flag and chanted the slogans of Empire. It has assumed with the economists that “economic forces” automatically work for good and has assumed with the industrialists and militarists that technology determines history.”

    “It has assumed with almost everybody that “progress” is good that it is good to be modern and up with the times.”

    “It has admired Ceasar and comforted him in his depredations and defaults. But in its de facto alliance with Ceasar, Christianity connives directly in the murder of creation.”

    “For in these days, Cesar is no longer a mere destroyer of armies, cities, and nations. He is a contradictor of the fundamental miracle of life. A part of the normal practice of his power is his willingness to destroy the world.”

    “He prays, he says, and churches everywhere compliantly pray with him. But he is praying to a God whose works at any moment he is prepared to destroy. What could be more wicked than that, or more mad?”

  3. Thank you, Dean. I needed that.

  4. Proton John

    Superb. I’m left with yearning of travel. Yet I survive on only memories of past journeys.

  5. Pingback: Venezuela avant Chavez | Crochet gauche par Dean Henderson – DE LA GRANDE VADROUILLE A LA LONGUE MARGE

  6. Pingback: Syria Times: Le Sénat devrait mettre fin à son soutien à la guerre en Arabie au Yémen | Crochet gauche par Dean Henderson – DE LA GRANDE VADROUILLE A LA LONGUE MARGE

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